The Bond Street Style Guide to Dressing for Ascot

Ascot Summer The Races

Alexandra Fullerton on what to wear for the strictly stylish racing event.

While the Great British social calendar now includes events as eclectic as Glastonbury festival (where anything goes, style-wise), Royal Ascot remains the chicest celebration of the season – with the strictest dress code, too. If you’re heading to the best-dressed horse racing event of the year, start planning your outfit now as Ascot’s legendary rules and regulations about expected garb will require some strategic prep if you want to ensure your look isn’t an also-ran.

Since the 19th century, when renowned dandy Beau Brummell brought in helpful style suggestions for men (black coats, white cravats and pantaloons), all eyes have been on chic society racegoers. But if your day-to-day outfits lean towards athleisure, how can you navigate the race’s requirements and still feel like your most stylish self? There is nothing worse than the feeling of your clothes wearing you and dress codes can inspire rebellion from even the meekest of citizens, but balancing the season’s boldest trends, your personal taste and Ascot’s requirements can be done.

“There is nothing worse than the feeling of your clothes wearing you”

Over the five days of racing, be aware that different enclosures have varying expectations of dress, so start your quest by checking where you’ll be spending the day. In the Windsor Enclosure, guests are “encouraged” to dress in smart daywear; headpieces and fascinators for women and shirts and blazers for men, although there is no official dress code. The Royal Enclosure has the most specific views on appropriate dress, and attendance is invitation-only. In the Royal Enclosure women will need to consider “modest” dress lengths with nothing shorter than “just” above the knee, straps of one inch and wider and no halter necks, strapless or see-through fabric allowed (but lace sleeves are permitted).

In recent years, Ascot’s time-honoured rules have been relaxed to permit jumpsuits, trouser suits and culottes for women. However, be warned, there are dress-code assistants in place to police any straps that deign to be narrower than one inch, or sneaky hemlines that creep too far above the knee.

What are the best ways to incorporate catwalk trends with Ascot’s dress code? Hats are de rigueur at the event and must have a base of four inches in diameter for women attending the Royal Enclosure. Happily, this year has seen a resurgence in millinery on the catwalks at Dolce & Gabbana and Emporio Armani, who presented striking fedoras and chic cloches, respectively. As hats make such a statement, it makes sense to start with this accessory and then build the rest of your look around it. As long as your headgear isn’t excessively large (which would count as a novelty hat and therefore an Ascot no-no), anything goes. Neat styles that sit close to the head are the perfect base for adding extended feathers and sculptured trimmings and they also allow an extravagant dress to take centre stage. Alternatively, oversized brims and feathered trims can add drama to more simple clothing.

The colours that appeared on the catwalk most this season are primary shades of cobalt blue and scarlet, so try incorporating these into your look, either as an exuberant contrast or tone-on-tone outfit.

If you’re keen to stick to tradition, soft neutrals would look lovely (find a chic lace shirt dress at Max Mara) and remember that black and white is always a sartorial winner. Polka dots and stripes are particularly timeless details, although Alexander McQueen’s Chiaroscuro print offers a modern take on the floral motif.

“If you’re keen to stick to tradition, soft neutrals would look lovely”

For men, embrace tradition with a morning suit from Gieves & Hawkes and an essential top hat. Outside of the Royal Enclosure, check each destination’s dress codes align with your plans and note that double-breasted jackets are back in fashion’s favour, after seasons where shrunken single-breasted styles ruled. Try Hugo Boss’s relaxed-fit checked jacket for the most contemporary take on tailoring, to also tick off Ascot’s requirements for a collared shirt, tie, long trousers and jacket. Pastel shades are runway-approved too. Paul Smith has a dreamy sky-blue suit that would add a twist to tradition.

An afternoon shopping for your Ascot outfit will be just as much fun as the event itself if you wander down Bond Street this season. Add heels you can stand in (it’s a yes to Gucci’s mid-height lavender horsebit heels) and a capacious clutch (Bottega Veneta’s Candy Wallace is a new style for spring) and you’ll be set for the most fashionable day of the year.

Words by stylist and fashion writer Alexandra Fullerton.

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