Mode Rage: Suits at the Races


I recently discussed weekend shenanigans with a friend of mine who had been to the races. He had attended the meet in a brown checked tweed jacket, sky blue shirt, blue polka dot tie, patterned blue pocket square, light brown trousers and brown brogues. In other words; the race meeting dress code.

To my dismay, he informed me that the majority of the racegoers had not aligned themselves with this code. “I could count on two hands” he said “the number of men dressed appropriately. They looked like they were all off to the office.” I was further disappointed, though scarcely surprised, to learn that the black-suited majority were sufficiently indelicate and ill informed to cast aspersion and dubious comment at those correctly attired.

I have experienced such malice before and my friend, like me, was flummoxed as to their sense of victorious ridicule; what could they possibly be saying? “Ooh look, there’s a C*ck in tweed! Like a typical country toff at the races”? Yes, we are at the races. This is what is normally worn to the races. This is what everyone, including you, expects to see at the races. Of course, the real reason for such commentary and mockery is socially motivated envy.

When a man knows how to dress appropriately and elegantly for an occasion, it is difficult for even the most pugnacious member of the style ‘illiterati’ to fail to recognise the fact. They do recognise it and it irritates them that someone else was in better possession of knowledge, in firmer grasp of the occasion. They glance at each other’s black and grey Burton suits and no longer feel like the proverbial balls of the bow-wow and so they lash out.

My own experience at race meetings is similar. It is not just the standard of dress that has declined – the absurd length of trousers, the appalling inability to tie a tie properly – but also the aesthetic appropriateness of materials and colours to the occasion. Even those not in possession of a tweed jacket could look to more appropriate garments and colours than a shiny, Mad Men suit from TopMan. A wool flannel blazer or a corduroy jacket, worn with chinos, flannel trousers or a pair of cords are far more appropriate than a grey, black or blue mid-lightweight suit.

Suits are relied upon far too much; the art of the odd jacket and trousers, particularly in relation to country dress, has largely been lost. So impoverished has our daily dress become that the default code for any occasion has been ‘Suits’; weddings, race meetings and the opera, people dredge out the same, slate-grey suit without any concern. When they arrive, they espy someone in classic attire and regard their own dress, and consequently their own negligence of interest, with an inward scorn.

City suits may be one of the last bastions of formality but they are relied upon too much for their ‘top trump value’; the idea that if you turn up in a suit, you certainly won’t be underdressed. Clothing is too often considered in a vertical hierarchy and almost never considered laterally with regard to the occasion, the location and the environment.

Some blame the loss of social propriety, others point to the lack of useful signage – one of the most useful things about the oft-mentioned Esquire artwork of the early 20th century is the guidance it provided to clueless readers – but the reality is that the appropriate attire for a country weekend at the racetrack has never really been forgotten, as the compliments to my friend from female racegoers proved. And the fact that the suited gentlemen wanted to try his jacket on and approved of the fit and style once it was warming their own shoulders, shows that aesthetic differences are not significant. The problems are knowledge and application; the former is restricted by a lack of interest, the latter by a lack of confidence. Fortunately, neither are insuperable barriers. The campaign continues.


  1. Ricky Davis said:

    Not all stores are as behind as Topman when it comes to a separate jacket and trousers. Today’s young people don’t appreciate classics like the previous generation. Most high street stores for men are so obsessed with skinny.
    The majority of men are NOT this shape.

    It seems that high street names Marks and Spencer(always did), Next(did the same in 1980’s),Hacket(always) and Boden are starting incorporate a tweed jacket into their A/W 2011. I think the problem comes for the image and a lack of sartorial imagination.

    Those who know that fashion and film are always closely linked. The legendary actor Steve McQueen in Bullit wore a separate wool jacket and blue roll neck along with desert boots.

    Wear your tweed with pride!! Those who know will give you a knowing nod and smile.

    October 5, 2011
  2. Andrew said:

    At a recent wedding reception, for which the invitation stipulated “formal”, I was one of only three men wearing a dinner suit. The rest? Attired for a Tuesday at the office. Mostly pinstripe suits, mostly unbuttoned, many with loosened ties.

    October 5, 2011
  3. Laurence said:

    At my own wedding, this summer, I was really amazed at how many men showed up without ties.
    Ok, everyone who knew us knew it would not be the most formal of events, but still, if you’re going to dress up for a wedding, wear a tie.

