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How To Dress For A Horse Race
Planning Your Outfit
As my husband cleverly sorts his handicaps and picks his winners, I am feverishly searching for the perfect combination of dress, hat, shoes, clutch, and jewelry. This scenario is all too familiar as we plan our yearly trip to Saratoga Springs Race Track in Saratoga Springs, NY. Where do you start? It all depends on what look you want to go for.
A key bit of advice to keep in mind as you plan is to not over think it. Start simple and then compliment your image. Too many details will lead you to look overdone and stick out rather than stand out.
I love planning my outfits for the track almost as much as I love horse racing...and that is a lot! Read on for stress free tips on planning your outfit.
If You Choose Your Hat First
If you start with the hat, decide what kind of headpiece you want to wear. There are many to choose from: floppy, wide and short brimmed, cloche, bowler, birdcage, fascinator...the list goes on. There are really no boundaries, so have fun with it!
There are many online vendors that sell hats designed to wear to the races. Commercial websites sell thousands of quality hats for as little as $20.00. If you go to Amazon.com and type in "derby hats" or "church hats" in the search box, it will bring you here where you will find countless colors and styles of hats to wear to the races. Other websites that specialize in hats and hat making may have list prices around $350 and up. Don't get me wrong...these are beautiful hats...but you DON'T have to spend that much on a hat to look fantastic at the races.
Here is a little story for you: One year I wanted to buy my hat in downtown Saratoga. My husband and I had walked by dress and hat shops many times and the thought of buying one there was so authentic to me. I waited until the morning of Jim Dandy day (a big race day) to walk through the shops and select the piece to complete the rest of my outfit, which I already had on. After trying what seemed like hundreds of hats on, I finally chose a one, but almost choked when I saw the tag which listed $150.
...I was already sucked in, so I broke down and bought it. Now, I had never spent that much on a hat before and I haven't since (the quality is outstanding, by the way...). I justified the purchase with my attendance at the track - we are at a race at least once per year so the chances of me wearing it over and over are high.
Once you have found a headpiece, start looking at the rest of your outfit. Pair a neutral hat with a dress that is brightly colored or has a beautiful print or overlay. If your headpiece is more on the wild side (don't be shy), pair it with a more subtle dress or two-piece ensemble. The accessories should compliment the hat and not overpower it's statement.
I love all of my hats equally because of how they shaped my outfit each race day and because of how much fun I have had in each one.
A Few Of My Own Hats
If You Choose Your Dress First
Before spending buku bucks on a designer dress, you should look through your own closet first. You will be pleasantly surprised when that dress you wore to a summer wedding three years ago is a perfect choice for your track day soiree. Here are some rules to follow as you choose your dress:
1. Make it comfortable: Check the weather for the location and season of the race track you will be attending. Horse racing season at Saratoga Springs is during the warmer months and can be very hot depending on where and when you are traveling to. Note: you will most likely sweat a little bit, so choose fabrics and cuts that will not stick to you and that you will be comfortable in for the whole day. Days at the track can last for about 6-7 hours, so keep that in mind.
2. Think about your hat: If you have not chosen a hat yet, your dress choice is free range. If you have chosen your hat, follow the rules listed above in the hat section "If You Choose Your Hat First." If you want your dress to make the statement of your outfit, there are really no boundaries.
3. Keep your seats in mind: There IS etiquette that must be followed in certain seating areas of the track. Make sure you check with your specific track's guidelines to be sure. Saratoga Springs Race Course Dress Code information can be found under the General Information link on the NYRA website, about three quarters of the way down the page.
4. Keep it classy: if you have a lower cut top or dress, make sure your bottom half is covered. You definitely do not want to dress as if you are going to a night club. The same goes for the opposite: if you have a shorter dress or skirt, make sure your top half is modestly dressed.
I have found so many dresses that don't cost a lot of money because they are either A. in my closet or B. on sale. If you do choose to buy, keep an eye out for end of season sales during spring and summer months. The navy and white dress pictured below was scooped from a Banana Republic clearance rack marked at $50 from $130.
