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Hats and fascinators are undoubtedly a huge part of dressing for a day at the races, but have you ever wondered why they are such a big deal? “Racing was called the sport of kings and for good reason,” as Australian milliner Richard Nylon explains. “It is an expensive sport, so people who could afford to stable, look after horses and pay for people to ride them had a lot of money. With money goes prestige, with prestige goes fashion and, back then, with fashion went hats. It became a way for a lady to display her status and fashionability.”

Clearly, the wearing of hats and headpieces has a strong tradition, and one which is still honoured at the races. If you’re going to a race meet you shouldn’t forego the opportunity of wearing a hat or fascinator with some real wow factor, as we get so few opportunities to do so nowadays, apart from attending weddings.

However, it’s important to match your headgear with your outfit to make sure your outfit looks as striking as possible. Read on for our ultimate guide to choosing the right headpiece for the races.

Full Hat

A full hat with a wide brim makes a real statement, but you need to have the right size of head and shape of face to pull it off. If you have a small head, choosing a large hat will swamp your head, so it will be best to choose another style. Large brimmed hats generally work best with longer, thinner faces rather than round ones, though if you have an oval face you’ll be able to get away with any hat.

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Condici Large Traditional Hat in Prism/Cobalt

If you’re going for a full hat, build the rest of the outfit around it, rather than vice versa. Your outfit should be the supporting act and your hat the main event. Another important tip is to consider the entire silhouette of your outfit when matching your dress and accessories to your hat. Find a full length mirror to try your hat on in, rather than just looking at yourself from the neck up.


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Condici Teardrop Fascinator in Cream and Flint

A fascinator is a great alternative to a hat. If you feel that a full, wide-brimmed hat doesn’t suit you or hides too much of your face, or you’re worried about overheating, a fascinator adds a stylish accessory to your head without imposing too much. Fascinators vary hugely from being just a small step down from a full hat to something very minimal made from feathers or ribbon. A fascinator is a great way to add eye-catching colour or shape to your outfit, but without taking attention away from your dress.

A fascinator is a good choice if you have a round shaped face, as it adds height to your overall appearance but won’t make your face look rounder still as a large brim can. However, it’s important to remember that fascinators give you nowhere to hide in terms of hair styling. A fascinator also needs to be firmly secured to your hair. If you have a particularly short hair style you may find that a full hat stays on your head more successfully.


As the name suggests, a hatinator is a cross between a hat and a fascinator. It has more structure than a fascinator but provides less overall head covering than a hat. Hatinators are very versatile and can usually be worn by people of all face shapes. Hatinators usually use a disc or saucer shaped base decorated with feathers or ribbons. Though they are more hat-like in appearance than fascinators they are attached to the head using a hair band or clip, rather than sitting directly on the head.

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Nigel Rayment Hatinator with Oversized Bow, Quill Feathers and Veil

When dressing for the races, it’s important to consider the weather before choosing your headpiece. Though a hatinator or fascinator won’t provide much protection from rain, they are a very good choice if it’s a bit blustery. Because they are secured to your head they won’t be whipped off onto the racecourse by a gust of wind, which is always a risk when wearing a hat.


Another chic choice is a pillbox hat with a veil. These are subtle little hats that add a sense of drama and intrigue to your overall outfits. Because they only rest lightly on the head they need to be secured with a clip, making them great for short haircuts. However, they are also perfect for showing off long, beautifully styled tresses because they don’t cover much of your head.

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Source: Janet Taylor London

The most important thing when choosing a hat for the races is to make sure you look at your outfit as a whole, rather than treating your hat as an afterthought. Ask someone to take a photo of you from every angle, so you can see what your hat of choice brings to your overall look. Wearing a hat isn’t something we get to do often, so make sure you do it with style.


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