What to Wear to the Races or Any Formal Event

Woman sitting on bench surrounded by flowers in a dark blue coat, pale blue shift dress and blue fascinator hat holding a pale blue silk clutch bag.
Whether it’s a day at the races, the Chelsea Flower Show, a coronation party or maybe you are even lucky enough to be attending the coronation of King Charles III itself, it’s sometimes tricky to know what to wear to a formal event. No matter what kind of formal event you are attending we've collected some top tips and advice on how to choose an outfit which will make you feel beautiful and confident. 

What to wear at the races or a formal event

With most formal events like the races there are a few rules of thumb that are good to think about when choosing your outfit.
  • It’s usually best to leave your t-shirts, jeans and trainers at home. Trousers and suits can be worn but denim is best avoided in favour of structured suit trousers or a floaty wide leg trouser or jumpsuit.
  • Many formal events like the races will have a guideline on the length of dresses or sleeves. Generally it’s best to avoid strappy dresses and halter necks.
  • Although it is acceptable to wear black to the races or a formal event these are also your times to show your personality and really shine, choose a coordinated colourful outfit for the best combination of style and wow factor.

What to consider when choosing an outfit for the races or a formal event

Weather/Time of year

With the great British weather being what it is, it’s always worth considering layers for your outfit. If it’s a Winter or Autumn event it’s a good idea to go for a coat such as our gorgeous high impact trench coat which is effortlessly wearable while also being a total showstopper. Whereas for a spring/summer event it may be enough to have a smart jacket or shawl to hand.
dark haired woman on wooden swing in deep blue silk floral coat

Time of day

Though most race meetings are held during the day you may be attending a formal event in the evening or that is likely to carry on into the evening. Just like thinking about the time of year the time of day will influence your choice of layers but may also influence your choice of colours, with brighter colours being perfect for standing out at an evening event.
redhead woman standing in garden in front of brick wall wearing bright pink dress with long sleeves and a pink hat

Smart-casual or formal dress code

Some race days are less formal and allow a smart-casual outfit, always check whether there is a dress code before deciding on your outfit. For a smart-casual event dress up a pair of smart white trousers with a formal jacket like the Short Nehru for an elegant look or pair wide leg trousers with a structured jacket such as the Anya for a modern option. You could even opt for a floaty jumpsuit for a twist on the classic maxi-dress look.
Woman with dark hair standing by sash window looking out to country side wearing white trousers and top with a pale blue silk jacket
For men the classic pairing of jacket and trousers can be given an individual touch with a twist on classic tailoring like our Men’s Nehru jacket, which has all the class of a classic blazer with the difference of a smart mandarin collar to help you stand out from the crowd.
black man standing in front of wall ornate wall paper wearing a shirt, trousers and a silver and blue nehru jacket

If it’s a truly formal event then ladies will be able to put their best foot forward in a dress or smart suit. You can’t go wrong with a classic like the Hepburn dress with its timeless shape and sophisticated bateau neckline, or perhaps the Marilyn with a flattering v-neckline, either of these dresses are a versatile addition to any wardrobe and can be worn again and again to any formal event. Smart suits are also a great option for the races, a tailored pair of cigarette trousers and matching jacket are a chic alternative to the standard race day outfit.


woman sitting on wooden swing wearing a purple silk suit and leopard skin fascinator hat


If you already have a dress you love but need to ramp it up or add a layer for warmth then a tailored coat is a perfect addition to your wardrobe. A midi-length coat like the Lyra is ideal for wearing over a shift dress, with its feminine curved collar and knee length design it complements any midi dress perfectly and can add a touch of luxury to your outfit. If you like to make a real statement go for a longer coat like the Devi, layered over a simple dress or coordinated top and trousers this coat brings the drama to any outfit!


woman standing in ornate room next to a music stand and piano wearing a black maxi dress and a pale blue embroidered floor length opera coat


When going to the races the enclosure you are in can make a big difference to your outfit choice as different rules apply in different areas. As a rule of thumb the more expensive the enclosure, the more formal the dress code.


Woman laughing while holding a glass of champagne wearing a red coat with nehru collar and a blue fascinator hat

If you’ve ever seen pictures of the crowds at the races you will know that accessories are a key part of the equation. Finding the perfect hat to match your outfit is part of the fun of choosing a race day outfit and often headpieces or hats are part of the dress code for races. Take a look at our Friends of Shibumi page for some of our favourite milliners, jewellers and shoe businesses. One key thing to consider with accessories is the type of shoe, if you are spending a day at the races remember that you are likely to spend a lot of time on your feet and may have to work on grass so avoid stilettos and kitten heels and opt for a smart block heel, comfy wedge or chic flat.

Outfit ideas for the races 

Still not sure what to wear? Here are a few outfit combinations perfect for a day at the races.

A colourful suit is a great option for any occasion, this flattering combination of cigarette trouser in Mineral and matching Nina jacket are a great pairing to have in your wardrobe, wear with any plain top for a low-effort high-impact outfit. 

woman with dark hair leaning against door frame in blue floral silk suit

Enjoy light layers with this flattering combination of Avani coat in Pink Shalimar and Hepburn dress in Blush for an outfit tailored to a cool Spring day at the races.


redhead woman standing in walled garden in blush pink embroidered coat


Take a leaf out of Princess Anne’s style book with this stylish combination of Nehru coat in Venetian Red with matching shawl and Vera dress in Smokey Blue


Princess Anne in red coat and green hat

Whether it's a day at the races, a wedding, the coronation or something personal to you we hope our tips on dressing for a formal event have inspired you to choose an outfit that helps you feel beautiful and showcase your personal style.