What to Wear to the Races: Season By Season Guide

Image credit: Paul McMillan.


Ahhh autumn, when the leaves are falling, the colours around us turn golden brown and race wear steps up its game for Sydney Carnival. The cooling weather means dressing for autumn racing is all about textures. Think leather, felt, and luxe woven fabrics like tweed, boucle and wool. You definitely should steer clear of straw hats or fascinators at this time of year! This brings us to colour choices. Deeper, richer hues are what you want to go for here. Try emerald, fuchsia, navy, or purple, or metallics such as silver and gold (these are especially popular in accessories). Don’t be afraid of having fun with your head wear. These days there’s literally oodles of alternatives to the traditional hat or fascinator.

The chilly weather provides an opportunity to add extra punch and polish to your outfit with accessories. Little finishing touches like gloves, fishnet stockings or a mini bag can take your outfit to next level and add that extra bit of ‘something’. Remember, you don’t have to match your fascinator to your dress perfectly as long as the contrasting colours complement one another. Matchy-matchy is a thing of the past!


The key to dressing for the races in winter is balancing formality whilst keeping warm at the same time. It’s going to be cold so finding the perfect coat or jacket that works with your pant suit or dress is a must. Trench coats or oversized fluffy coats usually look great, or play around with layering to simultaneously build sophistication and warmth. For dresses appropriate to the season, something woven or wool based with sleeves would serve you well. A modern take on the pill box hat is the perfect accompaniment to most winter race wear looks. Don’t forget a stylish scarf and umbrella, and remember, closed in shoes or boots are mandatory.


Arguably the most dazzling time of year in racing fashion is Spring, with the excitement of warmth and playful colours returning to race wear (and the air). Spring Carnival in Melbourne sees a different dress code for each day: Derby Day is black and white, Melbourne Cup is bold and colourful, Oaks Day is feminine and ladylike, and Stakes Day is known as family day and more relaxed. Whichever way you look at it the dress code for spring across the country is High Fashion, and it’s time to make a statement!

With spring comes permission to make bold sartorial choices. This could mean contrasting traditional and contemporary racing fashion in your outfit. In terms of colours and patterns, you can just go ahead and throw the rule book out the window. No combination is off the table here! For colours, pink is an obvious favourite that makes a strong appearance each year at the track, but yellow, blue, mauve and (pantone colour of the year for 2017) green are also popular choices. Beautiful straw millinery is obligatory. Wide brim hats and boaters are still on trend, however there’s definitely a shift towards contemporary head wear like crowns, silk scarfs and metal head pieces. For footwear, opt for a stylish but comfortable pair of shoes which match your outfit to perfection.


The summer racing dress code is more laid back and can be defined by pretty florals, delicate lace and soft pastels. The rules relax at this time of year which is a god send because you don’t want to be working up a sweat in a formal gown. Think summer garden party where it’s OK to go sans fascinator or hat. Dress choices should complement the weather, as should colour choices. Neutrals (including white and cream), pinks and florals all work a treat. Julia Roberts in the polo scene in Pretty Woman makes a good muse for summer racing (though perhaps with a contemporary update). Footwear also becomes more relaxed, so low-heeled wedges or strappy sandals are on the cards.

Some General Rules of Race Wear

In all seasons, dress lengths should never be compromised. A dress that falls just above the knee is fine, but re-think going for anything shorter than this. Tight, clingy dresses or bodycon is a big no at the track. Piercings and tattoos should be covered or taken out for the day if you want to have an air of elegance.

Signup to our newsletter
Get TheRaces Newsletter
for all the latest in fashion, lifestyle & racing in Australia.
The Latest on all the Race Action & Trends