The inside track on Ladies' Day style (and how to wear a hat)

As the Yorkshire Ladies' Day season gets into full swing, Stephanie Smith finds out what makes a winner from the county's leading style experts (with pictures of their own parade ground outfits).

Harrogate milliner Jenny Roberts and Adele Mulrennan, wife of jockey Paul, at Ripon Races Ladies Day June 2018. Adele is the raceday presenter for Yorkshire Racecourses.
Harrogate milliner Jenny Roberts and Adele Mulrennan, wife of jockey Paul, at Ripon Races Ladies Day June 2018. Adele is the raceday presenter for Yorkshire Racecourses.

An unexpected consequence of our day-to-night style becoming generally more casual – witness, jeans now acceptable at many workplaces and sports-inspired leisurewear being luxed up for partywear – is that we do relish a genuine excuse to dress up.

The races, especially Ladies Days, are just such an excuse, and there are nine to attend across the season in Yorkshire, culminating in October with the grand final of the Go Racing in Yorkshire Lady Racegoer of the Year contest.

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Couture designer Anita Massarella has a boutique and studio in north Leeds and a lengthy client list including socialites, actors and royalty. Later this month, she will be dressing TV presenter Francesca Cumani, (with headwear by Ilkley-based milliner Justine Bradley-Hill) for the Welcome to Yorkshire Ebor Festival at York. Anita is still working on the gown but says that it will be in Welcome to Yorkshire pink silk, with a shot silk organza collar.”

This year's Ripon Races Best Dressed winners with the Snooty Frox team and Jenny Roberts.

Her advice for would-be style setters is, above all, practical – check the dress code. “Nothing can be worse than getting the basics wrong – and it happens,” she says. “I am often hearing stories of people who have not checked and felt under-dressed and too casual. Ensure you are wearing the correct length outfit and that, if your shoulders are covered, the fabric you have chosen is comfortable, as race enclosures can become hot quickly and it can become a long day. Some enclosures insist on no strapless or shoulder-less styles, so check, check and check.

“Trends this summer include intricate necklines, 1950s-style dresses – either with fitted bodices and pencil skirts, or fitted bodices and full skirts.”

The Ebor Festival takes fashion very seriously, with a full four days of catwalks and best-dressed competitions for ladies, gentlemen and couples. The event’s style experts Phil Pinder of Cuffs & Co, personal stylist Laura Fawcett, and milliner George Durdy have compiled a list of tips for upping the style stakes. They encourage the wearing of a suit and tie for men, with particular attention paid to accessories, including cufflinks, investing in a well-made pair of shoes and allowing colourful socks to add personality. Coordinate, don’t clash, with your partner.

For ladies, yellow is their top tip (remember Amal Clooney at the Royal wedding), as well as pastels and ice cream shades, keeping accessories tonal or metallic. “Trouser suits and two-piece outfits are a key trend this year,” they add. “Wear your suit jacket open with a pretty camisole underneath to add an extra touch of femininity. Adding a pair of block-heeled mules can make occasion wear more comfortable and give it a modern edge.”

Sarah Warnock (left) Janthia Griffin (middle) and Hannah Moody wearing bespoke James Steward for York Ebor races last year.

Wetherby-based designer James Steward is a couture designer for red carpet, special occasions and bridal, but also has a ready-to-wear collection tailor-made for chic, statement, race-going looks. He runs the label with his sister, Hannah Moody, who has the following advice: “Stand out from the crowd, but not for the wrong reasons,” she says. “Be classy. Shop locally and with a small business. There is less chance of someone wearing the same outfit. But above all, you must wear what you feel comfortable in.”

For Gini Palm, owner of Julie Fitzmaurice in Harrogate, a winning streak comes from understated classic styles teamed with striking accessories, usually a hat or fascinator which adds a splash of colour. “Elegance is key,” she says. “It’s daytime so keep it classic and chic. Aim for a longer, demure skirt length that reaches just below the knee, also ensuring that your outfit has straps or capped sleeves which are a pretty style for summertime race meets.

“Avoid high heels because you could be on your feet all day, walking from the stands to the parade ring to placing your bets, so I advise a nude court shoe or a comfortable block-heeled sandal.”

Natalie Jackson, of occasion specialists Helen Sykes in Leeds, points out that it is always better to wear something stylishly understated than an out-and-out on-trend look, which you might later regret.

James Lakeland red/black dress, £159, and floral print dress, £189. Hats from the Julie Fitzmaurice Hat Collection, prices start from £95, and certain styles can be dyed to match.

“The level of formality varies between enclosures, and in main areas a stunning dress with elaborate hat is perfect, but in the more formal enclosures there are strict dress codes to adhere to,” she says. At Royal Ascot, dresses must be at least knee-length and off-the-shoulder styles, although very fashionable this year, are not allowed. Hats must have a base of at least 10cm (so no fascinators). “For the more formal areas, a beautifully-cut, simple dress and fitted jacket in a gorgeous print or stunning bold colour always looks most elegant, and the outfit dictates the style and scale of hat, so a more simple outfit works with a more elaborate hat and a patterned outfit is complemented by more simple headwear.”

Ah yes, the all-important hat. Harrogate milliner Jenny Roberts has more than 20 years styling and millinery experience and her award-winning designs have featured in Vogue and Marie Claire.

Anyone can wear a hat that flatters, if they balance and enhance their face shape with the right hat,” she says.

Oval shapes can wear almost any hat shape, although large brims are the most flattering. “Wear them straight across the brow or across your hairline.”

Ellie pure silk chiffon ruched dress and Jemima pure silk dress, both from the Julie Fitzmaurice Bespoke collection, from £1,595. Picture by Tim Hardy.

Slim down round faces with broad or angled (asymmetrical) brims. “Set the brim at an angle to add length to your face. Avoid hats with rounded crowns – go diagonal.”

The right hat can cleverly enhance your good features and disguise those less favourable, say Jenny. “For a prominent nose, wear a hat with a trim to the front which draws attention elsewhere. If you are prone to a double chin, tip your hat down which will encourage you to hold your head upwards to see from under your hat.”

The angle the hat or headpiece is worn at is crucial. “The fashion for percher styles is to wear them on the front of your head, usually starting two fingers width above your right eyebrow. It is also essential to understand which side your percher should be worn. Getting the angle right will ensure the hat flatters.”

And, of course, it’s all about the confidence. Jenny says: “Wear a hat which makes you feel fabulous; if you feel fabulous. then you probably look it. The right hat can give you confidence, allure, mystique and can really make you shine.”

Ladies days in Yorkshire: Wednesday, August 15 – Beverley; Friday, August 17 – Catterick; Thursday, August 23 – York; Saturday, September 8 – Thirsk; Thursday, September 13 – Doncaster. Grand Final – Saturday, October 27, at Doncaster Racecourse.

Anita Massarella at work on the welcome to Yorkshire outfit she is designed for York's Ebor Festival.
Andre Bonadies' winning look from last year's Ebor Festival in York.
Sharon Richards' winning look from last year's Ebor Festival in York.
Luisa Williamson attending York Races Ladies Day last year wearing ivory/black and red Newcastle pencil dress from James Steward's ready to wear collection.
Stripe dress and jacket, £564.95, available in two colour choices black/off-white and aqua/off-white, at Helen Sykes in Leeds.