Fashion Moment: Royal Ascot

Royal Ascot
The Royal Family at Royal Ascot 2017 via GDN Online

Despite rumors that the political mess wrought by Theresa May’s ill-fated snap election would impact the Queen’s attendance at Royal Ascot, the Royal Family made their appearance on the first day of the races last week. There were carriages, fancy hats and some scorching temperatures this year. But the 306-year-old tradition carried on (although the Queen did give permission for men to take their jackets off in the heat).

Yes, you read that right. Royal Ascot’s strict dress code includes a rule that men cannot take off their jackets until the Queen offers her permission. With that in mind, it’s kind of surprising the sort of things that women wear to the famous event. Much like a British wedding, the brighter, the better, but the dress doesn’t really matter. It’s the hat that takes center stage.

Ascot 1933
Royal Ascot racegoers in 1933 via The Guardian

Queen Anne founded Ascot racecourse in 1711, and Royal Ascot has been a yearly event ever since. And fashion, especially headpieces, has been the focus since the beginning. Even as hats became less common, Ascot’s dress code continued to require them. In the 1920s, British Vogue even had a yearly issue dedicated solely to Ascot fashions. And of course, perhaps the most famous Ascot fashion was the constricting white lace dress with a giant feathered hat worn by Audrey Hepburn in My Fair Lady.

My Fair Lady
Audrey Hepburn looking “loverly” as Eliza Doolittle at Royal Ascot in My Fair Lady via The Wrap

Over the years, hats and accompanying fashions got more and more outlandish until Ascot tightened up their rules. Fascinators are no longer allowed and hats must have at least a four-inch base. Some women opt for bright, spring dresses with a relatively demure matching headpiece. Meanwhile others concoct ensembles around over-the-top headpieces. From towering structures to hats featuring a full English breakfast or a paint palette, it’s always fun to see what shows up each year. All in all, Royal Ascot is like a sartorial Alice in Wonderland garden party, with a balance between English roses and hats that could only have come from the mind of the Mad Hatter.

Despite its dark entrance, Dior’s Spring 2017 couture show featured many looks that could have walked straight off the (garden-themed) runway and onto the racecourse. While the dreamy, fairy-like dresses would not have looked out of place (albeit a little less ballgown-y and with the requisite one-inch straps), it was the presence of headpieces with many looks that made it feel like Ascot. From feather crowns to a bird diving into one model’s hair, the spring dresses were complemented with Ascot-ready headdresses.

Meanwhile, over at Erdem’s ready-to-wear collection, black hats accompanied many of the floral dresses, again making a readymade look for the races. Not to mention the floral pantsuit for those looking for a little more wiggle room; pantsuits have been allowed for a while but this year the dress code expanded to include jumpsuits. There were even several white lace dresses with black accents for a very Eliza-Doolittle-look on the Erdem runway. How loverly!

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