Royal Ascot is here, but this year’s event has managed to throw up a couple of surprises before the racing had even started. The race event which has become synonymous for the fashion on show as much as the racing itself has seen its strict dress code guidelines receive a couple of changes.

Organisers have seen it fitting to allow men to now remove their suit jacket while women can now wear jumpsuits. While on the surface this might not appear to be a huge change, the dress code at Royal Ascot, especially within the Royal Enclosure, has become a tradition which has barely been touched over the years. It’s only when we look back at the history of the racing at Ascot and its close association with royalty does the significance of such changes become clear.

Racing at Ascot

The first horse race to be held at Ascot dates back to 1711 when Queen Anne saw it as a fitting expanse of land for horses to race on. It’s proximity to Windsor Castle also added to its appeal as it meant it was an ideal location for the Royals to attend races. Named ‘Her Majesty’s Plate’, the association with royalty granted the racing at Ascot an air of prestige from the very first race.

While the first race was held in 1711, it’s unclear as to when Royal Ascot as an event itself came to fruition as it evolved from the 4 day events held in 1768 and took shape of today’s event when the Gold Cup was introduced in 1807. Queen Anne’s influence on racing at Ascot remains prominent till this day, with the Queen Anne Enclosure and the Queen Anne Stakes at Royal Ascot both named after her.

While racing and royalty were the main items on the agenda at one stage, fashion has now become an increasingly important element of the event.

Fashion and Royal Ascot

As time has evolved fashion has gone on to play a larger role within Royal Ascot. Today, it’s just as relevant as the racing itself and helps to draw in a great deal of media attention. Ladies Day, held on the 3rd day of the event, has become synonymous with weird and wonderful hats along with elegant dress wear and is now the busiest of the 5 days.

However the fashion has long been closely monitored and a quick look at the dress code on the Royal Ascot website outlines this. Within the Royal Enclosure, where the dress code is at its strictest, men and women both have restriction on what they can wear. Traditionally, men have been recommended to wear grey or black suits, black shoes and a grey or black top hat. Women meanwhile are advised to “dress modestly”, with dresses reaching the knees and midriffs having to be covered.

The onus placed on appearance is quite significant which is why when changes such as the ones for this year were announced, it proved to be a big talking point. You’d have to trace back well over 40 years to 1971 for the last significant change in the dress code where women were allowed to wear trouser suits.

Final words

Many things evolve as time progresses, but seeing the traditions of Royal Ascot stay true to its root for the most part is certainly welcoming. Some changes such as the ones mentioned above need to be made, and in this case will help in providing a little more freedom to attendees while maintaining the elegant ambience of the event. As a sporting event it’s steeped in a 300 year long heritage and it’s sure to continue to mark itself as a highlight in many people’s social calendars.

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