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Casual Chic : At the Oaks Equestrian Event, the Look Will Be Dressy But Sporty, and You'll See Suits and Lots of Hats


The British are masters at the game of dressing for a polo match, tennis tournament or other high-society sporting event.

Somehow, they maintain a look of effortless elegance even while contending with heat, soggy grass and other undesirable elements. They are always perfectly attired, the women in broad-brimmed hats and silk floral dresses, the men in smart blazers and crisp white pants.

By comparison, Americans are fashion rebels, especially in laid-back Southern California. There is a far less rigid dress code for outdoor fetes such as a day at the races, horse show, golf tournament or private garden party.

At Sunday's Oaks Fall Classic at the Equestrian Center in San Juan Capistrano, guests will likely look relaxed yet impeccable as they enjoy their elegant hunt breakfast and equestrian competitions under the center's ancient oaks.

The Oaks will be filled with walking illustrations of what to wear to any high-class outdoor affair.

"It's quite a fashion array. You see everything--city shorts, beautiful jackets, designer jeans with gorgeous studs, suits and lots of hats," says Peggy Goldwater Clay, this year's Oaks chairwoman.

"Men wear their blazers, Levi's and cowboy boots or they wear suits."

Clay plans to wear the ideal horse lover's outfit--a goldenrod-colored linen suit with Western detailing in leather on the jacket and a matching knit shirt, topped off by a cowboy hat.

"The Oaks is a dressy social gathering, but the look is sporty," says Floss Schumacher, last year's chairwoman. "The women try not to wear pants."


Weather can pose the greatest obstacle to planning an outdoor wardrobe.

Although it's called the fall classic, this year the Oaks takes place in August, so guests have to brace themselves for the heat.

"Last year, we projected wool suits," Schumacher says. "I wore a beautiful beige suit and a velvet jockey cap. I thought they were going to ask me to ride."

A linen suit is a better choice for late summer.

At a recent fashion show, Neiman Marcus at Fashion Island, Newport Beach, demonstrated additional ideas for Oaks attire, including scarf-print sarong skirts, bomber jackets, leopard blouses with black leather pants and an equestrian jacket of blue and green plaid with a black velvet collar.

Tina Schafnitz, a Newport Beach philanthropist and frequent party-goer, showed up for last year's Oaks in a tweed jacket, black felt hat and gloves, shoe boots and--for a twist--black-and-white checkered hot pants that would have stopped the game at a British polo match.

"It was horsey yet classic," Schafnitz says.

This year, she'll be wearing a long denim dress with gold leather trim that zips all the way up the side, with a matching bomber jacket and gold boots.

"We'll see a lot of boots and Western hats," she says.


Joan Irvine Smith, host of the Oaks, always wears an outfit put together by Hermes.

"Mrs. Smith will call and say, 'You have to find me something terrific,' " says Francine Bardo, managing director of Hermes in Beverly Hills.

Usually, it's a silk dress in a Hermes signature print or slacks with a Hermes blouse. This year she'll wear a tailored white suit with short sleeves and Hermes buttons.

"The ladies are usually very elegant," Bardo says. "Some come in the tradition of horse shows, in pique flower dresses with hats. The majority go a little more casual, in whites with flats."

Hermes' presence can be seen all over the Oaks. A booth of its equestrian-related scarves and ties is set up on the grounds. Women snap up the silk scarves at $200 a pop.

"We were originally a saddler, so many things we carry have an equestrian motif," Bardo says. "Men are crazy about the ties with equestrian details."

Men tend to stick with elegant classics such as white slacks with navy blazers, or more casual cotton twill pants with loafers and a polo shirt with a pullover slung around their shoulders.

"It's an East Coast look," Bardo says.

The recent Huntington Beach Summer Classic horse show attracted men in sport jackets and plaid shirts--a strong Polo Ralph Lauren influence--and women in hats, split skirts, unconstructed jackets and even English riding attire, according to Stephanie Lewis, director of fashion and publicity for Saks Fifth Avenue at South Coast Plaza, Costa Mesa.

"I saw jodhpurs with red blazers and black trim," she says. Some of the guests looked ready to jump into the ring with the horses.

Outdoor events offer hat-lovers the perfect excuse to wear a chapeau.

At the Oaks, hats are almost a necessity because "the sun filters down through those oak trees," Schumacher says.

Sunglasses are also mandatory, while spikes and high-heeled shoes are out.

"You're right up next to the horses standing in grass," Schumacher says. "You have to wear flats or low-heeled shoes, otherwise you end up aerating the field."

Neiman Marcus at Fashion

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