The Utterly Inessential Henley Shopping List: From this weekend’s Regatta to next week’s fabulous Festival

The iconic Henley festivals end our Utterly Inessential season of summer events and promise two weeks of riverside wonders, from racing boats to floating stages. Alexandra Fraser looks at the products that you definitely don't require to survive the next two weekends, but should probably consider nevertheless.

If you haven’t been down to Henley yet this week, then you’ll undoubtably be there this weekend to cheer on teams from all over the world as they win by a canvas, or next week to enjoy incredible live music and award-winning food.

The home to two of the summer’s most beloved festivals, every summer Henley comes alive with outrageous blazers, black-tie and ballgowns as it shows international crews a thing or two about how we Brits drink Pimm’s. With a little something for everyone, it’s hard to imagine spending these next two weekends in July anywhere else.

Thankfully, if you’re like me, you won’t be.

First things first: The dress code

Get kitted out for summer season events - Glyndebourne, RHS Chelsea Flower Show, Hay Festival, Henley Regatta, Royal Ascot and Wimbledon

As we’ve gone through Wimbledon, Ascot, Glydebourne and Chelsea these past few weeks, one thing has become absolutely and abundantly clear: the British love a dress code. Henley is no different; for Stewards (the most prestigious enclosure just down from host club Leander) dresses must hang past the knee, and crew, club or team blazers should be worn if earned. Short of that, a normal blazer and chinos or a linen suit will do nicely. Avoid a business suit if you want the sun to be the only reason for your face’s red hue.

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Honey raw-silk jacket, £629, Lalage Beaumont,; South Sea pearls necklace, £2,320, John Lloyd Morgan,; Mulberry,; silk dress, price on application, Stewart Parvin,

The height of fashion… until you trip

As our handy insider’s guide helpfully points out, stilettos should be abandoned in favour of wedges due to the grass and the sheer amount of time you’ll spend standing. Luckily, espadrilles have seen a surge in popularity this summer, so it shouldn’t be hard to nip into a shop and pick up a pair.

Eau de parfum, £120, Floris London,; earrings, £185, Laurence Coste,; Valenciana espadrille, £95, Penelope Chilvers,; Coppelia bag, £410, Lalage Beaumont,

If you feel that you’ve ‘done’ Henley proper

Cotton Drill Shorts - blue and white stripe

For those who worked the Regatta in their youth or attended to watch their relatives narrowly miss out on the Princess Elizabeth cup for the third year running, it can be a rare treat to attend Henley without a badge pinned to your chest and simply enjoy the boats from the lower bank.

If this is you (it was me up until a week or two ago when a friend helpfully mentioned that she’d be working in the Pimm’s tent) then you can afford to let your dress code slip slightly to compensate for the high temperatures. I would still recommend a flowing dress and a linen shirt, but when long trousers are no longer required, only a madman would continue to wear them.

Cotton Striped trousers, £49 (previously £69) available at

Caution: Black tie required

Undoubtably the poshest festival of the British summer, Henley Festival will return next week from 10th – 14th July, packed with Michelin-star food and incredible live music acts. Boy George will open the festival on the iconic floating stage on Wednesday and the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra will close the weekend on Sunday with Classic FM’s Saturday Night at the Movies. ABBA fans will experience Björn Again on the Saturday. 

In the face of so much talent you’re not going to want to underdress. Luckily, you can’t. The festival is strictly Black Tie; think James Bond.

Silvana dress in gold, £675,

A hat a day keeps the red nose away

Get kitted out for summer season events - Glyndebourne, RHS Chelsea Flower Show, Hay Festival, Henley Regatta, Royal Ascot and Wimbledon

Sense and sensibility is a trademark of our culture for a reason. Go simple on makeup so that you can top up sunscreen throughout the day and bring a hat, both for the Regatta and if you’re attending the Henley Symphony Orchestra Saturday Lunchtime Concert on 13th July. A good pair of sunglasses allows you to subtly judge everyone else’s outfits as well as protecting your eyes and this year, bigger is better.

Barbershop boater, £135, Lock & Co,; Hibiscus Kate sunglasses £190, Ynez cheek palette, £30, Bobbi Brown,

‘Utterly Inessential’

It’s still not too late to get one this big, but if you’re just looking for a bathtub companion, there are smaller options easily available. 

If you purchased this week’s entire shopping list you would’ve spent £4,838 (not including the £300 inflatable rubber duck) and I’ll either be in the Pimm’s tent this weekend or singing ‘Waterloo’ at the top of my lungs next. Stop by and say hi.

To find out more about Henley Festival and to see the full list of music and food vendors, visit their website