I am a walking fashion faux pas and I blame Tommy Bahama. Finding the right outfit for a special occasion is impossible. It doesn’t matter whether it’s an evening ball or a rodeo, in my small suitcase the answer is always the same outfit. While this would fly in California, it’s hopeless in England. Sigh. Peter doesn’t have this problem. He just dons a pair of black slacks, clean shirt, and the sexy knit sweater we bought in Paris and suddenly he is Mr. Très Magnifique!

It’s not that I don’t have anything at all to wear; there are 71 possible outfits in my carry-on. It’s just that I don’t have anything to wear that’s not beige, or black, or fit for mountaineering. And what I have discovered so far is that the English woman – even if she were planting a flag on the summit of Kilimanjaro – does not ever dress for mountaineering. No no. Never. A proper English woman is feminine. She dresses without regard for prevailing weather conditions. She wears matching pearl sets often. She seldom, if ever, wears pants. And she always chooses stunningly impractical shoes. (Unless over the age of 75, in which case she must wear Hush Puppies® with everything.)

Case in point. Last Saturday we went to the horse races. And I don’t mean Ascot; it was a country race meeting on grass. The weather was miserable; unrelenting rain fell all morning right through the start of the fourth race. There was enough mud to bring in a carnival barker with a wrestling freak show. The puddles were so big that someone in Iowa would build a dock.

What Not to Wear to the races, rain or shine, in the mud, around England.

Being a Midwestern girl with pig sense, I chose an outfit perfect for the occasion and the weather – mud brown pants and matching shirt, waterproof faux leather jacket, hiking shoes, a jaunty scarf, and in a fit of British inspiration, pearl earrings. Perfect, right? Wrong.

Wrong! Wrong! Wrong! Feline looks of disdain came my way before we even left the house. The ticket man, not exactly ultra posh himself, gave me the once over with a smirk and reluctantly let me through the gate. Women of every age scanned my attire from head to toe and back, casting the same look of disapproval everywhere I went. And then, in a blinding flash of cognizance, I saw why. There wasn’t another woman among the thousands dressed like me. Not one. It didn’t matter if they were young, old, rich, or regular – I was the only casual, practical, dungarees-clad, hiking-shoe-wearing, American-girl standout.

In a black negligee you are ready for anything! How practical, yet feminine. And why not.

In a black negligee you are ready for anything. How practical, yet feminine. And why not!

Great contrasts in color, hemline, and shoe option. And the heels exceed water depth. Inspired!

Great contrasts in color, hemline, and shoe option. And the heels exceed water depth. Inspired!

Unwilling to be caught with my pants on again, I snapped a few photos of some of the better looks. I will use this to remind me what to wear the next time we go racing. (Sorry for the focus problems. Photography is not my forté.) Now I just wish someone would write the definitive guide on this topic: Rain or Shine, What Not to Wear in Europe, Ever.