Race-goers pose for the media in their outfits at the annual Royal Ascot horse racing event near Windsor on Tuesday. The five-day meeting is one of the highlights of global horse racing and the pinnacle of the English social calendar. (AFP/GettyImages)
There are not many gathering places left in the world where are told exactly what is acceptable dress.
Royal Ascot is one of them.
In a world of informality, the five-day horse racing meet at England's Royal Ascot -- especially in the Royal Enclosure -- is an oddity of pretense and tradition. Here, for the privilege of being within shouting distance (but don't you dare) of Queen Elizabeth, you need to measure up to certain standards. Keeps the riff-raff out, or at least the society pretenders. (Right: The Queen is joined at Ascot Tuesday by Princess Eugenie, Camilla and Prince Charles.)
As the annual meet opened Tuesday, therte was still a taste of the outrageous, but by and large the new rules of the Royal Ascot, put in place after last year, were followed. And there were always about 30 "assistants" at the admission gates to set you straight, equipped as they were with items like ties for the tie-less, pashminas for the bare-shouldered, and fascinators (Grandstand only) for the bare-headed. Deposits are required of course.
Some notes from their style guide for the Royal Enclosure, the more exclusive area of Royal Ascot:
- Skirts must be "of modest length", just above the knee or longer.
- Headpieces are encouraged and must have a minimum 4-inch base. In other words, no fascinators.
- No strapless dresses.
- "Midriffs must be covered."
- Gentlemen must wear black or grey morning suit, including a black or grey top hat (coloured ribbons or bands not permitted).
Nick Smith, a spokesperson for Royal Ascot, insists the new dress code is merely responding to what people want. “In the past few years we have had more and more letters from people saying, ‘Royal Ascot is special - please make sure the dress code is observed’," he said. "They say Royal Ascot should be different from other race meetings, and is a formal occasion to be proud of.”
Of course, the Queen adhered nicely to the new rules, arriving by coach dressed in a nicely tailored powder blue suit and hat. Prince Philip wore grey with a black top hat and just the right splash of colour with red tie and yellow carnation.
'Dress code assistants' wait with pashmina shawls to give to fans who fail to dress appropriately on the first day of the Royal Ascot horse racing meet outside London. The five-day meeting is one of the highlights of British horse racing and a pinnacle of the English social calendar. The strict new dress code is being enforced by the assistants, who politely handing out waistcoats, ties, pashminas and other items for those who are deemed to be improperly attired. (AFP/Getty Images)
The wild and wacky were still in evidence at Royal Ascot, though they were limited to the more public Grandstand area. (Reuters/Getty Images)