• Susie Wilson

The History Of The Royal Ascot Dress Code

Royal Ascot dress code

Royal Ascot is one of the smartest events on the social calendar, with a rigorous dress code to match. Decoding what you can wear by each enclosure is a minefield, with tops and tails required for some, while others are a little looser. Unsurprisingly, it is the Royal Enclosure that has one of the strictest sets of rules, requiring men to wear morning dress and a top hat, while ladies must wear their finest dresses and hats. 

In recent years, the dress code has made headlines for relaxing a little, although organisers are keen to emphasise that their strict rules still aren’t for breaking. As recently as 2019, it announced changes that allow for women to wear men’s dress, as well as midriff-bearing and sheer tops, although every enclosure is different. While things have gotten a little freer and modern in the Queen Anne enclosure, fascinators are now mandatory at the Windsor Enclosure. 

But where did this prescriptive dress code originate? When the racing meet was inaugurated by Queen Anne as ‘Her Majesty’s Plate’ in 1711, there was no dress code as such, but as it grew to become the prestigious event it is today in the 19th century, it became the place to see and be seen. This was when famous dandy Beau Brummell, a close friend of the Prince Regent (the future King George IV), reportedly decreed that ‘men of elegance’ should wear ‘waisted black coats and white cravats with pantaloons’. 

Indeed, Brummell is often credited with the invention of the modern men’s suit, favouring tailored, fitted looks over ornate garish fashions, with a particular penchant for an overtly tied cravat. A famous aesthete, he was known for his fastidious grooming routine, taking five hours a day to get ready (something which his regal friend is known to have admired him for). Indeed, he even once quipped that he polished his boots in champagne. 

Following Brummell’s 1800s mandate, Royal Ascot continued to grow and evolve, eventually becoming the week-long horse racing championship we know it as today in 1911. As it the event got bigger, new enclosures were created, each establishing its own dress codes based on its clientele. The Royal Enclosure unsurprisingly has the strictest rules, followed by the Queen Anne Enclosure,

The Village Enclosure and finally the Windsor Enclosure, which is less formal and has no fixed seating. 

200 years after Brummell created the infamous dress code, one thing remains: dressing to the nines is always in fashion at Ascot.