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Equestrian Events

Royal Ascot: Etiquette and Style Guide

 

A British institution, Royal Ascot is the pinnacle of the flat horse racing season. With royalty in attendance and some of the finest race horses in the world, it is no surprise that it is one of the most talked about and eagerly anticipated events of the year. It is an elaborate occasion for you to dress up and socialise, and hopefully celebrate wins on the horses. Get your hats and finery at the ready, this is Ascot!

Discover what makes Royal Ascot such a special event as well as our etiquette and style tips below.

 

Where is Royal Ascot?

Royal Ascot is held at Ascot Racecourse in Berkshire, England. For over 300 years, Ascot Racecourse has held events that celebrate horse racing with close ties to the royal family.

When is Royal Ascot?

Royal Ascot is the racecourse’s most recognisable annual horse racing event, held over five days each summer, usually in June. In 2020, it will be held from the 16th to the 20th June.


THE HISTORY AND TRADITION OF ROYAL ASCOT

Royal Ascot is a world-renowned flat horse racing event with an esteemed British heritage. The famous Berkshire racecourse was founded by Queen Anne in 1711 after her love of the sport. By the early 19th century, Ascot had built a reputation as a top arena for thoroughbred horse racing and a place to be seen for society’s elite.

Royal Ascot is often referred to as the pinnacle of the racing social calendar and Queen Elizabeth II attends every year. Synonymous with British tradition and prestige, Royal Ascot is enjoyed across the world and viewed in over 200 countries through televisions and modern media.

Top race horse talent is showcased and Queen Elizabeth II also races her own horses, winning the Gold Cup in 2013 with her filly ‘Estimate’. As Ascot’s oldest surviving race, the Gold Cup began in 1807 and started to shape the event that we know today as Royal Ascot. The famous Gold Cup is the most anticipated race of the week and is the showpiece event for horses that are run over long distances. It occurs on the Thursday, which is also Ladies’ Day.


ETIQUETTE FOR ROYAL ASCOT

The formality of this horse racing occasion, means it is also important to adhere to formal etiquette, including the way you dress and act at the event. Read our ladies and men’s guides on what to wear to Ascot and follow these social cues: 

Avoid blocking others’ views


If you are wearing a top hat, particularly when sitting down, it may block the view of racegoers behind you. If this is the case, remove your hat for a while to let those behind you enjoy the race. 

Queuing

Queuing is a great British tradition; ensure you queue when waiting to gain entry to an enclosure, when placing a bet or waiting to enter a restaurant. Queue jumping is considered rude and you should not complain if waiting to be seated. 

Moderate celebrations

Cheer on your horse and celebrate your wins graciously. Being overly boisterous is a faux pas at Ascot. Of course, there will be times of jubilation but be careful not to be too raucous. You could always arrange an after party following the event to really let your hair down, rather than in front of the elite of the racing world. 

Take photos but not too many selfies


Do capture some memories of the day on your camera or phone, just remember to put away your mobile for some of the time to fully embrace the atmosphere. Also, if you are rubbing shoulders with the rich and famous in exclusive enclosures, it is best to respect their privacy. Taking selfies with celebrities is not the done thing at Ascot. 

Respect the dress code

The Royal Ascot dress code helps keep the sophisticated look and feel of the event. It also simplifies the decisions on what to wear, by providing a clear style guide. Once you know which enclosure you will be situated in, ensure you follow the dress code for that area accordingly. 

Enjoy a glass of bubbly

Have a tipple to toast to a good day or a win! Ascot is the perfect place to enjoy celebratory champagne or Pimm’s. 

A thank you letter

If you are invited to Ascot as someone’s guest, remember to write a gracious thank you letter soon after the event.

Dining choices

Choose from 14 restaurants at Ascot to enjoy a sit-down meal. Make your meal an occasion itself, by choosing one of the Michelin-starred restaurants with panoramic views of the track. Also, there is a selection of other eateries that offer a variety of food at different price points, including afternoon teas. 

Alternatively, dine alfresco by bringing a picnic. Picnics can be enjoyed in the car parks or special designated areas, or you can purchase a picnic to collect on arrival in the Windsor or Queen Anne Enclosures. You can also bring a bottle of sparkling wine or champagne to accompany your picnic, as well as soft drinks. Other types of alcohol are not allowed in the racecourse grounds and must be purchased at the bars.  

Just be aware that it is picnic blankets only at Ascot, unless you book a picnic bench in the Windsor Enclosure. The racecourse does not allow furniture to be brought in unless you have a specific medical requirement. 

