Let’s get one thing straight – Ladies Day is not about horse racing.
It’s about fashion.
Flick through the photos from yesterday’s Perth Ladies Day and you’ll find a bouquet of floral frocks, fascinating fascinators and fluffy falsies.
And though I swear I can smell the burnt-biscuit whiff of fake tan all the way from Dundee, I have to confess that even a killjoy like me cracked a smile at all the gals who showed up and showed out in their Thursday best.
It’s never really been my scene – any event requiring a strapless bra and blister plasters rarely is – but the word that strikes me when I look at all the wined-up mums and glammed-out girl gaggles, is ‘fun’.
It looks like they’re having great fun, and that’s lovely to see.
But from the oh-so-Instagrammable Edinburgh Gin flower arch to the Best Dressed contest, it’s also clear that Ladies Day is a social competition, not a sporting one – and the most important race is the one to That Bar for the after party.
So isn’t it about time we let the pretence drop, and put the horse races out to pasture?
Shall we promenade?
The Ladies Day tradition began at Ascot around 1823, when women would be offered discounted tickets on the third day of the races.
Since the Queen was going to be in attendance, naturally all the ladies wanted to look their best.
It was – and still is – an excuse to dress up, to be lavish and decadent and feel beautiful; all fun things, of which I’m a big fan.
And in our post-pandemic era of dressing gowns, athleisure and baggy jeans, I’m all for people popping off in a new ASOS frock and living out their little Bridgerton fantasies.
But there’s another, more insidious fantasy at work here.
For many of the women there, Ladies Day will have been a one-off day of excitement and glamour.
When the eyelash glue and spidery headwear comes off, they’ll return to the humdrummery of their everyday existence – stacking shelfs, sending emails, catching buses and feeding bairns.
But some won’t.
And the trouble is, when everyone’s all dressed up, there’s no way to tell the difference.
Ladies Day, with its roots in royalty and Victorian status wars, invites us to cosplay as upper class lassies for the day.
And that would be pure fun and games, if ‘classing up’ stopped at the clothes – but it doesn’t.
Because it’s not a fancy dress party. It’s a horse race.
From isolated existences and racing injuries to dying on courses or being brutally slaughtered as ‘wastage’, many of these animals are treated as money-making machines, not living things.
Much like grouse shooting and fox hunting, it is about rich people creating and sustaining an industry for financial gains, using the benign facades of ‘sport’, ‘tradition’ and ‘camaraderie’ to smooth its image.
The flirty florals may look like innocent fun, but behind all that Pimms and chiffon stands the red-corduroy gang with their inherited sneers and greasy palms and Oxbridge accents.
And honestly the thought of it makes me sicker to the back teeth than those beautiful, bridled thoroughbreds.
So I’m sorry, but whether you’re ‘just there for the atmosphere’ or a proud proponent of the so-called ‘sport’ it doesn’t really matter.
Culture is shaped by attitudes and actions, not the other way around.
And we can still keep all the fun and fling without the animal abuse and sycophantic Tory worship.
Just look at DDE.
Crack the whip on reinventing Ladies Day
Dundee Dance Event, to be clear, is another one of my personal hells.
Sauvage-sweat, neon neoprene and thumping bass are not my idea of a good time (I’m miserable, I know, it’s fine).
But much like Ladies Day, it looks like fun.
It’s an excuse to get dressed up in a way we normally don’t – albeit more Coachella than Cheltenham. And when everyone sun-drunk and beer-drenched, I’m sure it’s a great time.
Moreover, it’s a cultural event which celebrates modern sensibilities.
It’s focused on fostering homegrown talent, boosting local business and bringing people together over a love of music, dance and sure, a wee drink.
Where Ladies Day clings to outdated customs, events like DDE are examples of communities creating new traditions based on the culture we’re living in now.
And while some will turn up their nose at the poppers, pills and skimpy skirts, I’d pick revelling in that ruckus over roleplaying as refined every time.
So to all the ‘ladies’ of Ladies Day, I have a proposal:
Let’s start building events on the backs of bits we actually like – the fashion, the music, the drinks and the dancing – instead of on the backs of horses.
They’ve carried our culture long enough.