20 Jun 2023

All about Ascot

Ascot stages 26 days of racing throughout the year, but the five-day Royal Meeting, held annually in the third week in June, is the most famous – a key date in the social calendar which combines venerable tradition with fashionable panache. This year’s Royal Ascot takes place from 20–24 June.

The first race meeting ever held at Ascot took place on 11 August 1711 and was instigated by Queen Anne, but it was with the accession of George II that the race became the second most popular in England.

In the 1790s, a Royal Stand was erected to ensure privacy for members of the Royal Family. The Royal Enclosure, as it is now recognised, dates to 1822 when George IV commissioned a two-storey stand to be built with a surrounding lawn, with access by invitation of the King.

In 1825, the annual tradition of the Royal Procession began. The King, leading four other coaches with members of the Royal party, drove up the centre of the racecourse in front of the crowds, establishing the tradition that is still in place today. The Royal Procession opens each day’s racing at 2pm and, as the Royal landau passes, the Royal Standard is raised and the national anthem is played. It was well known that the late Queen was an ardent fan of horse-racing and Royal Ascot was one of her favourite events. All eyes will be on the racecourse this year to see which members of the Royal Family attend.

To gain entry to the Royal Enclosure, where strict dress codes apply, racegoers must obtain a sponsorship form and have it signed by someone who has attended the Royal Enclosure for four consecutive years. Convicted criminals and undischarged bankrupts were barred from the Royal Enclosure, but divorcées have been allowed in since 1955.

Royal Ascot’s much-loved tradition of ‘singing round the bandstand’ dates to the 1970s under the stewardship of Lady Beaumont, wife of the then Clerk of the Course. The after-racing medley of British favourites and flag-waving was an immediate hit, and thousands of racegoers stayed on and joined in.

Ascot’s dress codes owe much to the Edwardian era, with its tailcoats and extravagantly large ladies’ hats. This quintessentially British style still underpins dress codes today, which are strictly applied in both the Royal and Queen Anne Enclosures. The Village Enclosure and Windsor Enclosure offer more relaxed ambience, though many visitors will still choose to dress up.

Dress Codes 

Royal Enclosure

Ladies:

  • Dresses and skirts should be of modest length (falling just above the knee or longer). Dresses and tops should have straps of one inch or greater. Strapless, off the shoulder, halter neck, spaghetti straps and dresses with a strap of less than one inch (2.5cm) are not permitted. Midriffs must be covered. 
  • Trouser suits be of full length and of matching material and colour; culottes and jumpsuits that fall below the knee are also permitted.
  • Hats should be worn; a headpiece which has a base of 4 inches (10cm) or more in diameter is acceptable as an alternative to a hat. Fascinators are not permitted in the Royal Enclosure.

Gentlemen:

  • Black or grey morning dress which must include a waistcoat and tie (no cravats), with a black or grey top hat and black shoes and dark socks.

Please note: A gentleman may remove his top hat within a restaurant, a private box, a private club or that facility’s terrace, balcony or garden. Hats may also be removed within any enclosed external seating area within the Royal Enclosure Garden. The customisation of top hats (with, for example, coloured ribbons or bands) is not permitted in the Royal Enclosure.

Queen Anne Enclosure

Ladies:

  • Ladies are encouraged to dress in a manner as befits a formal occasion. A hat, headpiece or fascinator should be worn at all times. Strapless or sheer strap dresses and tops are not permitted. Midriffs must be covered; shorts are not permitted.
  • Trouser suits be of full length and of matching material and colour; culottes and jumpsuits that fall below the knee are also permitted.
  • Jackets and pashminas may be worn but dresses and tops underneath should still comply with the dress code.

Gentlemen:

  • Gentlemen are required to wear a suit with a shirt and tie. Socks should be worn.

Overseas visitors & Serving Military Personnel

Overseas visitors are welcome to wear the formal National Dress of their country or Service Dress in any enclosure at Royal Ascot. Serving military personnel from the UK are welcome to wear Service Dress or equivalent.

Hats Off!

In 1922 a Times journalist commented that Ascot was “notoriously the best place in England to see beautiful women in beautiful clothes.” Since the very beginning, Ascot has been synonymous with high fashion and elaborate couture.

Royal Ascot is also famous for its extraordinary hats, especially on Thursday, which is Ladies’ Day, an extravaganza of high fashion and outlandish millinery. Queen Victoria made hats de rigueur after wearing a porter bonnet (a headpiece that shielded the face from observers) to Ascot in the 1830s.

Hats were once an intrinsic feature of British life, and certainly seen as the crowning glory of a lady’s outfit. Today, there are very few occasions when it is acceptable to wear a hat that is a true talking point and Royal Ascot embraces the opportunity with enthusiasm.

The Jockey Club relaxed its dress codes earlier this year, so Royal Ascot – with its detailed rules and regulations and minutely specified brim and strap widths remains something of a standout. Most of us will never encounter such stringent dress codes in our everyday lives and we will enjoy the creative opportunity this occasion gives us to create a striking outfit that is both compliant and original.

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