The Cheltenham dress code could be the beginning of the end
5 mins read

The Cheltenham dress code could be the beginning of the end

You know what I’ve never understood? ties. If ties don’t already exist and you try to introduce them to the world tomorrow, people will look at you like you were insane. “It’s a bit of cloth that goes around your neck, and if you don’t wear it to a job interview you’ll probably not be able to afford rent next month.”

“Oh ok. Does it at least keep your neck warm?” my fashion-backward audience asks.

“That’s the great thing: no.,” I replied. “Also, it’s really uncomfortable, and you have to coordinate your entire outfit to match it.” And then, presumably, they put me in prison.

My point is, there are so many little accessories and affections that we accept as a matter of course, never questioning why our worth as human beings is intrinsically tied to a functionless piece of cloth or leather that we’re expected to shell out major cash for. And based on the latest news, it looks like Cheltenham Racecourse agrees with me, as the horsiest place on earth finally took the important step of easing restrictions on its dress code.

That’s right: no longer will you be expected to spend £700 on a hat you wear once while you wait to find out whether How’s Your Father or Orphan’s Woe is the fastest donkey in town. No more will the British public be forced to bow to the whims of nature’s bicycle when dressing in the morning (I’m assuming the horses set the dress code? I’m not really a racing guy).

The progressive announcement was met with a range of reactions, including one person who was told theGuardian that the move “encourages mediocrity”.

But surely it’s the other way around? Isn’t dressing up like a wedding cake to do something my dad used to do every Sunday in his trackies the definition of mediocrity, instead? In my view, you’re in no position to look down on anyone when you’re out there spending the price of a used car on a jacket just because Big Horse told you to. Will the horses refuse to race if the tweed quota isn’t met? Will Daddy’s Little Princess get spooked if he sees a printed T-shirt? I doubt it. So what does it matter?

Here’s the thing: nobody is forcing you to stop dressing like a Ru Paul contestant who’s been given the prompt “Downton Abbey”. You can still wear interesting hats and dander about like you’re cosplaying as one of the hosts of the Hunger Games. It’s just that this makes it all a bit fairer. It opens things up for people who might think “Jimmy Choo” is a brand of bubble gum.

In fairness, it’s worth pointing out that there hasn’t been an “official” dress code in place for Cheltenham for a while now. The prompt regarding dress has been “dress for the weather” for quite some time, but it doesn’t seem to have changed very much. People appear to have historically shelled out for fancy outfits or avoided the event altogether because of peer pressure.

I, for one, hope this sparks a trend. I own one suit I bought for a wedding 12 years ago, and I’ve worn it to every job interview and court hearing since then. It cuts in the armpits and itches a little, but I grudge having to buy a new one. If the Cheltenham mentality catches on, and people finally get used to seeing things like trainers and jogging pants –even at “posh” events – then maybe one day I’ll be able to finally fulfill my dream of setting that suit on fire and never wearing it again.

Weddings? I’m wearing this vintage Austin 3:16 shirt I bought on eBay. Interviews? Hawaiian shirt with anime characters on it. Funerals? I might just wear my dressing gown.

That reality may not be as distant as you think. In January, the law firm Vargas patched its dress code and encouraged its staff to “be as wildly fabulous as [they] like”, prompting some to arrive at the office in gold leather trousers and sporting pink hair. Sure, they still insist that these wild outfits still “be appropriate for the luxury market” (read: cost more than the down payment on a mid-sized yacht), but it’s a start.

The expectation that we wear nice clothes to big events is, in my view, inherently exclusionary. Most people don’t own a suit for the same reason they don’t own a Big Bird costume: what’s the point in shelling out that much money for something you’re only going to wear for one wild night of fun? It’s a social custom that’s designed to keep people like me (terminally bad taste; still needs his mum to tie his tie) out of the loop, and it needs to end.

So the next time you’re in court for a minor traffic violation, or attending an event to celebrate the achievements and life milestones of your loved ones, or at the races, feel free to wear slacks. Stick on a pair of wellies. Do whatever makes you comfortable. Sure, some people will probably go mad at you in the short term, but they’ll thank you in the end.