It’s Ladies’ Day at Aintree, which means a number of things when you live in Liverpool. There’s the usual citywide shortage of taxis, restaurant tables and Marks & Spencer’s gin-in-a-tin. But look closer and you’ll see every street and train platform suddenly become a catwalk. Liverpool Central – a train station where you typically see far more football shirts than designer labels – becomes a fashion hub as the women of Merseyside pour through it on their way to the races. Entering the melee is akin to manoeuvring your way through a flock of beautiful tropical birds, albeit ones in billowing maxi dresses with an emergency pair of flip flops stashed in their handbags.
I have lived in Liverpool for almost seven years and adore Ladies’ Day. It is a time of the year when my adopted city – and its incredible sense of style – is in the spotlight. Scousers take an admirable amount of pride in their appearance and everyone, irrespective of whether they’re attending the races or just having a flutter at the bookies, makes that little bit more effort.
Across the city, women will be spending serious amounts of time and money on becoming “race-ready” – dresses purchased from Cricket (Liverpool’s premier designer boutique) and hair, makeup and fake tans all done at Harvey Nichols’ Beauty Bazaar, which will be opening at 7am throughout the race weekend to ensure every lip is lined and every eyebrow plucked. It may seem like a gigantic money-making exercise for Merseyside’s beauticians but for many it’s the perfect excuse to get glammed up with the girls and have a great day out.
You’d think that the Jockey Club, the owners of Aintree, would want to celebrate the event’s unique character. After all, you won’t find another event quite like it in the UK’s racing calendar. However, very disappointingly John Baker, the northwest regional director for the organisation, was quoted in The Telegraph last month asking women to dress more “aspirationally” this Ladies’ Day. The race directors have produced a “style guide: for female attendees inspired by the Coco Chanel quote "dress shabbily and they remember the dress, dress impeccably and they remember the woman” (one can only wonder what dear old Coco would make of the city centre on an average Friday night).
It shouldn’t be the responsibility of the women attending to tone themselves down in order to meet some kind of media-approved ideal
Though perhaps well-intentioned, Baker’s request implies that the women attending aren’t already dressing “aspirationally”. Many will have been preparing their look for months and while the idiosyncrasies of Scouse style may not be to everyone’s taste, there’s a whiff of classism about the whole affair.
You don’t have to look far to find that there’s a whole media cycle dedicated to sneering at working-class Northern women attending Ladies’ Day for having the audacity to draw attention to themselves in public. National newspapers delight in capturing pictures of women in embarrassing situations (such as stumbling in heels or having a gust of wind blow up their voluminous dress to reveal their knickers) while comment sections underneath throw cruel jibes at them for being too tacky, too fat and too “unladylike”. “You wouldn’t find this at Cheltenham,” tutted one Daily Mail writer, which suggests they haven’t been paying too much attention to recent goings-on there. If we’re ready to get up in arms about celebrities being papped when they’re not looking their best, why shouldn’t we extend that anger towards someone shaming race goers?
While positive steps have been made to discourage this kind of behaviour (the race directors are adamant that anyone seen taking embarrassing pictures of attendees will be swiftly rejected), it shouldn’t be the responsibility of the women attending to tone themselves down in order to meet some kind of media-approved ideal.
One of the things I’ve always loved about Ladies’ Day style is its playfulness and sense of adventure. The spirit of Liverpool is on full display in all its flamboyant glory – the heels are higher, the prints bolder, the hats more adventurous and the curly blows bigger. Aintree is not Ascot and it seems a shame that the organisers want to tone down its spirit just because the majority of the attendees will be from places like Huyton rather than places in the Home Counties.
Grand National weekend is one of the world’s most celebrated horse racing events – as much because of its crowds as its prestige or prize money. I may only be an adopted Scouser but I’m firmly of the opinion that Liverpudlian women are some of the most glamorous in the world. And our Ladies’ Day – in all its bedazzled, brightly-coloured glory – is the perfect example of that.