Royal Ascot Dresses That Fit The Dress Code (And That You’ll Actually Wear Again)

Here's how to ace the most glamorous event on the racing calendar.

Meghan Markle Royal Ascot

by Grazia |

The Royal Ascot dress code is famed for being a bit of a faff. The rules and regulations of what you can and can't wear for an event like the races can be enough to send you galloping at speed in the opposite direction. But then, unless the weddings you attend are of the very fancy variety, when else do you get to wear a dress and a hat apart from Ascot?

Taking place every June, the event is the most glamorous on the racing calendar and is always attended by the royal family. No wonder there's such a strict protocol on what it is and isn't ok to wear. Ascot outfits vary depending on the enclosure, with some being more formal than others. The Royal Enclosure, for example, is the smartest area and requires formal daywear (dresses and skirts of a modest length, defined as falling just above the knee or longer, with straps that are one inch or thicker; hats or headpieces with a solid base of 10cm or more are acceptable). For the Queen Anne Enclosure, meanwhile, guests are advised to wear hats, headpieces or fascinators, while they're not allowed to wear sheer or strapless tops or dresses.

If in doubt about what to wear to Royal Ascot 2022, take inspiration from the race day outfits of the royal family. When Meghan Markle attended the races in 2018, she chose an Ascot dress with a difference, side-stepping the traditional floral frocks for a sharp shirt dress from Givenchy. Then there's the Countess of Wessex, who wore a jumpsuit (yes, really, they're permitted in the Royal Enclosure) in 2019.

To help navigate all the different enclosures - the style guides for which you can read in detail here - we asked stylist Fiona Huntingford for her expert advice on how to prep, what to wear and some essential Ascot outfit inspiration, plus who to emulate from Ascots gone-by.


Shop: What To Wear To The Races

what to wear to the races
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Make like Kate Middleton in this Self-Portrait dress - yes a dress not a jacket and skirt!

what to wear to the races
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For occasionwear, you can't go wrong with Aussie label Aje.

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Needle & Thread is an Ascot attendee favourite. Beautifully crafted with a voluminous silhouette, creating a romantic look.

what to wear to the races
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This L.K. Bennett polka dot dress could be designer.

what to wear to the races
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Part of Laura Bailey's edit with high street brand Ghost, this retro floral dress would be gorgeous with a straw boater.

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The pleating detail at the waist is ultra-flattering.

what to wear to the races
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We're so in love with this elegant high-necked style.

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Selling fast, the Gigi dress by indie-brand Lisou is a hot favourite for this summer's soiree circuit.

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This Warehouse cut-out midi is a fashion editor must-have. Snap it up quick before we do.

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Meet Luna, your perfect plus one.

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Another excellent rental dress, this time by Rotate Birger Christensen.

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This Self-Portrait dress just screams 'a day at the races'.

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A tired skirt is not only super comfy, but super flattering.

What are the main things to be aware of when it comes to dressing for Royal Ascot?

Royal Ascot has strict dress codes that need to be adhered to depending on the enclosure you’re in; however, a formal day dress with a hat is a minimum for ladies (unless you’re in the Windsor Enclosure, where no formal dress code applies). Anything strapless is a no-no, dresses and tops should have straps of one inch or more, trousers and jumpsuits must be full length and dresses and skirts should fall just above or below the knee.

What is your advice for people who are coming for the first time?

Err on the side of caution when it comes to the dress codes – even if you’re not in the Royal Enclosure, take the opportunity to make a bit of an effort – you don’t go to Ascot every day!

What about if you don’t want to wear a dress – is there an alternative?

A tailored jumpsuit is a nice alternative to a dress – the style must still comply with dress codes, so the trousers must be full length and the top half must not be strappy or strapless.

In terms of cover-ups/jackets – what would you recommend?

Pashminas are allowed and are a good choice when the weather is too warm for anything more, however a jacket is more formal and adds structure to your outfit. In terms of shape, try a neat fitted jacket or dress coat with three quarter-length sleeves, which gives a pretty silhouette.

What are the rules when it comes to headwear?

Again, it depends on which enclosure you are in; for the Royal Enclosure at Ascot fascinators are not allowed and your hat or headpiece has to have a solid base of 10cm or more. In the Queen Anne Enclosure, fascinators are allowed. In the general enclosure hats don’t have to be worn.

How do you recommend finding the hat/fascinator that suits you best?

My advice would be to try on several different styles – don’t go for overly large hats or fascinators unless you’re trying to win a prize! When choosing the colour pick a dominant shade from your outfit or if wearing black for example, try a highlight colour or multi-toned style. Try to balance your headpiece with the rest of your outfit.

What are the best shoes for being on your feet all day at Ascot?

Shoes with a hidden wedge or platform are great when on your feet all day. Stilettos can be tricky if walking on grass. L.K. Bennett does a good selection in an array of neutral shades.

Who do you think has dressed well for Ascot in the past? What style lessons can we learn from their looks?

In 2016, the Duchess of Cambridge wore a stunning long-sleeved, white lace Dolce & Gabbana dress with a beautiful headpiece, simple pearl earrings, a box clutch and, of course, her usual neutral heels. She looked picture perfect for the Royal Enclosure. Sophie Wessex chose an all-black ensemble in 2014 and looked incredibly elegant with a large-brimmed angled hat, textured brocade, full-skirted dress with pockets, a simple clutch and drop pearl earrings.

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