Style Awards: Meet the July Festival best-dressed

Bright colours and bold prints were the dress code for Newmarket’s July Festival Style Awards. Velvet, media partner for the best-dressed contest, recaps the fashion action - and introduces the winners

Bringing blue skies, sunshine and a rainbow of fashion to the racecourse, the Style Awards made a joyful return to Newmarket’s July Festival yesterday. The first full-scale fashion competition to be held at Newmarket since the pandemic began - following on from 2020’s virtual version and 2021’s capped crowd - it attracted almost 700 entrants, with bright colours, bold prints and retro silhouettes all top trends.

“There was a real sense of celebration,” says Style Awards judge Alice Ryan, editor of Velvet magazine, media partner for the competition. “After the last two years, just seeing the queue forming outside the fashion marquee was wonderful.

“Everyone had made such an effort with their looks, really thinking about them head-to-toe, and they’d pulled out every stop in terms of palettes and patterns, too. From bright colour-blocking, bold florals, statement stripes and polka dots through to retro styles and shapes - think 1950s fit-and-flares and 1970s floor-sweeping pleated maxis - it was a case of everything goes!”

Though it took place on Ladies’ Day, the best-dressed contest was open to all genders and, for the first time this year, the judges were looking for outfits which were not only race-day appropriate and expressed the wearer’s personal style, but which had also been put together with sustainability in mind.

“We wanted to see a shift away from fast-fashion brands and the idea that it’s necessary to buy everything new: especially when buying for a special occasion, there’s a strong chance the outfit is going to end up languishing in the back of the wardrobe, never to be worn again,” explains Alice.

“So we invited entrants to wear vintage and pre-loved, to hire or borrow, to buy sustainably made or timelessly tailored investment pieces, and also to ‘shop’ their own wardrobes and rewear garments and accessories.”

Joined on the judging panel by sustainable style expert Beatrice Turner, founder of hit blog The Fair Edit, and fashion influencer Amy Owen, whose Instagram account has more than 500,000 followers, Alice adds: “People really rose to the challenge. In particular, we saw a lot of people re-wearing favourite pieces - for example, one woman wore a bolero inherited from her grandmother and another wore her wedding dress.”

From a shortlist of 10, a top three was chosen: winner Sarah Baker of Woolpit, second-placed Mark Maddox from Dorset and third-placed Rebecca Gunn from Norwich (see interviews below).

Between them, they took home more than £5,500 in prizes, including packages from premium clothing rental company The Devout; British tailoring brand House of Cavani; top Cambridge punting business Rutherford’s; Fitzbillies, the 100-year-old Cambridge bakery; The Beauty Society at John Lewis & Partners Cambridge; Chestnut, the boutique East Anglian hospitality collection; fragrance house Penhaligon’s; area tourism service Discover Newmarket; Melvill & Moon, purveyor of high-end safari kit; London hat-maker Laird Hatters; and Suffolk preserved flower brand Shida - plus champagne from the July Festival’s headline sponsor, Moët & Chandon.

The winner of Velvet’s raffle hamper, given to an entrant chosen at random and filled with hundreds of pounds worth of food, drink, beauty products, fashion accessories and experience vouchers, was Jill Gregory of Bury St Edmunds.

If you want to join in the fashion fun - and be in with a chance of winning the amazing prizes - The Style Awards returns to Newmarket this autumn as part of Dubai Future Champions Festival: book now at

Meet the Winners

Winner: Sarah Baker from Woolpit

“I’ve entered previously and made top 10 this time last year, but to have actually won this time is really humbling. I do it for a bit of fun - I always come with a group of friends and we just love seeing what everyone’s wearing.

“That said, I genuinely do love fashion and think we need to make the most of these occasions when we can dress up. People just don’t dress up so much now, do they? [Post-pandemic] even I wear trainers a lot and I would never have worn them before!

“One thing I like about the Style Awards is that you don’t have to follow fashion so much as express your personal style; as a more mature lady - I’m about to become a grandma - it’s sometimes quite hard to follow trends.

“The dress was from TXMaxx, bought on a whim about six months ago because I just loved the colour and the movement of it; I like TKMaxx because it sells ends of lines, which stops them going to landfill.

“The dress originally had quite a long train, so I took it up and my friend Hazel Beaumont then used the off-cuts to create the hat: she used to work in a bank, has recently retired and, having always been very creative, has started making hats. The pink was her idea!

“What I really love about the Style Awards is that it doesn’t feel like a competition; it’s more like a celebration. Everyone is here for the same reason - to get dressed up and have a lovely day out - and there’s no sense of other people judging your outfit; they’re more likely to come over and say ‘I love your hat! Where did you get it?’”

Second Place: Mark Maddox from Dorset

“I’m absolutely delighted to have come second: it’s a honour, honestly. I’ve seen so many wonderful outfits on the course today; you could have had 100 people up on that podium. People are just so over the moon to be able to come to beautiful Newmarket Ladies’ Day and have the chance to get dressed up.

“There’s a bit of a Milanese trend to my outfit: the boater came from a very long-established hat shop in Milan - it’s been going 100 years or so - and I customised it with the blush ribbon to go with the suit, which is silk-combination and also from Milan.

“The [pink] shirt is Savile Row, from William Hunt, and the [skull-embossed] shoes are from Northampton, by Jeffrey West, so some great British craftsmanship. Everything I’m wearing is an investment piece.

“I have entered best-dressed competitions before; I really enjoy it. Women spend so much time, effort, money to look a billion dollars and I think a duty falls to all men to do the same; men can be a bit lazy, honestly.

“But I think the more you put into any day like this, the more you get out. I’ve come up from Dorset to attend, but then you’re willing to travel for quality, aren’t you?”

Third Place: Rebecca Gunn from Norwich

“This is the first time I’ve entered the Style Awards; I go racing regularly, but I’ve never thought to enter a best-dressed competition. So to come in the top three? I’m so shocked! It’s a wonderful surprise!

“I’m a nurse with the out of hours GP service, doing home visits to provide palliative care mostly. I did a day millinery course last year, so I made this hat myself; it’s only the second hat I’ve made! The veil is vintage, upcycled from an old hat. My skirt and top were both from eBay, I made the earrings myself and my shoes and bag are [investment pieces I already owned] from Stuart Weitzman and Hermès - the bag is a Kelly 25 in Blue Atoll.

“I’m originally from the Isle of Lewis in the Outer Hebrides, so my next hat I’m going to make out of Harris Tweed - possibly for the autumn Style Awards. I’ve got someone from back home who’s actually provided me with the fabric, which is lovely.“This whole day has been wonderful. I have had a few losses on the racecourse. . . but coming third in the Style Awards has more than made up for it.”

Sustainable Dressing

Velvet’s Alice Ryan, head judge for the Style Awards, wore a head-to-toe outfit of items borrowed, British, sustainably made and shopped from her own wardrobe:

- hat handmade by Tabitha Ada of Bury St Edmunds

- dress by sustainable London brand Sophia Alexia, stocked by Javelin, the independent boutique in Bury St Edmunds

- jewellery handmade by Caroline Svedbom, again stocked by Javelin

- bag by Lulu Guinness, originally purchased for Ladies’ Day 2021

- shoes by SJP, originally purchased for Ladies’ Day 2018

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