Day at the races - how to dress for Yorkshire ladies’ days

As preparations begin for Yorkshire’s Ladies’ Day season, Stephanie Smith asks leading Yorkshire special occasion designers and stores for their tips and favourites.

By The Newsroom
Saturday, 4th May 2019, 8:36 am
Updated Saturday, 4th May 2019, 9:01 am
Floral dress, £169, by James Lakeland, which is stocked at Browns of York and Julie Fitzmaurice in Harrogate.
Floral dress, £169, by James Lakeland, which is stocked at Browns of York and Julie Fitzmaurice in Harrogate.

Ladies’ Day has become so hotly contested, that it is surely only a matter of time before it’s possible to place bets on the best-dressed winner along with all the horses that take your fancy.

Some women – and men, as some courses stage best-dressed contests for them too on Ladies’ Day – plan their outfit months in advance and keep it a closely guarded secret for maximum impact.

There are nine racecourses across Yorkshire and each one is holding a ladies’ day with a best-dressed lady race-goer competition (and some, as I say, with more categories). If you want to take part, most courses simply put out a call on the loudspeaker asking that those who wish to enter to make their way to an assigned place, usually the parade ring, at a certain time. Some might operate an invitation-only system, so you have to hang around the public areas looking fabulous, hoping that one of the scouts or judges will hand you an invitation-to-enter card.

Olvi lace dress, £739, from Snooty Frox on Hookstone Road in Harrogate.

So, how to pick a winning look? Here is advice from some of Yorkshire’s leading special occasion designers and retailers.

Angela Horner, associate director of Browns, which has department stores in York, Helmsley, Beverley and Gainsborough: “A lot of races dress codes have been a bit more relaxed over the years, but there are still some no-nos for races,” says Angela. “Too much flesh – no midriffs or tiny skirts or boob tubes.

“It’s all about the ESD – the Effortless Silky Dress, with more emphasis on femininity and flowing lines. This is a great dress for either races or weddings as it can be dressed up to the nines and worn afterwards with sandals for a pared-down summer look.

“The jumpsuit is not going anywhere and is still a big trend for SS19 both in bright colours and more neutral tones.

Satin crepe backless Bella dress, £270, by Kevan Jon at The winner of Aintree's Style Award 2019 won a Range Rover wearing this dress. Picture by Chris Lord Photography.

“Remember when wearing florals the rule is, make a fist – if the floral pattern is bigger than your fist then it’s too big for you. Pleats, bows, fringes and crochet are also on trend.

“Avoid wearing matching colour hat, shoes and bag, as this does not look good and can be ageing.

“A hat, hatinator, fascinator or headpiece is a bit of a must at the races. Shoes must be comfortable. Wedges are a great choice for the races – and you won’t sink.”

Gini Palm, director at Julie Fitzmaurice on Parliament Street in Harrogate: “The hottest spring/summer trend is florals, embracing the joy and romance of summer with the floral print, complemented with our bespoke wool crepe coat which can be dyed to match the dress in any colour and is easy to wear.

The Bedlam cowl neck pencil dress with a tulip sleeve detail and pale gold zip, in a stretch scuba ivory and navy mencil effect pring. It's £255 at James Steward at All items are available online and also to order in bespoke colourways.

“Don’t overcomplicate the outfit as classical elegance is always ageless and timeless.

“Dresses are to be classically styled and worn with one of our beautiful shaped hats which complements the outfit and the wearer’s face and neckline.”

Kevan Jon, special occasion designer based in Halifax. The winner of Aintree’s Style Award 2019 won a Range Rover wearing his Bella dress: “Be adventurous with colour and take a risk with the design, don’t over-accessorise and walk with confidence,” Kevan 
says. “Depending on the occasion, sometimes for that chic, sophisticated look, over-accessorising can make the entire outfit look less expensive. I often say less is more.

“Always remember, only show one of your assets and not all.”

