Do you have to wear a hat to the races?

Now you’ve booked a day at the races, you might be wondering “Do you have to wear a hat to the races?”

The simple answer is not necessarily. But why wouldn’t you choose to make the most of the opportunity to wear a hat? Wearing a hat to the races is all part of the fun!

Choosing your race day outfit can be overwhelming, leaving you saddled with the responsibility of making the right choice. Dress codes at UK racecourses can be strict, sometimes seemingly old fashioned and often very traditional. While you don’t need to wear a hat for the races for most courses and occasions, if you’re sitting in a Royal Enclosure, it is required that ladies must wear a hat or headpiece at all times.

Dress codes for Royal Enclosures accept a headpiece with a solid base of at least 4 inches is permitted. Fascinators are not acceptable.

When it comes down to it, check your tickets – if you are in a Royal Enclosure you must wear a hat. If you are elsewhere, hats and fascinators might be optional. Check the dress code at your racecourse before the big race day to allow yourself plenty of time to find the perfect headpiece if you need one.

Wearing a hat has become synonymous with going to the races, whether it’s a top hat for chaps or a wide brim for Ladies Day. It’s a deeply entrenched tradition and has always been associated with showing off your fashion credentials. From a more practical point of view though, Nottingham in November or Cheltenham in Spring can be parky, and a felt hat may be a very welcome accessory.

Millinery trends around the world are influenced by looks from the racecourses. It’s always worth looking to Australia in Winter to see what is going to be in the running, at the final furlong, come Summer.

Do you have to wear a hat to the races?

However, these days, the excuse to get dressed up to the nines part of the fun and the whole race day experience. One Ladies Day tradition, the “best dressed” pageant, is certainly one place where the competition can be fierce and the prizes lucrative!

So the truthful answer to the question “Do you have to wear a hat to the races?” is… it depends! 

However, I would love to help you to find the perfect hat for race day. My collection of occasion hats features my signature-style millinery; offering unique and elegant designs that you’ll be able to pair with your beautiful outfit. I also offer a bespoke millinery service if you are looking to create a unique headpiece, you can book a consultation here.

Sophie’s Top 5 Tips for Choosing a Race Day Hat

Sheffield based Milliner, Sophie Cooke of Imogen's Imagination, answers the question "Do you have to wear a hat to the races?"
Sophie wearing an Imogen's Imagination hat inspired by the Ascot scenes in the film "My Fair Lady"

1)    Check the dress code for your enclosure and make sure your headwear fits the rules.
Size matters – In some areas of Royal Ascot, wearing a huge hat is discouraged due to the crowds. Whereas in other areas of the course, go too small and you risk getting in trouble with the “Fashion Police”.

2) Choose your outfit as soon as possible
Summer is an incredibly busy time for milliners. The racing calendar starts in Cheltenham (March) so through until September and the St Leger festival, things are busy.

Weddings, Palace events (tea parties and investitures), Henley and a whole host of other seasonal formal events are in full swing. And that’s just considering UK events, I sell internationally as well.

I ask for 6-8 weeks for bespoke orders, and my appointment diary fills up very quickly.

Hat by Imogen's Imagination featured in the Royal Ascot special edition of Hatalk Magazine (2019)

3) Think about the season and weather
Straws (including paper) and sinamay are great for Spring/Summer; felts and velvet are better suited for cooler weather.

Brimmed hats can be great for offering a little shade on a sunny day, but a strong gust of wind might result in you chasing your hat across the course.

You can see my suggestions for Race Day hats across the seasons here: Spring, Summer, Autumn, Winter

Do you have to wear a hat to the races? Sheffield milliner Sophie Cooke at Imogen's Imagination explores the options
Happy Imogen's Imagination bespoke client at Royal Ascot 2019

4) Choose a hat you feel comfortable wearing
When you are comfortable, you are confident, and nothing can spoil your day…you will look and feel great! It’s classic headology.

Everyone thinks of race day hats as being large affairs, however a smaller hat can make a statement just as effectively. Zara Tindall always looks hot to trot wearing her signature smaller scale cocktail hats.

Happy Imogen's Imagination client at Royal Ascot 2019

5) Consider your colours carefully
It can be tempting to try and match your accessories exactly to your outfit. My advice is to treat this approach with caution.

By choosing complimentary tones instead, you’ll have more of an opportunity to pair your headwear with alternative outfits in the future.

(And should your headwear need a bit of a tweak for the next hat worthy event, I offer a retrimming service)

And an extra bonus tip; Check the weather forecast

If it looks like rain, make sure you have a brolly!

Most occasion hats do not like getting wet, so take a tip from a world-renowned and professional hat wearer. The Queen has an iconic line in transparent domed umbrellas – perfect for keeping the rain off whilst still allowing one’s headwear to be seen!

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