A trip to the races always provides the opportunity to push the boat out in the style stakes -an ideal chance to take a break from your day-to-day wear and pick out your finest outfit. Top of the tree when it comes to the racing fashion stakes is Ladies Day. Wherever they are held, these hugely popular fixtures see the spectacular outfits in the stands receive as much – if not more – attention as the action on the track.
Choosing an outfit in the lead-up to Ladies Day is all part of the fun. Should you opt for a glamorous dress or a stylish trouser suit? Supplement your outfit with a hat or fascinator? And, of course, perhaps the most important question of them all, what should you wear on your feet? Unlike many occasions that call for a fabulous outfit, where a pair of sleek heels may be the automatic choice, there are a few additional factors to consider ahead of a day at the races. Here we take a look at the age-old racing dilemma: should you wear heels?
The first thing to bear in mind when choosing your footwear is that horse racing is an outdoor sport. The vast majority of racecourses feature extensive grassed areas and require at least some degree of walking around. That might only be to and from the bar, but could also include going to the betting ring, winning post, parade ring and restaurant, and even in terms of getting to and from the course itself.
With that in mind, six-inch stilettos probably aren’t a wise choice for a day at the races. They may look good but are likely to cause discomfort bearing in mind you may be on your feet for much of the day. Of course, for some, that is all part of the price of glamour and not too much of a challenge. Many, though, might be better off opting for something at least a little more practical.
Even fully-fledged stiletto experts are likely to run into problems though, given the grassy underfoot terrain. Should any rain arrive you run the real risk of not only becoming stuck in the mud, but possibly also damaging your heavenly heels.
It seems there is a product to meet almost style requirement these days, and for those ladies who simply can’t say no to a stiletto, the helpful folk at Clean Heels may well have the answer. This company was successful on Dragons’ Den, both Deborah Meaden and Kelly Hoppen pitching in, and their product is very well reviewed.
A small stopper which fits over the heel of a shoe, this handy device has a range of listed benefits, the most important of which is, from a race-day perspective, that they prevent even tall, thin heels from sinking into the grass. Coming in a wide range of styles and colours – from the plain, to full-on diamante encrusted spectaculars – they could almost have been designed specifically with a day at the races in mind. Well worth a look for those who scoff at the suggestion that you can’t wear stilettos on Ladies Day. Pah!
So, if not stilettos, then what? Truth be told, even the lack of practicality and possible discomfort levels is not enough to deter many ladies from opting for a heeled shoe at Ladies Days up and down the land. Flats may be the sensible choice, but it is hard to argue that a heel doesn’t add an extra dimension of lift, style, and class to many outfits. It may not be the most sensible option, but turn up at any Ladies Day and you will likely find a large percentage of women wearing a heeled shoe of some description.
Fear not, heels are not a complete no-no from a practical perspective, you simply need to find the heel that finds the right balance between style, comfort and suitability for the occasion.
Towering thin heels may look spectacular, but that effect will be diminished should you spend the day struggling to walk in them – a process which may not be helped by your intake of bubbles on the day, hopefully celebrating all those winners. Or commiserating! Particularly delicate heels should also be avoided. These shoes may be ideal for a wedding or other special occasion, but wearing such footwear for a full day at the races may run the risk of damage to the shoe.
Many ladies opt for a mid- or low-level heel, steering clear of particularly thin heels which are far more likely to penetrate the turf. Or, for those outfits where a degree of height is essential to the overall look, consider a stylish block heel. These shoes bring many of the benefits of the stiletto, but are far for comfortable to get around in and significantly reduce the perils of safely negotiating soft, grassed terrain.
Also, consider heels with a strap around the ankle. This feature greatly adds to the stability of the shoe and also helps to ensure that the relationship between foot and shoe remains intact when walking on potentially soft grassed areas. An increasingly popular choice at race days, strapped heels come in all manner of styles so you will more than likely find a pair to coordinate with your outfit for the day.
Whichever type of heel you opt for, you will be sacrificing practicality in favour of style to at least some degree. Absolutely nothing wrong with that, of course, as looking utterly fabulous is one of the main attractions of attending Ladies Day – particularly with so many tracks offering excellent prizes in the “Best Dressed” competitions on the day.
There is, however, an alternative to the heel, which brings much of the same height as a high-heeled shoe but with far greater stability. Enter, the wedge. Coming in a wide selection of heights, from modest to towering, the greater surface area of the wedge helps to distribute weight far more evenly than a heel. In comparison to a heel, wedges can be far more comfortable to wear for a prolonged period of time and are far better suited to traversing uneven ground – both major benefits ahead of a day at the races.
The wedge shoe is a particularly popular choice at Ladies Days taking place in late spring or early summer. Many shoes of this style also come with an open toe, meaning you will not only be stylish and practical but will also be able to show off that dazzling new pedicure.
If you are going to a Ladies Day in a cooler month or at a time when the weather is less than predictable, a stylish boot with a small heel is far more practical than any sort of stiletto. A day at the racecourse involves a lot of standing on your feet and moving from the grandstand, to the bar, to the bookmaker stands, so wearing a high heel simply is not practical sometimes. At the York summer festival, for example, I found that most women were carrying their heels and walking barefoot at the end of a major downpour and even noticed quite a few heels totally ruined and abandoned on top of rubbish bins! The shops at the festival even sold out of the emergency flip flops they were selling.
But a boot option can be stylish and classy in addition to be comfortable for a day on your feet. At the Cheltenham Festival, for example, in March, many women don their finest tweed with boots – Chelsea boots, ankle boots with small heels, cuff boots, thigh high boots, riding boots (how appropriate for horse racing, we say!), etc. The trick is just finding the right outfit to match!
Whatever footwear you opt for, be it a kitten heel, wedge, block heel, boot – or even if you cannot be deterred from your stilettos – there a few things you can do in preparation to help ensure you have a comfortable and enjoyable day.
Sound advice is to choose a style of shoe that you have worn with success at events in the past. There is a time and a place to experiment with a new style of footwear, but an event requiring a fair degree of walking around, potentially on muddy, wet and slippy grass, and long periods on your feet probably isn’t it. So, if you never wear heels and are not used to wearing them all day, perhaps choose a different style, as you’ll inevitably be walking barefoot by the end of a long day at the races.
However, if you must opt for a style of shoe which you are not 100% confident you will be comfortable in, it makes sense to pack a small emergency pair of shoes. A stylish pair of ballet pumps is an excellent choice in this regard, even if it is just to give your feet a little break during the day. You can find ones online that are foldable that will fit in a small purse, which are ideal if you’re just bringing a small clutch. Another option is a light pair of flip flops.
A day at the races provides an excellent reason to buy a brand-new pair of shoes – as if any excuse is needed. However, be wary of purchasing your new shoes and then wearing them straight out of the box on the big day. They may feel comfortable in the shop, but we would strongly recommend breaking your shoes in before race day. Even wearing them for a few hours around the house will help your feet become more accustomed to the shoe, highlighting any likely problem areas, and reducing the chances of blisters, etc. on the day.
When purchasing a pair of shoes, you will no doubt be familiar with the store assistant attempting to tack on a shoe protection product at the till. Whatever your usual reaction to this, it may be worth accepting this offer in regard to your Ladies Day footwear. Usually coming in the form of a simple to apply spray, these products protect against both wear and moisture – making them ideal for a day at the races. Far better to spend a few pounds protecting your shoes now, than shelling out for a new pair of them later on.
Pop a few blister pads in your purse just in case. Trust us, if you don’t need them, one of your friends most certainly will!
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