This feature has been produced in partnership with Calibre Clothing
You’ve got your squad, your girl (or guy) and few weeks wages in cold, hard cash ready to blow on marked-up beer. It’s racing season – the only time of the year where you can get completely rinsed in a marquee tent and look like a dashing sun of a gun in the process.
While you might not get snapped by a famous menswear blogger or offered a sponsorship, looking good on the day is almost as important as pretending to care about horse racing. Let’s face it, guys might pretend to not give a rats about racing style, but it’s one of the few opportunities to go all out, sans judgement.
Pitti Uomo has set the tone for this year’s racing style. Inspired by slouchy Neapolitan style and the easy nonchalance this tailoring culture represents, here’s your gentlemen’s guide to the suits, shirts and accessories for spring racing.
Men’s Spring Racing Suits
The suit is still the uniform of the spring races, so you need to get it right. The basics are simple but key details will dictate the difference between you and the guy that everyone suspects rented his suit for the occasion.
The modern suit is normally single breasted, with a two-button closure and narrow to mid-width lapels. Trousers should be slim – but not compression-pants tight – with a neat break that kisses your shoelaces but keeps the shape of your pasty ankles a mystery.
Derby Day is the most formal of the bunch. Here, you’ll be expected to work around the black and white dress code: no fanciful pops of colour. However, it’s not uncommon to see cautious experimentation with greys and subtle patterns, provided they’re anchored in black and white.
For the Melbourne Cup, Stakes and Oaks Days, you have more room to play. This means softer blues and greys, checks and stripes, and flashes of colour. If you think mileage above all, start with a plain navy or a grey. Keep the suit clean and simple and let the accessories do the talking.
For those of you that resist the monochromatic simplicity of a two-piece suit, there’s the option to go separate jacket and trousers. This is an acceptable option for Oaks Day in particular, but you’re likely to cop more of a whipping than the horses if you try this at Derby Day. Otherwise, go summer nautical with white, cream or beige bottoms with a blue jacket. Alternatively, dark trousers with a pale red, grey, or cream jacket can add some nonchalant cool to the day.
While the suit captures the most attention and financial interest for punters in the days preceding, a good shirt is key. A plain white or pale blue shirt works well with any suit and tie, and the former is a necessity on Derby Day. But come on, fellas, its racing season – don’t be afraid to keep things interesting with geometric, floral, or check patterns.
Worn with a coloured jacket, a muted floral shirt is the perfect match. Just be sure to include the colour of the blazer in the flower arrangement, tying both components of the top half together. Same goes for geometric or check patterns – you want to keep colours roughly in the same family or complementary in some way. Just don’t go pattern on pattern. It’s a tough gig to pull off and no one wants to be the dolt that went too far.
Shoes Maketh The Man
Oxford shoes are understated, classy, and suitable for most racing days. Stick with black for Derby Day, but go ahead with more daring colours or broguing for the rest. Their close relative, the Derby shoe, is a touch less formal due to the open lacing, but contrast leather can look great under separates or a casual suit.
Monk strap shoes are a dream for versatility: they’re one of the only styles you can wear casually and formally and not look out of place in either setting. Plain chocolate brown or black is the safest choice, but don’t be afraid of monk straps with contrast straps if you need to lift things with colour.
Loafers might not pass inspection at Derby Day but for Melbourne Cup or Oaks they’re a fine choice if you want to sub your oxfords or derby’s to the bench. Black tassel loafers go with everything, but if your suit and shirt combo is putting people to sleep, look at contrast colours for a bolder colour pop.
Know Your Accessories
Once you’ve finalised the key details – suit, shirt, and footwear – you can afford to splash out (a bit) on accessories. That’s not an endorsement of grabbing every piece of jewellery you own and going full peacock. Less is more, gents, so be tasteful and let a key accessory or two complement your outfit.
Ties are a non-negotiable for most racing days and the right one can lift a mediocre, boring outfit towards respectability. For plain suits, add a pattern or colour contrast, like a stripe or floral if you’re game. If your shirt is patterned, however, keep the tie on the plainer side. A double four-in-hand knot is better than a Windsor, which can look pompous or like something you’d see in the House of Representatives.
Pocket squares are one of the easiest ways to splash out, and the rules are flexible. Choose something bold and patterned – you have every other day of the year to wear a plain white hankie – and don’t fold it too neatly. Just don’t be a rookie and match the hankie and tie.
Got a great lapel pin you can’t keep under wraps? Use the colour of the lapel pin to tie in with the shirt or complement the suit jacket. Don’t try too hard to match the pin to the tie (you’ll be searching all day to find the perfect match) as this looks a touch too tidy, even contrived.
Cufflinks are pretty simple: avoid ostentatious novelty cufflinks (no one cares if you have a thing for lions or elephants) and make sure the metal refers to the colour your watch, tie clip, or rings in some way. No cufflinks? No problem. A button cuff is just as acceptable these days.
Tie clips are useful for looking tailored and keeping your tie out of the punch bowl. Go for a pin or a thin half-size bar, and ensure that whatever you pick isn’t wider than your tie. Chunky tie clips look like something your old man would wear to the office, so give them a pass.
Finally, What To Avoid
Satin – Satin is for after-dark formal, not guzzling gin and tonics while watching horses get whipped into oblivion.
Patent – Shiny leather can look trashy on warm sunny days, and tend to imply you confuse racing day dress codes with black tie.
Too much colour – Have one anchor colour and one (or two at most) complementing bolder tones. You don’t want to draw more attention than the leading bet.
Over-accessorising– Don’t cram every accessory onto your wrists and jacket. It looks muddled and try-hard.
No streetwear – The sartorial heritage of spring racing deserves a bit of respect, even if you carry on like it’s the last party before the apocalypse. Keep the drop crotch camo pants and Supreme tees for another day.
Being A Dickhead – Nobody likes a dickhead so drink in moderation and respect others trackside.