    October 6, 2011
  4. gary said:

    just walk around london see all the dopes in poly cotton wool blends who think they are smart. but your article is meaningless it belongs to another day not now.

    October 6, 2011
  5. Harry said:

    One of the root causes of the problem you identify, Winston, is with our women: well-dressed ladies have tended to forget what constitutes “well-dressed” for men, and so encourage men to wear a suit as it is “smart”. This has perpetuated the dark-suit-white-shirt uniform, now often with no or a loose tie (since “we are not at work”). We need to educate the ladies in our lives too, methinks.

    October 7, 2011
  6. richard said:

    I really think that the suit and tie thing is done. Over. Finished.

    No one wears them anymore- even vp Ibankers cannot be bothered with tying a tie.

    Crocs and baggy long shorts are the style of the day.


    Fashion guys are always relating to what you wore 40 yrs ago, I myself am to the point of not even owning a suit anymore. I just don’t care, neither does anyone else. If you do dress well at work, everyone holds it against you.

    I also think it is directly relates to wages not going up- back 40+ yrs ago they made more money than we do now.

    Hell, my dad worked as a chip delivery man and made the equivalent of $80k a yr when he was 19.

    What do poor people wear in foreign countries?
    T-shirts, crocs/flip flops, jeans.
    Where is globalization going? a race to the working poor level in america, and to slightly better living standards in other poor countries. They cannot afford to buy a $1000+ suit made in a machine that costs 20 bucks to make. And the fabric is still crap at that level. It’s just too expensive for the average person to buy this stuff, let alone know how and when to wear it.

    I think suits are the most overpriced unnecessary garment ever made, besides the tie.

    October 9, 2011
  7. Some interesting comments from readers.

    Andrew’s experience at the recent wedding reception regarding the dress code is an unfortunate combination of a lack of knowledge and a lack of motivation to acquire that knowledge. “Formal” dress is a pub quiz question for most chaps; the wearing of pinstripe suits is really a ‘this’ll do.’

    Laurence’s experience is rather unfortunate. I sympathise with his expectation that his own wedding, though not due to be a traditionally formal event, should still have inspired guests to don a tie.

    Gary’s exasperation with ‘the London look’ seems to be based on material rather than cut or style, which is a little specific, but I disagree that this article is not relevant. Smartness and aesthetic appropriateness are attractive qualities in any decade.

    Harry’s point is an excellent one. I agree. There are men who rely on their more sartorially inclined womenfolk for advice on clothing and who are frequently led astray into the realm of thinking that a dark, James-Bond-cum-George-Clooney suit is the best thing for all occasions.

    I think Richard is wrong about the suit and tie. In metropolitan environments, which are the living spaces of the future, suits are more popular among the younger generation than the elder, which is a crucial problem with the theory that they are a ‘fashion of the past.’

    No workplace in which I have toiled has held dressing well against anyone. People have commented and asked me about suits, shoes and ties – how many I own, what my favourite is – but it is not a point of discrimination. In fact, the senior officers of the companies I have worked for have appreciated my approach and have viewed my sartorial self-respect with admiration which has resulted in close consulation, conviviality and trust; excellent advantages when it comes to professional progression.

    I appreciate that even wealthy professionals are beginning to neglect suits and ties but I don’t believe that the suit and tie is dead. It is dead as a required uniform of an everyday professional – in my office, I am one of the few who wears a suit everyday – but it is not dead as an aesthetic and a bar for elegance that people look to when putting their best foot forward, presenting to clients and winning new business. It still sends a message of seriousness and respect in the age of the denim-wearing millionaires.

    I agree that expensive suits are out of reach of many people, especially in these changing economic times, and can only applaud when people refuse to pay money for a manufactured product that offers poor quality; overpriced ‘designer’ products are well overdue a price-haircut.

    However, I disagree that only wealthy people can afford to buy and wear a suit, and also that only wealthy people have access to information that advises and encourages as to how it should be worn and when. Uniqlo sell a suit made from an excellent Tasmanian wool for just over £100. See ( for examples of how such a suit can be worn).

    Also, the writers who contribute to these columns, and other columns and blogs besides, have completely democratized access to sartorial advice and experience. The internet age has made it possible for a curious, no-knowledger in a remote part of the world to access information about turn-ups, buttons, DIY tailoring, colour-combinations (and more besides) without spending more than the monthly cost of their internet provider.

    Far from today being an age where beginning the habit of dressing well in a suit is an impossibility, it has never been more within reach.

    October 12, 2011

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