Let's face it - the Ascot dress code is a faff. The rules and regulations of what you can and cant' wear for an event like the Royal Ascot races can be enough to send you running for jeans and a tee. But, sometimes there's just no way around it and you have to resign ourselves to the fact that getting dolled-up in a dress and boater hat is a must. Wait, who are we kidding, isn't this half the fun?
One such occasion is the Royal Ascot, aka the most glamourous racing event on the society calendar. Taking place every June in, well, Ascot, the posh soiree is attended by the Queen. No wonder there's such a strict protocol on what it is and isn't OK to wear.
To help navigate the tricky dress code, we asked Bicester Village’s chief 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. (Hint: includes Kate Middleton, the undisputed queen of formal dress).
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 when 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 10 cm 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 do you think is the best approach to accessorising considering you’ll be wearing big headwear?
Balance is key with accessories when wearing headwear – if you’re wearing a huge hat only wear simple earrings or you’ll look overloaded. Remember the words of Coco Chanel: “Before you leave the house, look in the mirror and remove one accessory.” I agree completely with her words, less is usually more.
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 nude 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.
See: Our Favourite Royal Ascot Dresses You Can Buy Online