Parking know-how

Car park 7 is available to anyone to book with no attendance restrictions. Be quick to purchase your car parking space though, as they are sold on a first come, first serve basis. Car parks 1 and 2 are only available to Royal Enclosure Members who have attended for 10 years or more.

There are dedicated parking spaces at Ascot if you are disabled and hold a Blue Badge, but still pre-book your car parking space. 

The four enclosures at Royal Ascot

There are four different enclosures for attendees at Royal Ascot:
Royal Enclosure
Queen Anne Enclosure
Village Enclosure
Windsor Enclosure

Each enclosure has its own feel and level of formality. The Royal Enclosure is the most prestigious and the Queen Anne is the second most formal enclosure, with the Village and Windsor Enclosures offering a more relaxed atmosphere. 

The Royal Enclosure is where the Queen and other members of the royal family sit. This exclusive enclosure is an invite-only area. Membership is strictly-regulated and to gain entry you must be nominated by a current member and make an application to the Royal Enclosure office. The dress code for each enclosure is different, so bear this in mind before booking.

ROYAL ASCOT DRESS CODE

Ascot is one racing event that does have dress code policies. This is helpful when you are selecting what to wear and avoids confusion over what is or is not acceptable.

For the first time, in 2019 Ascot announced that they are relaxing the gender rules for what to wear in order to be inclusive to transgender racegoers. This means that women can wear men’s clothes and vice versa, as long as their strict style rules are followed. Each year Ascot publishes a detailed guide on what to wear for ladies, gentlemen and children. 

The four different enclosures have different dress codes which will influence what you decide to wear. The Royal Enclosure is the most formal, as you would expect when the Royal family are in attendance. In this guide, we include an overview of what ladies and men are expected to wear in each enclosure. 

Some general rules apply for men and women in all the enclosures at Ascot: 

  • Serving military personnel are welcome to wear service dress or equivalent. 
  • Overseas attendees may wear the formal national dress of their country or service dress.
  • Fancy dress, novelty and branded clothing or promotional garments are not permitted.  

 

Ascot Ladies Dress Code

Demure sartorial elegance is the look to go for at Royal Ascot. Streamlined fitted separates, fitted shift or pencil dresses – nothing too low at the bust or too short at the hemline. Think head-to-toe sophistication and glamour and your outfit will hit the right mark. Grace Kelly inspired style and nipped in 1950’s waists never look out of place at Ascot.

At Royal Ascot your hat and accessories are just as important as your dress. It is your time to wear a proper hat, no flimsy fascinators. Match your hat to the colours in the rest of your outfit or make your hat the stand-out piece by choosing a contrasting colour.

Always dress formally at Royal Ascot whether you are going to Ladies’ Day or not, the entire five days are a formal affair. 

Ladies style for the Royal Enclosure

In the Royal Enclosure formal elegance is expected with no hemlines that are higher than just above the knee and sensible necklines. This is not the time to show off your décolletage. Wear tops or dresses that have straps of at least one inch wide. Thin spaghetti straps, halter necks, Bardot necklines and anything off-the-shoulder or strapless is not permitted. 

Sensible formal daywear does not exclude you from adding personality to your outfit. Consider wearing colour and prints to liven up your style. For instance, a polka dot full skirt cinched in at the waist with a fitted jacket and accessories can look chic. Dresses and skirts are not the only option; you can choose to wear a jumpsuit that falls below the knee or a matching full-length trouser suit. 

Complete your outfit with a hat or headpiece that has a solid base of 4 inches or more in diameter. Fascinators are not allowed in the Royal Enclosure. 

Ladies at the Queen Anne Enc

A formal dress code still applies here, but it is slightly more relaxed than the Royal Enclosure. The dress code befits an area that continues with the tradition of singing around the bandstand after the final race. Stay relatively reserved in your fashion choices, abiding by Ascot’s rules for no strapless, off-the-shoulder, asymmetric or Bardot necklines. You could choose a tailored ankle-length jumpsuit for a fitted silhouette or a mid-length skirt with a stylish rise and fall hem – so long as the rise of the hem does not go higher than just above knee length. Shorts or mini-skirts are a no, no. 

Hats or headpieces should be worn at all times and the rules are relaxed to allow fascinators in this area. Opting for a hat will give you the most stylish flair though. 

