I know I have wittered on before about how much I love a hat, but it just so happened that this year Royal Ascot was on at the same time that I was back in England. If there was ever an excuse to travel with an oversized hat box and two screaming children, this was it.
The main topic of conversation when you mentioned Ascot to anyone this year was the dress code which, for the Royal Enclosure, has been drastically – and rightly – tightened up. A result of too many people for too many years, rocking up with very little on.
The fallout from people dressing badly was that the whole thing had started to lose its polish and prestige; after all, it’s called The Royal Enclosure because the Queen is in it, for all five race days.
Here’s a glimpse of the Royal Procession, below, on Day One when we were there. The horse-drawn carriage had just finished ferrying the Queen from Windsor to Ascot’s Royal Enclosure:
If you insist of dressing badly and looking like you’re going on a hen night, you still can but have to do it at the Grandstand or Silver Ring where there’s no regulations on what you wear or look like.
This year the rules posted on the Ascot website stipulated in no uncertain terms that skirts had to be below, or to, the knee or you would be refused entry; a hat was preferred but if you had to, a fascinator could be worn…only if the base was 10cms or more. They were that specific.
Formal daywear is a tough thing to get right and is practically a forgotten genre in today’s world. The subtext to the overall look is covering up and not wearing something that you could also get away with wearing in the evening (think frock coat or suit, pearls, big hat and moderate heels – all of which scream ‘day’ – as per pic above).
This was one of my favourite interpretations that I spotted. She’s a designer, Isabell Kristensen, and looked fabulous despite the over-the-top, please-pap-me-hat.
This was also very elegant and made me feel under dressed (very Fi from Four Weddings and a Funeral):
I was wearing a black and white lace dress from BCBG, bought in the sale just before I left (40% off – joy) and to the knee…just
…along with a white linen jacket from my new favourite shop, Massimo Dutti. (Pls excuse the less than brilliant pic, above, taken in the loo of the restaurant we went to after racing which explains why I look quite so crumpled).
In place of a traditional hat – a bugger to take on a transatlantic flight – I wore a fascinator bought from my favourite place: Far East Plaza. I was thrilled to have drastically diminished my chances of running in to anyone with a matching one by wearing it in England.
I’d assembled the picnic at 6am that morning, having cooked the bulk of it the night before. Poached sea trout from Devon, local new potatoes salad, cold steamed asparagus and hollandaise (bought I’m afraid, not homemade) was on the menu.
Our party chowed it down in the grassy racecourse carpark from the boot of the car – as is customary. Here it is balancing precariously in the boot on a selection of borrowed platters, china plates and boxes (as we now longer live in England our picnic stuff has been scattered to the wind). There were strawberries and cream for pud and champagne by way of hydration (I forgot the water).
Do I bet? You betcha. Unless you follow racing properly and/or own a racehorse, it’s actually quite difficult to take a genuine interest in the outcome of a race. I find a fiver on the nose of ‘Captain Moonlight’ helps enormously.
My technique, if you can call it that, on backing the right horse is simple: I start the morning by burying my head in the race card or Racing Post trying to see which horses I ‘like the sound of’. Other equally dubious methods I’ve come across include trying to spot – I’m serious – the horse who does a poo in the pre-parade ring. As unlikely as it sounds, they do seem to do quite well (a lighter load to run with I suppose).
Two essential tips so you look like a proper race goer and not an Ascot tourist? A pair of binoculars (I forgot mine this year) and being with men who know when to take their hats off (whenever they’re inside and when and if the Queen’s horse wins – as it did this year)
Here are a few more hats that I loved including JY’s, who was in our party and looked fabulous in her Philip Treacy creation (below)
Making waves (above)
Red hat, black skirt, red jacket, with obligatory gold bracelet and optional cigar. The most stylish 70 year old race goer yet.
How big is yours? (hat above)