Is Carolina Cup fashion changing?

USC School of JournalismMarch 27, 2014 

  • If you go

    82nd Carolina Cup

    WHEN: Saturday; gates open at 9 a.m.; first steeplechase race at 1:30 p.m.

    WHERE: Springdale Race Course, Camden



Spring officially started last Thursday, but for some Carolinians, spring doesn’t start until the Carolina Cup in Camden on Saturday. And for many attending, the biggest thing on their minds is what to wear.

More than 60,000 people show up for the horse race each year in a sea of neon colors, floral patterns, bow ties and sun hats. It is the bellwether of spring fashion in South Carolina, known for its fashion as much as for its horses. Think of it as a modern-day Woodstock for the conservative minded.

For years now, the traditional outfit has been preppy – a Lilly Pulitzer dress (maybe a Stinger or Elephant Ears print), a pair of Jack Rogers sandals and a monogrammed sun hat to top it off. It is a classy look that will stick around. Guys have always kept it simple with a pastel button-up, a bow tie, a pair of khakis and a matching koozie.

But fashion evolves, and traditions stay the same, so what better place to see the clash of new and old than the Carolina Cup?

Kaitlyn Machos, a designer at last week’s Charleston Fashion Week, says that the equestrian style is a lot different from what she saw on the runway, where there was more denim and oxblood being worn than bright colors and floral prints.

On the other hand, at the Carolina Cup, college girls like to show a little more ankle and a lot less composure. Women not in their 20s prefer a classier look with a pair of white pants and a flowing blouse with a colorful print, according to Tracy Wright, vice president of Just The Thing Boutique in Columbia.

“Women at my age never wear anything structured,” said Ellen Berlin, owner of Berlins for Women in Charleston. “Everything flows and looks modern.”

Area fashion insiders say some of the younger crowd are moving away from the classic looks.

“Carolina Cup is becoming a lot less preppy, with a little more bohemian chic,” said Lucy Gordon Smith, who works at Julia Neal Fashions in Columbia.

“We see a lot of girls going with black and white dresses with graphics,” said Anna Williams, manager of Bohemian in Five Points in Columbia. “We’re selling a lot of Cup dresses but not the traditional ones like Lilly.”

According to Nina Gabriel, who works at Petal in Columbia, a lot more girls are buying solid colors, rather than prints, and more backless dress, which feature “cool” cutouts, which are straps on the back of the dress designed into either a heart, a bow or just a neat pattern.

Carolina Cup seems to have a reputation of encouraging conformity and underage drinking, but Bob Dylan said it best: “The times they are a changin’,” and maybe in a decade it will be more like a conservative Burning Man rather than a Woodstock.


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