The Durban July is one of those great Durban traditions that everyone can tell you an anecdote about whether they are 18 or 80. Everyone has worn either an outrageous outfit or won an outrageous amount betting on the horses.

I am no different and have done both the outrageous outfit (2002) and the outrageous winnings (2002, 2005, 2006, 2007). Now, I really should qualify these statements. Firstly, I am certainly more outrageous when it comes to fashion than to spending on betting, so an outrageous winning for me is a few hundred rands off a few tens of rands put down at the tote. I have an uncanny ability to pick a winning horse on the July (call it my party trick) and am very proud to report that this year I put a swinger on the two horses that TIED to win! What were the odds? Unfortunately, due to a combination of the increase in the entrance fee this year, the fact that the tote won’t take debit or credit cards (probably not a bad thing) and that there were no functional ATMs to be found, I placed the princely sum of R20 on this swinger. The fact that my winnings totalled the hardly-to-write-home-about amount of R138 did nothing to dampen my joy and made my day!

My 2008 anecdote aside, the Vodacom Durban July is an event you certainly have to experience at least once in your lifetime, if not every year from the age of 18. The usually casual and laid back style of Durbanites is traded in for haute couture, hats and high spirits on this one day of the year and the effect is intoxicating. The excitement builds perceptibly between races and nothing quite compares to standing on the side of the track as a rumble of race horses, sleek and shining, streaks past in a blur of competition and colour. The main race itself is as electrifying as any Springbok test match and the level of emotion packed into those fleeting minutes is quite heady.

There are two ways to experience the July. Either you can base yourself at a picnic site or simply go in on an entrance ticket and float around from site to site. For most, the more attractive choice would be to be based in a tent otr at a picnic site; however one cannot have everything one wants and picnic sites at the July are things to be inherited, like flats at Glenashley Heights. You literally have to wait for someone to die in order to take over their site. There are some charitable souls, though, who will loan you a site for a year that they aren’t using it, so it is a good idea to start making discreet enquiries now for next year. Don’t forget that the key word here is discreet as most Durbanites find things such as parkings at Gateway, the size 34 jeans on sale at YDE and picnic sites at the July much more difficult to part with if they sense that someone else might be interested in them. If you cannot find a picnic site to crash, floating around is not half as bad as it sounds. You are bound to run into many, many people you have not seen in ages and they will inevitably, spurred on by the intoxicating good humour of the day, invite you to have a drink or a few snacks.

The upside of floating around the July is that you get to see not only more old friends and acquaintances, but more of the fashion. And what fashion it is! The July is preceded by the MTN Durban Fashion Week which is also populated by fashionistas but the great difference between the two events is that, at Fashion Week, the aim is to be stylishly out of the box whereas at the July it is everyone’s aim to be simply out of the box, WAY out of the box. Many people lose their daily concern with looking like a how-to-wear feature and try, instead, to look like a Vogue fashion feature complete with feathers and clashing colours. The effect is spectacular and a feast for the eyes. Everywhere you look are both men and women who either look fabulous or have made a huge faux-pas and both are equally entertaining. This year, my favourite faux-pas was at the picnic site next door so I could feast my eyes and cringe all day. She was clad in a, a… creation made out of orange, pink and blue tulle which left very little to the imagination. What really finished the outfit off was a hat in the same fabric that I would not be surprised to see adorning the head of Barbara Cartland in her next author photo.

This year I decided to go to the July at the spur of the moment when my travel plans fell through so I was not as well prepared as I normally am. I therefore had to fall back on my old faithful jade green Indian silk dress with a parasol for panache. The best thing about the July is that anything goes and no one will look down on you regardless of what you are wearing, even if it is the same thing as two years ago, with an added umbrealla! So, if you find yourself in Durban on the first Saturday of July 2009, don your daringmost duds and come to the races, darling.