Thursday, 9 April 2009

Fashion isn't horseplay at the Grand National

On Saturday I had what can only be described as a 'grand day out'.

For along with 70,000 other people I headed for Aintree in Liverpool to savour the fun and the atmosphere of the Grand National.

I am by no means a big horse racing fan – although I always enjoy my occasional visits to our excellent Bath Racecourse – but this was the occasion of a ‘stag do’ for a friend, Brian, who loves the gee-gees.
As, sadly, both he (and the rest of us) are hardly what you would call young bucks any more, the idea of a debauched ‘regret-for-ever’ kind of stag do was never on the cards so a trip to the National seemed like a sophisticated jolly boys outing.

But the biggest surprise for me was just how sophisticated it turned out to be. One of the things I’ve always enjoyed about going to horse racing is that it is, in the nicest possible way, an entirely classless affair which seems to appeal to everyone from the Duke with millions in his pocket to the lowest paid worker with holes in his. It may be called the sport of kings but when you actually view the crowds at a race meeting, you realise it is the sport for everyone.

However, Grand National day was an altogether swankier and more stylish sporting event than I ever imagined. Among the men I would imagine that at least 75 per cent of them were be-suited (imagine that at football or rugby!) while for the women – who encouragingly accounted for about 40 per cent of the crowd – this seemed to be viewed by many as a high society wedding. Although the Grand National was not strictly speaking a ‘Ladies Day’, it seems that the vast majority of the female contingent had really pushed the boat out and I’ve never seen so many impressive dresses and designer clothes in one place at the same time.

It was, it seems, almost impossible to be overdressed (although I have to say with a slight twinkle in my eye, that many ladies also felt more than happy to be somewhat under dressed!).
Of course, not everyone got it right. One group of girls walked past us in an array of vivid slinky orange and yellow dresses which led one of my waggish companions, Wayne, to memorably say: “They look like a packet of Starburst on legs”.

Talking of vivid colours, one of my other fellow travellers, Gary, had informed us on the bus going up that in his experience an extremely large number of Liverpool women between the ages of 18-25 looked ‘orange’. I didn’t quite get what he meant until I had seen about the 50th young lady who looked as though she had been caught up in a hideous explosion at a fake tan shop. When you put one of those ‘sun’ tanned faces on top of the orange dress, it made you, inevitably, fancy a can of Tango . . .

Despite all this excess, one of the main things that I enjoyed about the way people looked was that I can’t imagine anybody felt uncomfortable in whatever they were wearing. I’m sure many of us have been caught out at events where we’ve either been overdressed, underdressed or unintentionally fancy-dressed but on Saturday in downtown Aintree, as long as you felt happy in your own skin, then anything went.

Of course, you may be wondering why I devoted nearly all this column to a major sporting occasion and haven’t actually mentioned the, er, sport but that is because the Grand National is more than just a race. It is a fantastic event and having tasted it now first hand, I’m even more fond of this delightfully British tradition.

And in case you’re wondering, no I didn’t make any money – but at least unlike many women of Liverpool, I wasn’t bankrupt before I got there after purchasing a Starburst dress.

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