Dressing for Saratoga and other race tracks
For over a hundred years, the race track has been a place for elegance, style and high society. In the early days, it was all top hats and fur stoles. Today’s fashions are more relaxed, with women choosing mid-length frocks and the occasional pant suit, paired with turf-friendly wedges or sandals, and men selecting blazers and button-downs with tailored shorts or pants. But some things haven’t changed – dress is stylish, and hats rule.
We explain the strict dress code and provide ten tips on what to wear to a horse race for today’s stylish racegoer.
The dress code at Saratoga Race Track
The main thing to remember about dressing for Saratoga race track is that the code varies depending on where you sit. In the grandstand fashion is casual, with jeans and polo shirts dominating, whereas in the Box Suites and Rail Pavillion the rules are strict and specific. So let’s go through the seating areas one by one as explained by the official Saratoga site.
- Grandstand: Attire in the grandstand is informal. Amusingly there is only one rule; shirts and shoes are mandatory.
- Clubhouse: The main concern here is that you don’t show too much: No short shorts, cut-offs, tank tops or other revealing garments.
- Luxury Suites: Again, no short or revealing garments and no tank tops. Bold colors and patterns are popular trackside, but not mandatory.
- Box Seats: No jeans, shorts or revealing clothes are permitted. Men should wear suits or sports jackets (ties are not required), women dresses, skirts or slack outfits.
- The Rail Pavilion, The Porch, Club Terrace & Carousel Restaurant: For women dresses, skirts or slack outfits are required. For men no tank tops, short shorts, cut-offs or other short garments. According to the Saratoga dress code “Proper attire is at management’s discretion”, so tread with care!
- Turf Terrace: The dress code recommends “Neat Casual Attire”. For men, collared shirts are required, and no shorts of any kind, t-shirts or jeans are allowed. Women should wear dresses, skirts or slack outfits. But don’t expect too much consistency as “the management at the racetrack reserves the right to use discretion on what is neat casual attire.”
A note about hats: Hats are not required in any part of the track, but the dress code does encourage them, stating “[hats] are still very much a tradition at this famed racetrack… and many choose to honor these cherished traditions.”
10 tips for the stylish racegoer
- Before you decide what to wear to a horse race, double check the official dress code. Although most race tracks have a similar dress code, there are some differences, for instance in parts of Belmont Race Track gentlemen’s shirts must have long sleeves and a collar, while at Churchill Downs (home of the Kentucky Derby) halter necks are banned in the Grand Foyer.
- Women should choose shoes that are comfortable and grass-friendly, like sandals, block heels, ballet pumps or wedges. Avoid stilettos, and if there is a chance of rain, stay away from suede or pale color shoes – useful advice for men too!
- Race track dress codes have one running theme for both women and men; cover up. So even if you are in the grandstand, covering your thighs, chest and (certainly for gentlemen) shoulders will give you a classier, box-ready look.
- If you are selecting a whole new outfit, start with your dress, pantsuit or suit and then build your race track look from there. For women, the print and color of your dress or suit will dictate your hat and shoe style and color. For men, a plain suit in a conservative shade means more leeway for a more colorful shirt, or a bright or patterned tie and pocket square.
- For gentlemen, ties should complement the shirt and jacket combination, and be matched with a pocket square. And just because a tie is a fairly formal item, doesn’t mean it has to be plain or boring. Subtle patterns and stripes are an excellent idea, especially if your suit is on the conservative side.
- Classic color combinations are classics for a reason. For women, black and white is a perennial race track favorite. For men, navy and white or beige and white are racetrack classics.
- Men’s footwear should be smart. Although trainers and tennis shoes are sometimes allowed in the grandstand, they are not a strong race track look. If you’re wearing a suit, you may want to keep your shoes classic and smart with black or brown Oxfords or Derbies. If you prefer a more colorful look, with separate jacket and pants or chinos, brogues or smart suede shoes are a stylish choice.
- One for the women: If you don’t like hats or prefer something less formal, a bow, headband or silk headscarf will gesture at the horse racing hat tradition without making you look like an extra from My Fair Lady.
- Don’t overlook the clothes of kids attending with you. At many big racetracks, including Churchill Downs and Belmont, children over 12 or 13 are required to follow the adult dress code.
- The racecourse often combines crowds, summertime and formalwear. So, if the weather is hot, choose natural, lightweight fabrics such as linen, cotton and silk (or silk blends) to stay cool and comfortable.