Ladies wear for the Village Enclosure

The Village Enclosure is a grassed outdoor area that has a garden party vibe and music played by DJs and live bands until 9pm. So, dress for a formal garden party with practical shoes that can navigate the grass. Wedges and chunky mid heels are a good choice. 

This is still a place for elegant necklines that do not show too much skin; follow Ascot’s rules for no off-the-shoulder, strapless or one shoulder styles. There may be a party vibe, but it is still Ascot. Casual garden party attire is not welcome. If you are wearing separates, always keep your midriff covered. 

Jumpsuits and floaty trouser suits can look just as glamorous as dresses, especially when cinched in at the waist with a bright coloured belt. Just ensure your jumpsuit falls below the knee or your trousers are worn as part of a full-length matching suit. 

Wear a hat, headpiece or fascinator and go for a smaller size to suit the funky party atmosphere, as a wide brim can look heavy and too traditional. 

Style for the Windsor Enclosure

With no official dress code and picnics in this area, you could be forgiven for thinking anything goes. Royal Ascot is still an occasion though and you are encouraged to wear formal daywear and a hat, headpiece or fascinator. You do have more freedom to follow fashion in this area and there are no restrictions on necklines.

Ascot Gentlemens Dress Code

Today, it is a rare occasion when formal wear is most suitable for men and Royal Ascot is one such event. If you are lucky enough to go, you should dress to impress and reflect the environment you are in. Top hats have never looked more suited to any place than Ascot.

Your attire should be formal throughout, from your shoes to your choice of tie. Leave the bright colours to the ladies and stay with sophisticated muted tones to fit in with the gentlemen around you. 

Menswear for the Royal Enclosure

Black or grey morning dress is required in the Royal Enclosure. Your full morning dress attire must include: a waistcoat and tie (no bow ties or cravats), a black or grey top hat, and black shoes worn with socks. 

You may remove your top hat in restaurants, private club houses, and balcony or garden areas. No customised top hats are allowed, such as those with coloured ribbons or bands. The simplicity of full morning suit attire lends itself to Ascot. 

Novelty designs on waistcoats or ties are not allowed, unless they are patriotic, for instance displaying your national flag. Brightly coloured or novelty socks are not a good look either. Imagine meeting someone for the first time in smart morning dress, only to look down and notice a ‘comedy’ element to their outfit. The Royal Enclosure necessitates sartorial sophistication. 

Although not in the dress code, when choosing a shirt to wear under your morning suit, pick a pale colour but not white. White can look stark against a grey or black suit. We also suggest that it is not ideal to choose a tie, waistcoat and pocket square all in the same colour. You could opt for a contrasting coloured tie but still in muted tones. 

Men’s guide for the Queen Anne Enclosure

The main difference in the Queen Anne Enclosure is that top hats are not a requirement, but you will not look out of place if you wear one. The same goes for morning suits which are not stipulated. 

You are asked to wear a full-length matching suit jacket and trousers, with no mismatched colours or patterns on the top and bottom half. Classic Savile Row tailors are popular for men to select a suit for the Queen Anne Enclosure. 

Pair your suit with a collared shirt and smart tie, keeping them on at all times. It is not appropriate to loosen or remove your tie half way through the day. No bow ties or cravats are permitted as this is not gentleman’s dinner dress. Just like, wearing casual chinos, jeans or trainers would not allow you entry to Ascot either. Ankle-length socks must be worn with your shoes – keep the no socks look for elsewhere. 

Menswear for the Village Enclosure

The Village Enclosure is where gentlemen can dress in a more contemporary sartorial style and this area is popular with young professionals who may choose designers such as Paul Smith over traditional Savile Row tailors. 

As a minimum in this enclosure you are required to wear a full-length suit, collared shirt and tie. It is also no problem if you wish to adhere to the dress code of the Queen Anne Enclosure. You should still avoid wearing a cravat or bow tie – only ties should be worn at Ascot. Although a more relaxed space, trainers, jeans or shorts are not acceptable. Always wear ankle-length socks with your shoes. 

Men’s style for the Windsor Enclosure

You are encouraged to dress in smart daywear for this area. While there is no official dress code for the Windsor Enclosure, it is the races, so dress for the occasion and wear a smart jacket, collared shirt and full-length trousers. Your trousers and jacket do not need to match in colour, and you may choose to forgo a tie.

Ascot is an opportunity to dress up and enjoy yourself. Whatever formal wear you choose for Ascot, consider comfort in your garments and shoes before you go, as you will be wearing your outfit for the duration of the day.

 

*Sources referred to for the creation of this document.

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