What to wear to Dubai World Cup: Fashion experts share hat, dress and suit tips

Style Stakes judges explain how to dress at one of the world's richest horse races

Best Dressed Lady is one of the categories typically judged in the Dubai World Cup Style Stakes. Twitter / Meydan Style
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The 2024 Dubai World Cup is just around the corner, so keen attendees are probably already planning how to make a fashion statement with their race day outfits.

Set to take place on March 30 at Meydan Racecourse, the event is the biggest UAE racing date of the year, with millions of dollars awarded as prizes to some of the world’s best jockeys and horse breeders. The annual event is also a chance for racegoers to showcase their finest outfits and an opportunity to be crowned best dressed in the annual Style Stakes competition.

Globally, racing events have strict fashion guidelines, and a certain level of elegance and glamour is always expected.

At Royal Ascot in England, guests are asked to adhere to a strict dress code, including specific rules around hats and headpieces, rules outlining necklines, dress straps and sleeve lengths.

Meanwhile, the Kentucky Derby in the United States, although less strict than its British counterpart, instructs guests to “dress to impress” on its official website.

Dubai World Cup follows suit with guidelines and expectations around what to wear for the event. According to Dubai Racing Club a hat or fascinator is essential for ladies, and guests should avoid revealing attire, as well as plunging necklines and overly short dresses.

For those who take their Dubai World Cup fashion choices seriously, each year, the Style Stakes competition awards the best-dressed attendees in various categories, with various prizes, ranging from Emaar gift cards to Emirates Skywards miles to bespoke hats up for grabs.

The categories for the 2024 Style Stakes are yet to be announced, but in the past they have included Best Dressed Lady, Best Dressed Man, Best Dressed Couple, Best Hat and Best Traditional Outfit.

Taking place in the Apron Views area of the Meydan racecourse, Style Stakes invites participants on stage to showcase their outfit. The judges are looking for originality, attention to detail and appropriateness for race day.

There is strict criteria for entering, which requires ladies to wear a fascinator or hat, men to wear a jacket, tie or bow tie, and no jeans or trainers are allowed.

This year, the Style Stakes judges are looking for originality and an expression of personal style, as judge Ruth Bradley explains: “The main piece of advice is to just be yourself. Be super unique because ultimately we are looking for a really unique sense of style and people that stand out.”

She goes on to list some of the sartorial missteps potential race goers could make, saying, “Men in trainers is a big faux pas. There is a certain level of dress code that is expected on race day and I really don’t think it includes sports shoes.

“I personally don’t mind a man without a tie if the overall look is spoke bespoke, well-cut, very chic and classic, but my co-judge Gary Sweeney [brand and style director at tailors Ascots & Chapels] would probably disagree with me on that one. Men in pants that are too tight or too short is another major no.

“For ladies, I don’t like to see too much flesh so ditch strapless dresses. Last year we had some contestants who didn’t even wear a hat which I think is a big no-no, especially on race day if you are entering a best dressed competition. It’s the first thing we look for and all hatless women weren’t considered.”

Hats are an important aspect of any race day outfit, with some of the most extravagant, creative hat designs often attracting attention. While those looking for an understated look might opt for a more simple hat or fascinator.

“As hats are my expertise I’m looking beyond the detail of the hat, the construction and workmanship in the hat and of course, the creative details. What makes this hat stand out from the crowd and then the overall styling of the hat and how it fits in to the finished look,” says judge Evelyn McDermott.

This year McDermott is hoping to see attendees “pushing the boundaries of fashion and style”.

She says: “Given the creativity and innovation in fashion, I anticipate seeing more unique and eye-catching outfits, perhaps incorporating sustainable and ethical fashion trends and adapting of cultural traditions into their look.

“I’m excited to see a mix of classic and modern styles. I think we’ll see a lot of vibrant colours like bold blues, deep reds and rich greens, along with white, which is so versatile. So you really can go big with the hat choice, as well as metallics like gold, silver and jewelled tones.”

McDermott also expects to see a focus on sustainability and anticipates that those wearing outfits made from sustainable fabrics and materials will get noticed.

The Style Stakes also awards the best dressed men. Sweeney recommends dressing for comfort over following trends.

“While you put in the extra bit of effort for one of the most expensive horse races in the world, it’s also very important that you feel comfortable in what you’re wearing and that you are true to yourself in terms of your style choices.”

“I think I’m looking to see people having fun with their choice of attire. Not taking themselves too seriously, and having ease and comfort in their style.”

Sweeney, also advises to stay away from following trends too strictly but to wear something that suits your personality and style. “Steer away from dark colours, uber-skinny checked trousers, go for something a little lighter and brighter that reflects the climate and the time of year,” he concludes.

Style Stakes registration desks will be located in Apron Views, concourse level Gate 2 and Gate 4 at Meydan Racecourse, open from 1pm-3.30pm on March 30

Updated: March 29, 2024, 9:42 AM