For many people, a wedding is the only time we get to wear the most stylish and chic ensembles, but we must never commit the cardinal sin and outshine the bride and groom. So during a trip to the races, be it chilly Cheltenham, the regal Royal Ascot, Longchamp, the Melbourne Cup or our own Dubai World Cup at Meydan, these can easily become a no holds barred event to let our inner style demons run wild (etiquette permitting).
TIME TO TWEED
A long time ago, Cheltenham was known to feature a parade ring-to-racecourse backdrop of dull and boring tweed, in any shade of dark green or brown, worn like a status symbol.
It was light relief when, around 25 years ago, some forward thinking designers started a movement to bring brighter colours and trendy styles to the forefront. A whole new generation of 20-somethings were wearing tweed, but tweed with a difference — shapely and snappy in soft colours. We were not likely to see Princess Anne sporting it but her quirky daughter, Zara, most certainly did.
“At Cheltenham I like what they’ve done with the colour. The two piece suit is in, cigarette pants are in. There’s lots of faux fur just now and flat heeled knee high boots; a very country look, but with a colourful coat,” says Evelyn McDermott, a Dubai-based milliner.
The big wheel of fashion kept turning and brought more changes, of course. With the advent of the dreaded fascinator, we started seeing a trend for lighter materials and a crossover from Royal Ascot to Cheltenham; think wool and suede to lace and chiffon.
Royal Ascot retains a degree of decorum and sartorial elegance with its strict dress codes, such as ladies covering their shoulders, no shoe string straps, skirt length just above the knees and no silly fascinators. Trousers for ladies were only approved fairly recently. And amazingly, this year, they have been forced to bring in a new rule insisting on men wearing socks.
“I’m loving the new Royal Ascot campaign in conjunction with [British retailer] John Lewis, with the dress code trends and what is appropriate [to] wear. They allow the two-piece suit but not in the Royal Enclosure. And a hat must be worn,” says McDermott.
PRETTY IN PINK
A trip Stateside will reveal a different type of fashion, far less strict and structured and more about personal expression. The guys have a wonderful sense of flair with natty and sometimes outrageous dickey bows and fancy jackets. Churchill Downs on Oaks day (classic race for fillies only) will be pretty in pink; everything from the starting gates to the parade ring and the spectators will be decked in pink. In an even greater tribute to women, they hold a walk for survivors of breast and ovarian cancer and, of course, the dominant dress colour — pink.
The Arc de Triomphe in Paris on the first Sunday in October is a real show stopper, the French women being perhaps the chicest of them all. It’s haute couture all the way, stunning tailoring and exquisite millinery on both the ladies and the gentlemen.
“At the Arc de Triomphe, the French take it to another level with a touch of ‘je ne sais quoi’, their effortless style, they don’t have to be told how to do it,” adds McDermott.
Dubai is maybe the ultimate occasion in the style stakes. In this city of glitz and glamour, it’s perfectly acceptable, even compulsory, to ramp up the jazz. Imagine shimmering gold and silver encrusted with glorious jewels, gowns fit for a Queen’s Ball and hats and headdresses made by the world’s greatest milliners.
Some of them are fitted in place atop intricate hairstyles created by clever, nimble fingers in salons around town. There are frequent glimpses of Louboutin’s infamous trademark, too: the red-soled shoe.
Gentlemen welcome the chance to push boundaries and step outside their comfort zone, many entering into the best dressed couple competition with wives or girlfriends. They will rock all manner of shapes and shades, men in beautifully cut suits of exquisite fabric, mixed with the outrageously wild and zany styles of the younger generation, who sport all manner of colour with stripes, spots or even checker boards. It’s an anything goes evening, a time for freedom of expression and to allow the inner person to be exposed. Whether genteel or excitable, quiet or outspoken, let your style express the real you and make the most of a rare opportunity to do so.
The Dubai World Cup takes place on March 31 at Meydan. Tickets start at Dh600 for Apron Views.