It’s one of the hottest dates on the racing calendar, with a reputation for high fashion as well as high stakes. It is even marketed as being “synonymous with sartorial elegance”, so a trip to the Royal Ascot is as much about being seen as it is about taking a punt on some of the finest horses in the world. But if you need to get in to take some money from the toffs, you’ll need to look the part…
Why All The Gear?
Royal Ascot is a key fixture on the year’s calendar for two reasons. On one hand, it’s a chance for savvy punters to soak up the five-day festival and make a bit of cash. Prize pots for individual races range between £80,000 to £225,000, which helps to attract the best odds. On the other hand, it’s a chance for people to take the day off, put on a massive hat and drink champagne while schmoozing like there is no tomorrow.
For many visitors, Royal Ascot has morphed from being a day at the races to a full-tilt fashion event. With average footfall totalling 300,000 individuals; fine-dining, expensive drinks, and seat rentals tend to make a killing. The races are also inextricably attached to the royal family and offer visitors and would-be social climbers a chance to spend their readies at an elite event.
And anything to do with the upper crust will be judiciously peppered with rules.
Royal Ascot is notorious for its stringent dress code. Originally created by Beau Brummel in the nineteenth century, the current rules are pretty close to his original ideas…ideas from a man who cleaned his shoes with champagne.
In recent years, the event has become increasingly avant-garde and tongue in cheek. It’s now common for refined lords and ladies to bump shoulders with visitors in heaving bodices, exaggerated top-hats and dresses made from a smorgasbord of fabrics. It seems that the game is all about pushing the boundaries of acceptability and every year the gates at Ascot are surrounded by guests that just took it a little too far, as ‘Fancy Dress is not allowed’.
While some outfits are bordering on parody, others approach high art. So what are the general dress codes?
While the dress codes for many conventional gala events can be hard to navigate, Ascot’s are easy to find. Clearly laid out in a a beautifully designed PDF from their website, they are easily accessible, even if they may be hard to follow.
These are, as a rule, broadly what you would expect.
Dresses and skirts are expected to err on the longer side and should aim to fall just above the knee or longer. Bare midriffs are also verboten along with shorts, which can make things difficult in the summer heat. Unsurprisingly, hats should be worn, with the instructions listing specific rules for women and making top-hats de-rigueur for men. Red cards are doled out for wearing sports tops; so that time you spent matching your Chelsea scarf with your pocket square may have been for naught.
Bearing the above in mind, we can recommend some of the following tips:
Avoid The Boutique: If you can’t don’t have the time or can’t afford to pick out an expensive number, remember that it’s easy to accessorise your outfit. Standard High Street fashion can easily be made unique with the addition of a few extras to help your get-up pop, bringing in elements such as a dramatic pair or earrings, a statement necklace or a minimalist brooch.
You’re Bringing It Back: For the majority of punters, Ascot is a chance to go all-out and dress up for the day. And, hopefully, make a bit of money while you do it. Bearing this in mind, it’s always worth considering renting your kit out for the day. But always remember that while your ticket and gear will set you back a bit, if your clothes are returned in poor condition the cost is going to be even higher. So, if you do manage to win big, try to keep the celebrations conservative.
Children Are Not Exempt: If you’re bringing the kids along for the day, don’t forget that they’re going to have to sharpen up too. All boys over the age of 12 are required to wear a jacket, or a suit with a tie. Girls aged 10 – 16 ‘should dress for a formal occasion’, according to the Ascot website, with suggestions made for smart summer clothes, While hats are not compulsory, something to block out the sun would be a good decision for the time of the year.
What’s Good For Men?
A Three-Piece Suit: As mentioned, picking up a rental is you best choice. Any tailor worth their salt will be able to give you a nudge in the right direction. If you’re completely at a loss, Hugo Boss curate the event so anything from their catalogue is a solid pick. Or, if you’re a military man, you are welcome to cheat and attend in the dress uniform of your country.
A Top Hat: A top hat can be a pricey investment and, in the likely event that you’ve rented yours, a black banded number is a solid shout. Recent events have seen the rise of grey hats, accompanied with white gloves. However, always remember that when you take your hat off, you need to pick it up again. There are always a mess of unclaimed hats at the end of the event. So, to save you time and money, slip your contact details inside the brim to make sure that it ends up with you at the end of the day.
Shoes: Black shoes are de-rigeur and enforced at all enclosures. There will be little deviation from oxfords or brogues, but remembering to pair your shoes with your suit correctly is critical. The suit-to-shoe ratio goes black with black, cream with brown, and greys with burgundy. As you’re going to be on your feet for the majority of the event, remember to make sure that the ones you settle on are comfortably broken in!
What’s Good For The Ladies?
Jumpsuits: The jumpsuit has only become an ‘acceptable’ garment this year. And it’s about time too – it’s a solid choice for the season, with a sensible cut giving you enough room to breathe in the potential heat and protecting you from the wind.
Fascinators: As you move from area to area, remember that the rules about headwear can change, and fascinators are now totally banned from the Royal Enclosure. Also, remember that bigger is not always better. A small, measured fascinator can be much more striking that a larger model (and it won’t block anyone’s view).
Hats: At the end of the day, it’s all about the millinery on Ladies Day, but it can be difficult to pick one out for such a special occasion. If you’re smaller set or petite, hats can be difficult to wear and should be tilted to the side and matched to your proportions; ideally no wider than your shoulders. Taller women can go with a larger brim, but it’s always worth remembering the edict that a headpiece can be substituted for a hat instead provided that is has a baseline of at least 10cm in diameter.