Derby Attire – A Style and History
From early match races between nobility to the modern track races among the masses, elegance and high fashion have juxtaposed themselves against the dust and sweat of the track.
The origins of horse racing are lost in the mists of time. Since the earliest domestication of horses by tribesmen of Central Asia around 4500 B.C., racing has been a sport of kings. The origins of today’s style of racing began in the 12th century, when English knights brought light, fast Arabian horses home from the Crusades. From the first match races among the little Arabians to the professional thoroughbred racetracksof the early 1700s, the nobility celebrated power of the horse alongside the posh pleasure of “betting on the ponies.”
High Society and Fashion
This pastime of the nobles inherited all the social and political circumstances of its devotees and competitors. Races were social events in which style, etiquette, and political jockeying were as much a part of the festivities as the jockeying on the track. When English settlers brought thoroughbred racing to the United States and built an American version of the British Triple Crown, the traditions of high society substance and style came along for the ride.
Through the creation of a nation and the changing fashions of 300 years, American racing spectators have been a variable mix of rich and poor, the haves and the have-nots. The have-nots come in the hopes of that long-shot win that could change their fortunes. The haves come with the background and passion of hunt clubs and family histories. Each came – and still come – dressed in their best. It’s been this way since the laying of the first track in Long Island, N.Y., around 1665, and high-style “race day” fashions have been a part of the scene since the very beginning.
Dress Codes, Hats, and History
Dress at the track will depend on the area of the stands you’ll inhabit for the day. It’s not unusual for private Turf Clubs to enforce a strict dress code. This code usually requires suits or sport jackets with optional ties for men, and suits, sun dresses, or daytime dresses for women. Jacket and dress patterns are sometimes designed, with admirable loyalty, to mimic a jockey’s racing colors.
Even in less-restricted areas of the grandstands, men and women tend to wear their best warm-weather derby attire in the race day spirit, though ladies’ heels seem to get lower and lower as you move from the high-class boxes to the bleacher seats. In horse racing style, fashion meets practicality. Cotton, linen, and lightweight blends reign supreme in the heat of the day. Though hemlines have expanded and contracted, sundresses have been a staple on race day for decades. And since the earliest days, ladies’ hats have been a fashion focus at the racetrack. From the earliest days of match races among the elite to the modern track races among the masses, noble elegance and high fashion have juxtaposed themselves against the dust and sweat of the track.
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