And we’re off! The 2019 spring race season is officially upon us. Last month saw racegoers flock to Cheltenham for four days of horses and hurdles, whilst the annual Aintree races kicked off yesterday. One of the biggest events of the horse racing calendar, the three-day meet will culminate on Saturday with the world famous Grand National steeplechase at 5.15pm. Whilst there’s plenty of discussion over who will be this year’s victor (Tiger Roll is currently a favourite) there is another big talking point of the week. Ladies Day.
A major sartorial moment in the horse racing calendar, Aintree Ladies Day, which takes place today, has become renowned for its unashamed glitz and glamour. Frocks, fascinators, high-heels and oodles of carefully applied make-up, the unofficial dress code (unlike Ascot there isn’t an official one) is undoubtedly more is more; more spangles, more ruffles, more bells and more whistles. Sometimes quite literally.
Where ladies days are always fertile ground for extravagant looks (especially when it comes to the hats) Aintree is arguably the most OTT as attendees battle it out to win the coveted Ladies Day Style Award. Judged by a dedicated style panel (which this year includes ITV racing stylist Sarah Kate Byrne), the best-dressed accolade also comes with a Range Rover first prize. Certainly worth dressing up for don’t you think?
With enthusiastic looks unfailingly served-up year after year, come rain or shine (minus temperatures are no deterrent for a mini-skirt at Aintree), it’s no small wonder that Ladies Day is often referred to as #fabulousfriday. As Justine Mills, founder of fashion boutique Cricket (Liverpool’s race day shopping hotspot) tells me “there’s huge excitement in the city. It [Ladies Day] really galvanises the city and is something everyone can look forward to.”
However, what’s no so #fabulous is the disparaging way in which Ladies Day is all too often portrayed in the media. ‘Ladies Day CARNAGE: Wild Aintree girls look BUSHED as booze flows at races’ read one red-top headline last year, whilst another focused on the 'Eye-catching tattoos, pints and lashings of fake tan'.
On any given year, countless other headlines are sure to refer to exposed body parts (‘girls letting it all hang out’), revealing outfits (‘plunging necklines’, ‘skimpy skirts’) and ‘scandalous’ behaviour. Of course there is obligatory bum shot - literally. Skirt hitched, pants on show - it would appear that the Aintree photographers have a knack for capturing a moonie. (Last year’s belonged to a lady in a pink dress with matching french knickers. I can only imagine the hangover.)
Less glam, more grim, the annual press coverage is at best unflattering, at worst sexist, with headlines and the accompanying images seemingly intent on humiliation. Whilst no one is denying the fact that bottom-flashes happen - clearly Ladies Day can be a lively occasion - I find it hard to believe that it’s any more raucous than the other two days at Aintree, or any other race day for that matter, when drinks freely flow.
Could the fact that it is a woman-focused event have something to do with it? Somehow I think if we were talking about a day when men got dressed up to the nines and drank their body weight in Prosecco, it wouldn’t draw quite so much mockery. After all, an accidental glimpse of hairy ankle never seems to be considered quite as newsworthy as a flash of cleavage.
As for the ‘racy outfits’, I say get off your high horse (pun intended) and let the ladies have their fun. Whilst the outfits on display might not all be catwalk ready, there is something fabulously jubilant about piling on the bling and having a jolly good time, regardless of taste level. One of the joys of fashion is that it is a vehicle for escapism and getting dressed-up in spangles and sparkles is just this. “A lot of these girls feel amazing and isn’t that what it’s all about? Anything that makes someone happy - we’re all for that!” says Mills. Hear, hear.
What’s more, this year’s show of extravagance will perfectly chime with the current fashion mood for all things ‘extra’. Whilst romance and maximalism ruled this season’s catwalks, the 2019 Met Gala will see fashion’s inner circle celebrate the theme ‘camp’. If there’s anything camper than a day dolled up at the races, I am yet to discover it.
There’s another reason why Ladies Day should be admired and that’s the sheer amount of effort that goes into each outfit. “Liverpool is known for head-to-toe dressing. It’s not just the outfits - hair, make-up and nail appointments have to be made so that the whole look can come together. It has to be planned to perfection” explains Mills. As a scruffy Londoner with an entrenched need to wear jeans, I find such dedication to the glam-factor impressive.
Mills tells me that this year’s Ladies Day is set to see a romantic approach to race day dressing, with soft pastels, neutrals and nude-tones being popular sellers. Fascinators are set to be replaced with hair accessories, embellished hair slides also proving to be a hit with the Cricket crowd.
For those hoping to win the all-important Style Award, judge Sarah Kate Byrne says she’ll be looking for “individuality and imagination. It's not about the cost of an outfit, it's about how it's all pulled together.”
So grab your crystal-studded clutch bag and leave judgements at the door. It’s Ladies Day, let’s have some fun.