It’s about to start. The most elegant fixture on the world’s horse racing calendar. Royal Ascot (June 18-22) is a British Institution that is 300 years in making. In 1711 Queen Anne set up the first race on Ascot heath, noting how suitable a space it was for “horses to gallop at full stretch”. And so the event evolved, making it one of the highlights of the summer’s sporting and (most importantly) social calendar.
The modern Royal Ascot comprises 30 races over five days – of which 18 are the prestigious ‘Group’ races – with £5 million in prize money awaiting the winners. Thus it’s not surprising that the races attract the best racehorses, trainers, jockeys and punters in the world.
And amongst those punters are some of the world’s social elites. I’m talking about royalty, aristocrats and the occasional celebrity, all mingling in the hallowed space that is the Royal Enclosure. On the off chance you join this particular crowd please be warned that this is not a jeans and T-Shirt affair. Oh dear me, no. There’s a dress code. A wonderfully strict one. Only formal daywear please, ladies.
This means dresses and skirts must be about knee length or longer. This is not the time for a Mary Quant revival. If you opt for a strappy ensemble then the said straps must be an inch or wider. Spaghetti straps or backless dresses are just not done and as for today’s penchant for the bare midriff of the early 1990s … frankly you’ll probably be banned from Ascot, nay the entire county of Berkshire for all eternity.
Skirts and dresses not your thing? Should one be more of the YSL Le Smoking, trouser-suit inclination then do indulge but note that trouser suits must be full length (city shorts are verboten) and in a matching material and colour.
And may I just mention the hats? Oh, the hats. All those keen on a spot of millinery will enjoy what Royal Ascot has to offer as ladies in the Royal Enclosure must wear a hat. Fascinators are banned this year but a headpiece “which has a base of 4 inches (10cm) or more in diameter” is acceptable.
So all the ladies are looking very chic indeed. What about the chaps? Black or grey morning dress, please, with top hats (and huzzah! There aren’t enough social opportunities these days for men to scrub up and look so dashing). But don’t think about wearing a cravat. It’s just not done.
Usually these sorts of rules prove surprisingly fertile for creative inspiration. If, however, you’re feeling somewhat overwhelmed, then Royal Ascot have very kindly put together an elegant video of its Style Guide to help.
Just don’t go for the tattooe’d arms and beard that the stylist is wearing. Especially if you’re a lady.
But wait! You can’t get tickets to the Royal Enclosure? Don’t fret. You can buy tickets to the Grand Stand. The Dress Code is still relatively formal – no shorts, bare midriffs, strappy or sheer (!) tops allowed – but fascinators are allowed to join the serried ranks of hats and headpieces. Chaps, you can leave the top hats at home but make sure you’re sporting a shirt and tie.
Phew! Once you have conquered that marvelously exhilarating sartorial minefield then get ready to join in the party. You’ll be one of many helping consume:
- 51,549 bottles of Champagne
- 44,524 glasses of Pimm’s
- 50,000 pistachio and raspberry macaroons
- 2,050 fresh lobsters
- 35,000 local spears of asparagus
- 3,300 punnets of strawberries
These are 2012’s statistics. Think you can top them this year? I bet you can. Speaking of betting, there are the horses and their form to think about. Now, where are the bookies?
Zoë F. Willis is a writer and enthusiastic London resident. You can read more about her adventures and creative exploits at https://thingswotihavemade.blogspot.co.uk/
Image credits: All photos courtesy Royal Ascot except Queen Anne portrait from Atlas Royal and Champagne and Strawberries by Denis Dervisevic