Julie Fitzmaurice bespoke range with dresses from £795 and coats from £895, at Julie Fitzmaurice in Harrogate.

James Steward, a wedding and special occasion designer based in Wetherby, run by James and his sister Hannah Moody: “Whatever your body type, when it comes to dressing up for a big event, we always say that feeling confident matters,” Hannah says. “Whether you are perfectly petite, or blessed with curves, a nipped-in waist or pleat detail across the tummy area works a treat on everyone. Choose ruffles for instant dressed-up styling.

“We think that the secret to a winning streak this season is to add an energetic splash of colour to your outfit, wear bold prints, bright colours, monochrome or we always love stripes. There are so many options nowadays but always dress classy and elegant. Wear either just above the knee, just below the knee, tea length or maxi. If dresses aren’t your thing, then why not rock a jumpsuit and accessorise with a fabulous hat.”

James Lakeland is a British designer stocked at Browns of York and Julie Fitzmaurice in Harrogate: “Keep it simple and elegant and don’t go too short for a dress,” says James. “But don’t be afraid to be different and go for a chic trouser suit [now trousers are officially accepted at the races]. Go for colour and bold prints but then keep the accessories simple and match the colours to your hat. Hats, of course, are a big feature. Go bold and extravagant if the dress is simple and chic.

“Jewellery is another way to accessorise, but too much heavy jewellery can be tacky – so again keep it simple.”

Rachel Atkinson, general manager at Snooty Frox in Harrogate: “Two trends are proving popular: the full skirted A-line dress – choose a dress with plenty of twirl and swirl – and the jumpsuit, perfect dressing for the long-legged look, worn with heels, of course.

“For headpieces, as always, it’s make-a-statement time. Choose beautiful bows and country garden flowers on top and you won’t go far wrong.

Yellow/multi print dress, £478.95, at Helen Sykes, Stanningley Road in Leeds.

“Accessories can make or break an outfit and fluidity of look is all-important. Let a specialist accessorise your outfit with shoes, bag, headpiece and jewellery but do this when you purchase your dress. Buying items at different times can prove difficult, particularly if you are matching up shades.”

Antonia Houston Couture is a designer based in York: “The 80s look is still going strong with starburst power suits, dandy bows and a feminist approach. Beige is big news from some designers with macramé and raffia detailing playing a huge part among the boho trendsetters, one key piece being the prairie dress – acting as a strong contender for the look of the summer accessorised with the wedge shoe and oversized jewellery.

“Slow fashion is finally coming back again with clients wanting that special timeless item that can be worn for many more seasons. Luxury sustainable fabrics from organic cottons to soft tweeds play a part for the new generation, which is good news for the independent designer.”

Natalie Jackson at Helen Sykes Fashions on Stanningley Road in Leeds: “The 1950s influence is still very strong, with elegant full skirt-style dresses with fitted bustlines, teamed with neat fitted short jackets which fasten at the front or the back.

“We are also finding that designers are steering towards understated, beautifully-cut Jackie-O styles of straight dress and jacket (or dress and coat) in luxurious plain fabrics, which are simply chic. Co-ordinate with a large brimmed hat either toning or contrast, and simple court shoes or sandals for a stunning timeless yet modern look.”


Thursday, May 30 – Wetherby

Thursday, June 20 – Ripon

Saturday, June 22 – Redcar

Wednesday, August 7 – Pontefract

Wednesday, August 14 – Beverley

Thursday, August 22 – York

Wednesday, August 28 – Catterick

Saturday, September 7 – Thirsk

Thursday, September 12 – Doncaster

The Best Dressed Lady Final is on Saturday, October 26 at Doncaster Racecourse.

Embroidered dress, £50, by Klass at Browns of York.
Headpiece by Knot & Bloom with prices starting at £80. Prices start from £120 for pieces by Olivia Houston Couture's Yorkshire Dandy collection of silk and tweeds. Picture by Olivia Brabbs.