What do New York City and Saratoga Race Course have in common?
The answer has to do with fashion and, more specifically, the recognizable fashions trends formed in the little pockets of a place.
In New York City, a blond pixie cut paired with red lipstick and shredded denim shorts has “Brooklyn” written all over it. And in Saratoga, a woman dressed like a guest at Kate Middleton’s wedding has “clubhouse” written all over her.
You’ll see distinct fashion trends in the race course’s three “boroughs,” casually termed the clubhouse, the grandstand, and the back yard.
Think of the back yard’s dress code as “frat party formal.”
A 28-year-old from New Paltz named Kenny Miller wore an elephant hat. The hat included two plush “tusks” which covered his ears. Sweaty?
“Elephants are from Africa,” he said. “They’re sweaty all the time.” The headwear was complemented by ever-tasteful “TOGA b***h” sunglasses.
In fairness, some outfits in the back yard aren’t the least bit interesting. Many folks have the robustly American attitude that you’ll see at tailgate parties — comfort is king.
If you mapped out the dressiness of race course outfits on a spectrum, the grandstand crowd would be plotted in the middle. Here, you’ll find every element of a Tiger Woods outfit except his Nike hat. The “grandstand crowd” is a flippant term, by the way, referring not to the entire grandstand but to the paved area directly behind the race course fence (sometimes called the “apron”).
Most of the men standing here dress like PGA players, but the women do their own thing — in the words of Nicole Calzi and Caitlin O’Brien, “a big hat and some kind of dress.” That’s their formula for a cute outfit at the race course.
Calzi and O’Brien wore floppy, woven varieties of hat. To see the Kate Middleton breed of hat, look upwards, where the box seats, luxury seats, the porch, the Turf Terrace and the cubhouse are collectively called “the clubhouse.” These areas actually enforce a dress code. Gentlemen must wear suits or sports jackets in box seats; in the Turf Terrace, they must wear collared shirts. “Short-shorts” are prohibited in all these areas, according to NYRA website, which says “proper attire [is] at management’s discretion.”
There’s an air of exclusivity to the clubhouse. In some cultures, wearing your biggest jewels is a way of broadcasting your status, and the same concept applies to hats in the clubhouse — Whose aquamarine feathers curl up the highest? Whose tan is the tannest? Whose nude Jimmy Choo pumps are the tallest?
This is not to call all patrons of the clubhouse haughty or materialistic. “I dressed this way ... out of respect. This is one of the most spectacular places in the world,” Richard Sanzen explained, wearing a suit jacket, khaki pants, a striped silk tie and aviator sunglasses.
Sanzen has been coming to the track since 1965 and has only missed one season. In the old days, he remembered summers at the track being called the “season of elegance.”
Sanzen likened dressing up for the track to dressing up for church.
“There’s something that this place does to the soul. There’s so much history here,” he said.
Sanzen lives in Estero, Florida, with his wife.
“She’ll be here later. And yes, she wears a hat to the track.”