Since the origins of horse racing in 12th century Britain, decadent couture has gone hand-in-hand with the rumbling of hooves. In an effort to attract attention and demonstrate their high-society credentials, women wore extravagant fashions, beginning on their heads. The more ostentatious the hat, the better. Men also dressed to the nines, though with a bit less grandiosity.
That tradition carries on nearly a Millennium later, as the scene of major races like the Kentucky Derby attests. There you might find men in plaid or checkered jackets and pants, a bowtie or equine-themed belt and a fedora or racing beret. Women in flowing dresses and even more flowing hats abound, the better to shade themselves and those around them from the Southern sun.
If you want to fit in among the horsey set during the Steeplechase of Charleston, you need to know the finer points of horse racing fashion. So here is a primer:
Men: You have many options
Men are encouraged to express their individuality, whether that means raucous or modest in fashion. Because horse races occur on tracks, men often start with boots or rubber-soled shoes best positioned to withstand mud. Others prefer the preppy look of loafers or boat shoes. The specialty men’s shop Jordan Lash on King Street has everything you might need, from an Onward Reserve Highland Chelsea Boot to a slip-on Charleston Hornback Alligator Grain Bit Driver.
Jackets are also critical to the male fashion statement at the steeplechase. Many men opt to reflect the themes of race day on their jackets, featuring horseshoes, roses or an eye-catching pattern. Orange is a popular autumn color.
Hats are de rigueur with the cognoscenti in Hollywood – Hollywood, SC, site of the steeplechase. For men, that means a flat cap, classic fedora or straw Panama hat. This is horse racing, so everyone needs a hat.
Jordan Lash can outfit men with all the fashion necessities for the race, including accessories like ties, belts, pocket squares and socks, all of which may flash nearly any color and depict nearly any scene imaginable. You want a ficus-themed sock? Jordan’s got two!
Women: Go big or go home!
While men may recede into the scenery, women attend the races to be noticed, with clothing and accessories that mix fashion and art. When it comes to distaff dress, keep three concepts in mind: color, patterns and sensible shoes.
Women who know how to dress for the races sport polka dots, rainbows, florals and stripes of every stripe, but they never skimp on comfort. Their dresses may be showy, but they are weather appropriate because shivering and sweating are never a good fashion statement.
Visit Hampden Clothing on King Street for all the latest race-appropriate clothing and accessories, including matching handbags. A Dim Popoche Clutch from Jerome Dreyfuss beautifully complements autumnal tones like a Forte Forte wool tartan coat.
Smart shoes and brilliant hats
Race fashions start with shoes and climax with hats. Flats, wedges and low-heeled tall boots are the footwear du jour because you will be walking and walking – on a variety of surfaces and in whatever weather Mother Nature throws the horses’ way. Gwynn’s of Mt. Pleasant carries a wide shoe selection to match that smashing outfit.
Ultimately, women in attendance are measured by their hats at the steeplechase. There is but one rule, whether they don a church hat, fascinator or Mirabel: draw attention. Ornamental, eye-catching and color-coordinated will make any hat wearer the queen of the ball but all styles are welcome, as long as you cheer for a horse.