Putting the Royal in Royal Ascot

The glorious month of June is here and, as a nation, we play host to some of the most fabulous and widely celebrated sporting events in the world. With Royal Ascot, Wimbledon and international cricket we are poised and ready, fingers-crossed that the Great British weather holds up.

Royal Ascot was founded by Queen Anne way back in the 18th century. Since then we’ve seen eleven different monarchs, each of whom has graced the event in turn, held annually on the third week of June. Royal Ascot is now famous the world over; the very epitome of British culture, thanks in no small part to its unabashed pomp and pageantry.

Five days of race meetings begin each year with a royal procession; the arrival of Her Majesty the Queen and other members of the royal family by horse-drawn carriage, parading across the track to the delight of other racegoers. Not only is Her Majesty a master horsewoman, but her stables are world renowned; Queen Elizabeth II has owned a staggering 22 Royal Ascot race winners during her 63-year reign.

At the heart of Ascot racecourse is the Royal Enclosure, admittance to which is dependent on a strict dress code. Proceedings for gentlemen are relatively straightforward; a suit and tie is the norm for Ascot, but in the Royal Enclosure it’s strictly morning dress and top hat, and only in black or grey, with black shoes and absolutely no cravats.

For ladies lucky enough to attend however, there are many strict rules to follow when it comes to the Royal Enclosure. Think formal. Think dress and jacket or bolero. Dresses or skirts must be of modest length, falling just above the knee or longer. Similarly, dresses or tops must have straps of one inch wide or greater – no spaghetti straps. Trouser suits are welcome but must be full-length and in both matching colour and material. A hat must be worn at all time; a fascinator is also acceptable however rules dictate that it must have “a base of at least 10cm across”.

Royal Ascot Ladies Day is a key social event in the British and international horse racing calendar, much lauded for the beautiful, elegant ladies attire on show. A fashion parade for the beautiful people, strictly marshalled with a dress code which is rigorously enforced on the day, irrespective of status, wealth or celebrity: the correct attire is absolutely mandatory. The ladies of Royal Ascot prepare their outfits well in advance of the occasion – after all, it’s a “who’s who” of who’s who and an unashamed show of “who has what”. The rich, the famous and every lady in-between vying to out-wear one another; to be the lady whose outfit and hat everyone will remember for weeks, months or years to come.

At Royal Ascot, if one wishes to get ahead, one must procure a hat which will, in turn, turn heads; a hat which will leave a lasting impression on fellow racegoers and the public, either for its sheer beauty or – rather less desirably – which will leave us reeling in shock horror.

British millinery is famous throughout the world for its sophisticated and discerning style. Breathtakingly beautiful British-made hats are shipped all over the world for exclusive events, from The Kentucky Derby to the famed Melbourne Cup and scores of global high profile occasions in-between. Stephen Jones and Gina Foster are just two of our most highly-talented and highly-sought after home-grown milliners whose passion and skill are world class, world renowned and, as a result, exported all over the world from Madrid to Mumbai.

Each and every hat is a wearable work of art, thanks to the creativity and hard work of amazing designers such as Irishman Philip Treacy, known in the trade as “The Mad Hatter”.

Victoria Beckham famously donned a Philip Treacy designed fascinator for the wedding of Prince William and Kate Middleton, while other guests selected designs by much lauded British and international designers including Jane Corbett. The New York times reported on the day, rather uncharitably, “…overturned buckets, flowerpots, lampshades, fezzes, salad plates, tea cosies, flying saucers, abstract artworks or, in one case, a pile of feathers. There were also a number of fascinators, decorative shapes with flowers or feathers that are stuck in one’s hair but are not hats.”