DRESSING FOR THE RACES

My favourite  hat  enjoying a day at the races

My favourite hat enjoying a day at the races

I chuck on Rag & Bone’s grosgrain-trimmed Panama hat to disguise my unwashed hair a few times a week, which didn’t make it the obvious choice for a race-day hat (would it kill any sense of occasion?). Still, it’s my fave, it goes with everything and, as I already own it, it’s free. Obviously.

My talented sister-in-law Alexis was riding in the 2019 amateur Magnolia Cup, which is held annually on ladies day during the Goodwood Festival in West Sussex, and had kindly got us tickets to watch her from the course’s chi-chi Richmond Enclosure. Unlike Ascot, there’s no rigid dress code, they just encourage dressing ‘stylishly but with a relaxed feel’, suggesting ‘a floaty dress or elegant top and trouser/skirt combination’.

But forget hats and frocks, shoes are singe-handedly (footedly?) the hardest thing to get right on race days (see also weddings, christenings etc). You need something elegant, yet cool; comfortable, yet chic; neutral, yet not too Kate Middleton (and I say that as a huge Kate fan). Step forward Gucci’s Marmont sandals (which I confess to having splurged on in both gold and brown - yes, they are that good). The three-inch (7.5cm) block heel is about as comfortable of a heel as you’re going to find and they don’t rub, pinch or slip around. At all.

Me, my sister Lucy (in Preen) and sisters-in-law Cat (in Miss Selfridge) and Cath (in The Kooples) picnicking at Goodwood racecourse

Me, my sister Lucy (in Preen) and sisters-in-law Cat (in Miss Selfridge) and Cath (in The Kooples) picnicking at Goodwood racecourse

So that’s hat and shoes sorted. Onto the frock. It needed to be versatile enough to cover the various weather eventualities that August in the UK can bring, not too short as we’d be picnicking on blankets and not too tight or restrictive (I had high expectations of the aforementioned picnic), while still holding its own next to the legions of glamorous guests that ladies day always attracts. Goodwood is known for its stunning rural setting in the South Downs, which lends itself to a romantic vibe rather than anything too structured or formal. Rixo would probably be a good shout (I’m a big fan of the Martha), but my UK friends and family had regaled me with tales of recent weddings where multiple guests showed up in the same style, such is the ubiquity of the London-based label (and for good reason). At a slightly lower price point (hurrah), LA-based Reformation does romantic dresses like no one else (well, aside perhaps from Loveshackfancy), and its romantic aesthetic always comes with an underpinning of city-suitability. In other words it’s not too shepherdessy. Unfortunately, I find a lot of their cuts too restrictive around the old mum-tum (seriously, dress-makers, please stop with unflattering seams around the waist). Not so with the Marfa style, which has three vertical seams (one on each side and one down the centre of the back) and you can adjust the fit with a thin waist tie (there is no zip, despite what the website says). The midi-length ends in a subtly dipped hem, while the sweetheart neckline (balconette bra required, this is mine) is offset by baby puff sleeves. It’s basically my dream dress. (I bought the US 6, but I am normally a US 8 in the brand’s tighter-fitting styles.)

But the real winner of the day was amateur jockey Khadijah Mellah, who not only became the first jockey to race in a hijab in the UK but also won the race (my sister-in-law Alexis came second). Glorious Goodwood, indeed.