Some Combinations I Have Worn On Race Day
Which Combo Was Your Favorite?
Shoes, Shoes, Shoes...
I will never live down the day that I wore a pair of my mother's shoes to the track. They matched perfectly with my dress and were so cute. My mom had worn them many times and promised they were comfortable. So I thought - okay, they are broken in and we have the same size feet, so they must be the ones! Halfway through the day, the outside of my big toes and pinky toes were bleeding and my feet were in excruciating pain...try looking dainty and ladylike when that happens. Never will I make that mistake again.
You will be walking a lot on race day. Whether it's to the paddock to see the horses before they run, to the bar to get a drink, a vendor for some snacks, the window to place a bet, or to the bathroom...let me repeat: you will be walking, a lot.
Choose a pair that you know you are comfortable in, that you have broken in, and that you can wear all day without a fuss. There are no rules here, they can be wedges, flats, embellished sandals, open-toed pumps...as long as they are not just a pair of plan flip flops. You DO want your feet to look a bit classy too.
Tip: Similar to a wedding or an event coming up, it is smart to wear your shoes around the house as much as possible during the week leading up to your track extravaganza. It is also smart to pack a pair of PRETTY flip flops that you can fit in your clutch or your purse just to be safe. If your feet start to swell or you feel a blister coming on you can just slip those on and be just as happy. Because really...a blister ruining your day is just...dumb. And who wants to look like a newbie at the track?
Low up-dos are perfect for wearing under hats. If you are wearing a fascinator, you have some more options because it will not cover your whole head. Test your hairstyle before race day to see which will fit best for you and your headpiece. I have even worn my hair down (straight or curly) and it looks just as good. However, as I mentioned before, the weather can be hot so keep a hair tie or some bobby pins handy.
Usually, I don't wash my hair the day of the races. This is because A. my hair is easier to work with that way, and B. I will have a hat on, so no one will see my roots. Here are my instructions for a simple, no-fuss low up-do to wear under your hat:
What you will need: a hair elastic, about 6-8 bobby pins, hairspray
1. Gather your hair at the base of your head, either in the middle or to the side.
2. Tie with an elastic.
3. Press your pony tail down and secure on each side with two bobby pins.
4. Roll the free end of your pony tail up and towards your head, and secure the end of the pony tail with two more bobby pins, forming a faux-bun.
5. Use the rest of your bobby pins to secure fly-aways and shorter sections/layers of your hair that fall out back to your faux-bun.
The last time we went to the track, I did this in the car (my husband was driving), and it took me all of 10 minutes. Take a look below to see how it came out.
FYI - simply tying your hair at the base of your head or slightly to the side is just as pretty - curl it or wear it straight, whatever you prefer!
10 Minute Car Up-Do Outcome
The same advice applies to jewelry as everything else: don't overdo it. You can really wear whatever you would like as long as it compliments your whole look. If your statement piece is a necklace, make sure every other element of your outfit compliments it or matches.
To compliment my ensembles, I usually go with classic white gold/gold pieces that I can wear on a daily basis. These are my expensive but sentimental pieces that I believe even carry some luck with them (See first two pictures below).
Simple bangles can make a great addition to sleek dresses, especially if you don't want to wear a lot of other jewelry. The bangles pictured below are all from Forever21.
Get creative with jewelry you already have. I recently wrapped a necklace around my wrist to go with another bracelet I had on, and it matched perfectly. This was another quick thought in the car on the way to the track. The necklace was, again, from Forever21, and the bracelet was from Old Navy, bought at different times. Both together were under $15.
Don't be afraid to add a statement necklace either. Chunky and colorful costume pieces like the ones below can flow very nicely with solids and neutrals.
Don't Forget To Have Fun
Now that you are fabulously dressed, don't forget to have fun. Every race day is different, but is personally the most exciting day of my summer vacation. There is nothing like picking a winner and turning your $2 bet into $50 (and looking the part, too!) Does anyone else get butterflies when the horses break from the starting gate?
And They're Off!
Answer This Poll!
What look are you going for next race day?
© 2015 Gold Violet