A History of Race Day Fashion

Dressing up for the races has been a summertime British tradition for over one hundred years. A much awaited occasion for ladies to demonstrate sartorial prowess; mastering the balance between race course etiquette and being on trend is crucial to getting the look just right.

From hem-lines to hat sizes there are certain style rules that must be adhered to. Royal Ascot generally tends to be the most formal of all the Race days, with the strictest rules – ladies have donned their finest dresses and hats for the royal occasion for years, inspired to create standout, celebratory outfits.

We’ve looked back at the colourful history of race day fashion for some style inspiration for the season…

Mrs. Meade (left) and Mrs McClure wearing identical fur jackets, waiting for a train to Ascot. (Photo by Fox Photos/Getty Images)


Big hats and even bigger dresses were the in thing in the 1900s, with the more embellishments the better. Flowing floor length dresses with circle skirts, long sleeves and billowing layers of lace were the trends of the decade & highly coveted. The famous Royal Meet at Ascot in 1910 was in honour of the late King Edward and known as ‘Black Ascot’. With the royal family all in mourning, the royal box was empty but the rest of the elite were all dressed head to toe in black.


Strings of pearls, smaller tightly fitted hats and luxurious furs were the go-to accessories for race day in the 1920s. Women had a lot more fun with their outfits than in the previous decade with much looser dress styles donning shorter hems, frills and tassels optimising the flapper look.


Materials for race day dresses were much harder to source in the war time years so ladies had to be more creative with their fabrics. As a result, a shift in millinery trends took to the tracks; hats became much smaller than the larger hats adorned at the beginning of the century. Military style berets, straw hats and turbans all became increasingly popular, styled against structured and conservative dresses in stiff cotton or wool.


The classic fifties silhouette came to the forefront of race day fashion as it perfectly fitted their dress codes whilst remaining right on trend, Full skirts and cinched waists reigned supreme with polka dot fabrics and straw hats being very popular all accompanied with cardigan style cover-ups and cropped jackets. Dainty white gloves were also a must-have accessory.

Hawaiian-born model Marie Helvin, with the American model and wife of Mick Jagger, Jerry Hall, at Royal Ascot, UK, 1982. (Photo by Kypros/Getty Images)


The style revolution that was the 1960s really influenced race day fashion. Ostentatious hats were side-lined by floppier styles and baker boy caps with many women choosing to not wear a hat altogether. Hem lines rose shorter as the miniskirt became a nation’s favourite, whilst shift style dresses and pastel colours dominated the scene creating fun, youthful ensembles.


The 80s was a decade of explosive colour and there’s no better place to experiment than at the races. Ladies wore flamboyant hats and tight structured dresses to create a sharp silhouette. These defined shapes were accompanied by some pretty big hair or a fierce slicked back do. Power dressing was key, encouraging a lot of women to wear trouser suits to the races.


The dress codes & tradition of Race day fashion created high contrast with the trends of the 1990s. Abstract minimalism & grunge androgyny ruled the catwalk, quite against the expectations of race day attire. The late Princess Diana became a royal style, with her timeless ensembles inspiring feminine suits, tasteful headwear & classic pearl accessories.


Ladies’ Day fashion has been a talking point throughout the years, with modern race day dressing now more accessible than ever. The 21st century has brought with it an eclectic mix of style influences, with luxurious, on trend styles entering the high street. Haute couture and conceptual art has been spotted across the crowds of contemporary fascinators, influenced by the rise of street style spotting throughout the season.

If you’re planning on going to the races this year, why not take a look at our beautiful collection of race day clothing at Coast to get you inspired ready for the start of the racing season this spring.

Jordanne coast blogger signature