The Season is the name given to the annual period during the spring and summer when the best known and most quintessentially British events are held. The Season has an illustrious history, which evolved during the 17th and 18th century when the British elite was dominated by landowning aristocracy and gentry families. It peaked during the 19th century and up until World War I the Season was the appropriate time to be resident in the city rather than the country in order to attend the events.
In modern times, the Season still encompasses many traditional events such as Henley Regatta and the Grand National, but has also expanded to include a wide variety of spectacles, from motor racing to music festivals. Most of the events provide ample opportunity for women to dress up in special occasion dresses, elegant frocks and extravagant hats and men to dress in smart suits and black tie and tails. Read on for our favourite events and the all-important dress code for each.
The Oxford and Cambridge Boat Race
Taking place in March, The Boat Race has been an annual event for over 160 years and is the place where the perennially popular blazer was born. Initially a practical item to keep rowers warm, they soon became popular on dry land, and are still a sartorial fixture at the Boat Race each year.
The Grand National Horse Racing Festival
The Grand National was first run in 1839 and continues to be a hugely popular event, showcasing top-class racing and the world’s most famous Steeple Chase. Though there is no official dress code, smart is preferable and usually adopted by most visitors. The Friday of the event is known as ‘Ladies Day’ when outrageous and fabulous hats are traditionally worn.
The Chelsea Flower Show
The Chelsea Flower Show, held in May and formally known as the Great Spring Show, is the jewel in the calendar for horticultural enthusiasts, where guests can be dazzled by colourful flowers, exotic plants and innovative garden designs. It’s held outside so it’s important to dress for the weather, but smarter gentlemen tend to favour blazers and light trousers, whilst the ladies opt for elegant, summery dresses.
Royal Ascot Horse Racing Festival
Royal Ascot is a world-renowned meeting and attracts many of racing’s finest horses, but is as well known for fashion as it is for sport. If you’re lucky enough to get into the Royal Enclosure at Ascot, there is a very strict dress code of grey or black morning dress for men and formal day wear for women, including a hat, fascinator or headpiece that must be worn at all times.
Gold Cup Polo Tournament
Held at Cowdray Park in July, the Gold Cup is the world’s premier polo tournament, and a firm favourite with the Royal Family. Due to it being an outdoor event, attendees should dress with an eye on practicality whilst still maintaining a smart-casual look. Women should avoid stilettos as everyone has to walk on the grass and everyone should wear a pair of sunglasses as it’s usually hot.
Henley Music Festival
Henley Music Festival is a boutique event which celebrates the best of UK and international music, food and art. Unlike many other festivals which embrace fancy dress and grungy clothes, Henley Music Festival has a black tie dress code: think dinner jackets, bow ties and evening trousers for men, and long or short evening dresses for women.
Cowes International Yachting Week
Cowes is one of the oldest and longest running sailing regattas in the world. Held over eight days in August, the event combines competitive racing with plenty of fun for the 100,000 spectators who can enjoy great entertainment both on the water and on shore. The dress code is smart-casual, which means jeans are allowed but should be neat and untorn, and deck shoes or smart trainers are preferable to flip flops or sports shoes.
Concours d’Elegance Classic Car Show
Currently held at Hampton Court Palace, the Concours d’Elegance Classic Car Show brings together a collection of 60 of the rarest cars from around the world, including models from early Victorian pioneers right up to present day supercars. The Friday is VIP Preview Day, which requires gentlemen to wear a jacket with a tie or cravat and ladies to opt for elegant daywear and a hat if they wish.
The Promenade Concerts
The Promenade Concerts, or Proms as they’re more popularly known, come mid-September and is a fittingly traditional way to round off the Season. ‘Promenading’ in your finest attire was de rigueur when the Proms began back in 1895 but times have changed and the dress code is much more informal now. Many people love to glam up for the evening, but casual jeans and t-shirts are also perfectly acceptable.
Every event during the Season offers an opportunity to don your finest outfits and enjoy the glamour of a classic British social occasion. If you follow our guide and do a little of your own homework too, you are guaranteed to be dressed appropriately and looking fabulous at all times.