The very nature of country clothing dictates that in the depths of the English countryside the country dress code is about three main objectives, which are to feel warm, dry and comfortable. More fool the idiot who tries to make a fashionable impression at a country house party and comes back from the obligatory walk with soaking wet feet and frozen hands.

Seasoned guests spending Christmas at a stately home already know all about the importance of proper country clothing and pack thermal underwear, thick tweed skirts, several pairs of thick trousers, a sheepskin coat, various waterproofs, layers of warm sweaters, sensible walking shoes, woolly gloves and socks, and a couple of pairs of green wellies. The long-suffering wives of dedicated country sportsmen, in particular, know the value of wrapping-up well when they accompany their menfolk.

Below is listed a rough guide to what is traditionally acceptable and suitable for most country activities and pursuits:

Agricultural Shows
A great day out for all the family with so much of country life to see at shows all over Britain, throughout the summer months. Smart casual in the Members’ Enclosure or very casual if you pay at the gate and just walk around for an hour or two. DO wear comfortable shoes, women who totter round in the mud in high heels, look ridiculous. Even in nice sunny weather the main entrances tend to get churned up and muddy just from the dew.

The Races
The races are a major, all-year-round event in England and are enthusiastically supported from the richest in the land to the impecunious weekend punter hoping to make a fast buck. They vary tremendously in dress-code requirements, usually in accordance with social status.

For example a local hunt point-to-point would not expect anyone, except the stewards, to be formally dressed, as the main priority would be to keep warm, especially as some of the early meetings, held in January, are high up on the windy chalky downs of Wiltshire.

On the other hand, no man would get into the Royal Enclosure at Ascot without wearing a morning suit and top hat, and likewise a woman would be expected to wear a suit or dress with matching coat and chic hat, especially on Ladies’ Day.

But then who wouldn’t want to dress up for one of the finest race meetings in the world?

At normal race meetings, outside of the enclosures, smart casual is generally a safe bet. This would mean in summer a smart frock or suit for ladies (hat optional) and a lightweight suit, with Panama hat for gentlemen, whilst for the winter and early spring meetings it is best to dress in smart layers.

Charity, Hunt and the Horse and Hound Balls
If you can make up a table this is a unique chance to see the cream of society let their hair down. Usually full evening dress with ‘white tie’ is required for gentlemen at the more prestigious balls.

Chelsea Flower Show
Members’ Day is the posh day but it is now such a scrum that you need good, but tough, clothes, to push your way through the crowds. Dress in smart casual and very comfortable shoes; preferably ones that can stand being stamped on! Take an umbrella: it always seems to rain at Chelsea just when you are settling down in a quiet corner to eat your sandwiches.

Crufts Dog Show
The showpiece of the Kennel Club and a Mecca for all dog lovers, but held at a chilly time of the year in a cold part of the country. Wear plenty of warm clothes and be comfortable, after all it is only the dogs that have to look their best!

Hound Shows
These can be very chic affairs and a good place to hob-nob with the country set (so long as you never refer to the hounds as ‘dogs’). The South of England, Peterborough and West of England are the most prestigious, apart from each hunt’s own Puppy Show; attendance for the more fashionable of these, with possible royal connections, are rife with fierce competition for invitations.

Dark lounge suits are usual for men, with Panama or felt hats and a smart dress or two-piece for ladies, with a straw or felt hat; but this should be reasonably unobtrusive. Do be sure to wear sensible shoes.

Nothing looks worse, especially in damp weather, than being rooted to the spot by your heels in the middle of the tea tent, with a rather obviously loaded plate of smoked salmon sandwiches and cream cakes.

The Game Fair
Was once the  meeting place for all the ‘Hooray Henrys’ who loved to show-off their tweed suits, plus-fours, flat caps and their women, who all wear Hermes headscarves. Our advice is to go smart casual but comfortable; there is so much to see from falconry to fly-casting and working gundogs, so who wants to bother too much about appearances? Take boots in case it is muddy, and a large holdall, for this is one place in the countryside where you can shop till you drop.

Polo
If you are playing you will know what to wear – if you are watching, even from the Members’ Enclosure, you can wear more or less anything you like. Most Brits dress casual to smart casual, depending on which social group they are with on the day. Take a straw hat or headscarf; the sun can be deceptively hot especially around Gold Cup time, in July.

Horse Trials
Badminton in early summer, and Burghley held in the autumn, are the most famous, and the most crowded. Take boots and dress comfortably in layers. Don’t worry too much about rain, there are so many stands selling everything from original oil paintings to home-made fudge that you can spend any wet periods under canvas. Burghley in particular can be blessed with glorious autumn weather. Have a shooting seat handy to sit on, away from the crowds or to wait at the most popular jumps.

The Country House Party
Can be tricky. Try to find out whether you are staying in a casual or formal household. If it is the latter, check what is worn for dinner. Your hostess won’t mind, she would far prefer you asked than were improperly attired.

Several points worth considering are: pack warm clothes and nightwear (even in summer some large old houses can strike damp and cold), make sure you have either your own, or access to, waterproof outer wear and sturdy boots for long country walks, and finally take a long hard look at what is really in your suitcase.

Many of the grander houses, who still employ a large complement of staff, expect the valet or maid to unpack for their guests. Do you really want your favourite, but torn, pyjamas to be laid out in style on the brocade quilt? Is your old hairbrush, with half its bristles missing, going to feel at home alongside a silver-backed antique dressing table set.

Driven Game Shooting
Predominantly a male sport in Britain, although there are some excellent women shots around, but whether on the frizzled grouse moors in late summer or on the muddy pheasant shoot in late October, the dress is much the same. Shooting suit or plus-fours with a shooting jacket, tweed cap, collar and tie and stout walking shoes or Wellingtons with a waxed jacket or Gore-Tex over the top for damp weather. Women can substitute a tweed skirt for trousers if they wish and their headgear is usually a trilby hat, tweed cap, or soberly coloured headscarf. Never wear bright colours on a shoot, it is considered bad form and would startle the birds!

Salmon Fishing
If you pay for a rod wear something old and comfortable (in case you fall in) with a pair of good waders that don’t leak in mid-stream. If, on the other hand, you are invited as a guest to a prestigious stretch of water, your host will assume you know what you are doing and expect you to dress accordingly. This is when it is politic to wear perfectly pressed trousers, smart country cotton shirt and tweed jacket with a tweed cap. Women again can wear a skirt with a choice of headwear similar to that for shooting.

Hunting
The more famous the hunt obviously the more you need to be correctly turned out; after all, you could find yourself jogging along behind Prince Charles and The Duchess of Cornwall!

When out before the opening meets in November and after the Cheltenham Gold Cup in March, it is correct to wear ‘Rat-catcher’. This is: brown field boots or black butcher boots with garter straps, a bowler or velvet cap, a tweed riding coat, a pair of buff breeches with a collar and tie. A hunting waistcoat is optional.

During the season proper official dress is as follows. For gentlemen: a black hunting coat or red coat if they are an official of the hunt or have been honoured with the ‘hunt button’, a black velvet cap, with the ribbons sewn up, or top hat (often still worn for opening meets or at the smarter hunts), a hunting shirt and white stock with a plain horizontal tie-pin – if it is worn vertically it could run into your throat, a pair of white breeches worn with white garter straps, a pair of top boots, which should be black with mahogany tops, a hunting waistcoat and lastly a pair of pale gloves in string or wool. For ladies: a navy-blue coat with matching cap can look very smart and a lady would wear plain black butcher boots.