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The Season: the Epsom Derby 2024

The storied racing festival will take place on 31 May and 1 June at Epsom Downs – and with warm weather shining down on the elite sporting event in this beautiful part of Surrey, it’s the perfect opportunity to dress up.

The History

In 1779, Sir Charles Bunbury and the 12th Earl of Derby were celebrating the first Oaks Stakes at Epsom Downs, Surrey, when they decided to create a similar race there for three-year-old colts and fillies. According to legend, they decided which of them it would be named after through a simple coin toss. The first Epsom Derby Stakes took place the following year.

By the end of the 1700s, it was a popular event in the sporting calendar for both working-class people and gentry. It heralded many illicit activities in which visitors revelled and on which they often gambled, from card games to bare-knuckle boxing bouts. The 1844 Derby was arguably the most scandalous. One Abraham Levy dyed the hair of an ineligible, four-year-old horse called Maccabaeus so that it could surreptitiously take the place of an entrant named Running Rein. When the ringer “Running Rein” won, Jonathan Peel, Prime Minister Robert Peel’s brother and owner of the race’s runner-up, appealed the decision, and the fraud that had taken place was shortly discovered.

But the 1913 Derby was the race’s most historically important episode. This was the year that suffragette Emily Davison ran onto the course at Tattenham Corner and collided with Anmer, the horse owned by King George V with which she came crashing down. Her injuries were fatal and her martyrdom to the cause of women’s suffrage has remained impressed on Britain’s collective memory ever since.

Prominent figures have been enthralled by the Epsom Derby throughout its history. British statesman Benjamin Disraeli made his own enthusiasm clear by describing the atmosphere at the racecourse in 1837 through his novel Sybil: ‘Count them by sensation and not by calendars, and each moment is a day and the race a life.’ Recently, famous guests have included the late Queen Elizabeth II (who was a regular attendee, only missing the event on a handful of occasions), Dame Helen Mirren, Dame Mary Berry and members of the royal family of Dubai.

The Rules

The Epsom Derby is a Group 1 flat race (that is, without obstacles) which pits the fastest, fittest thoroughbreds against one another. The racecourse is, quite aptly, in the shape of a horseshoe and includes sharp turns and an uphill finish. Initially, it was a mile-long race, whose length increased to 1.5 miles in 1784. Today, it represents one of five classic English equestrian racing meetings, as does the Oaks, which is run on the Friday just before Derby Day. It is also the middle leg of the Triple Crown, the others being the 2000 Guineas at Newmarket, Suffolk and the St Leger at Doncaster, Yorkshire.

While the Epsom first took place on a Thursday, it was run on the first Wednesday in June from 1900 to 1995, when it was then moved to the first Saturday in June. This year, the Epsom Derby Festival takes place on Friday 31 May and Saturday 1 June, marking two days of food and drink, elite racing and live entertainment.

The Dress Code

How you dress at the Epsom Derby Festival will depend on which part of the racecourse you are attending. The most exclusive areas are the Queen Elizabeth II Stand and the Duchess’s Stand, the only zones at Epsom Downs with official dress codes.

Elsewhere, the event organisers tell visitors simply to dress to feel their best. But since it’s still customary to dress up, doing so will in most cases entail striking a balance between comfort and sophistication. For women who’d prefer to stand out from the ubiquitous summer dresses in favour of a smart suit, we recommend complementing the latter with our pale blue and white Prince of Wales Check Shirt, whose understated pattern, collar and cuffs convey elegant femininity. Not only will the garment’s fabric allude to the race’s aristocratic and regal heritage but the shirt’s 100 per cent premium cotton fabric, with natural elasticity and a soft handle, will feel delightful in the sun.

Men may opt for a debonair combination in our matching Prince of Wales Check Wool Waistcoat, Wool Jacket and Pleated Trousers. For true elegance, complete your look with subtle bursts of colour and detail, available in the form of our Burgundy & Grey Silk Twill Woven Pocket Square, complementary Gold Finish Jermyn St Cufflinks and one of our fun Hound Dog Motif Printed Silk Ties in whichever colourway you prefer.

One of our White Royal Oxford Shirts will serve as a perfect foundation for all the above. Not only due to its equestrian heritage – Oxford shirts first grew in popularity on the polo grounds of Oxford and Cambridge – but because the fabric it’s made from is softer, silkier and shinier than regular Oxford material, its open-weave construction offering welcome breathability while you’re out in the (also welcome) warm weather all day.