Royal Ascot is one of the highlights of the London season and an event to which I look forward to every year. I know nothing about horses, gambling or how to wear a hat, but I do enjoy British traditions and a glass or two, maybe even three, of a certain French drink with bubbles. My lovely friend Hilary invited me into her private “Winning Post” enclosure again, so Mark and I draped ourselves in Best of British finery and headed on down to Ascot on a wet and tempestuous day, the sort of blustery day to which Winnie the Pooh is rather partial. And ladies and gents, if you’re wondering what to wear or what to expect from a day at the races, here is my guide to surviving a day at Royal Ascot.
This post was updated on 5 March 2021.
A Guide to Royal Ascot
Not all breeds are tolerated at Royal Ascot. Make sure you’re fully prepared before you head down to the world’s most famous racecourse during one of the summer season’s biggest events.
Royal Ascot 2021
Royal Ascot 2021 is scheduled for 15 to 10 June but will be operating at a reduced capacity. It has recently been announced that in 2021, only the Royal Enclosure and Queen Anne Enclosure will be operating. The Village, Windsor and Heath enclosures will only be open in 2022. More information here.
What to wear at Royal Ascot
You can’t just waltz into the Royal Enclosure. Membership is by invitation only, and annual invites to the races are sent by Her Majesty’s Representative. Newbies must be sponsored by a Member who has attended Ascot for four previous years.
Ladies, the Ascot fashion police will not tolerate any horsing around with your hats and hemlines. Trashy and flashy are not permitted during racing day. Hats must be worn, although you could opt for a headpiece which has a solid base of 4 inches (10cm) or more in diameter. Fascinators were recently expelled in the Royal enclosure. Hems should fall just above the knee or longer, shoulder straps must be one inch or greater, and leave the halternecks at home. You can wear a trouser suit, provided they are of matching material and colour. I advise wearing comfortable shoes, especially if you plan on walking on the lawns.
Thanks to the ultimate dandy, Beau Brummel, gentlemen also have a dress code which dates back to the 19th century. Grey or black morning suits, waistcoats and top hats are all on the dress menu.
The Queen Anne
Tickets for this enclosure can be purchased without the complications of the Royal, and the dress rules are more relaxed. A hat, fascinator or headpiece must be worn, although strapless or sheer dresses are not allowed. Gents are required to wear a suit and tie.
The Windsor is less formal, and barring sports shirts, there is no formal dress guideline here. Nevertheless, it is expected that you’ll make yourself smart and presentable.
Ascot Ladies’ Day
Held on the Thursday of Ascot week, Ladies’ Day is the most competitive fashion event of the social calendar. The hats can take your breath away, from the startling to the stunning, and from horrendous to bewildering.
Children at Ascot
Children (aged 10-16) are only admitted to the Royal Enclosure on Friday and Saturdays and must be accompanied by an adult. Girls should be dressed formally and smart summer dresses are suggested. Fascinators, headpieces and hats are permitted but are not compulsory. Boys should dress in accordance with the dress code for gentlemen. Alternatively a dark-coloured lounge suit with a shirt may be worn.
Where to eat at Royal Ascot
There are plenty of dining options at Royal Ascot, but wherever possible, it’s always a good idea to pre-book. If you prefer to go more casual, you could opt for one of the many “street” outlets which serve everything from pizzas to burgers and wraps. More information here.
Fortnum and Mason picnics can be pre-booked, or if you’re driving to Royal Ascot, you could consider packing a picnic and eating “tailgate” style from the boot of the car.
How to get to Royal Ascot
There are many ways to get to Royal Ascot, and I’ve tried most of them. This is possibly the most stressful part of the day and there is no easy way to get to – or leave – Royal Ascot. Just be prepared for a little frustration here, and whatever you do, allow plenty of extra time.
The easiest way to get to Royal Ascot is to drive and park. Just make sure you leave early in the morning or you will end up in some of the almightiest jams you’ll ever come across. Make sure you pre-book your parking. If you want to drink, pre-book a Scooterman to drive your car home for you. I don’t recommend a taxi service as these tend to be extortionately priced.
South West trains operate regular services from London (Waterloo) and Reading. Just be prepared to wait in a very long queue at the end of the day.
You can also get to Ascot by bus and by helicopter. More on how to get to Royal Ascot here.
A smashing, positively dashing day
The Ascot Gavotte (My Fair Lady)
Ladies and Gentlemen
Ev’ry duke and earl and peer is here
Ev’ryone who should be here is here.
What a smashing, positively dashing
Spectacle: the Ascot op’ning day.
Ascot came galloping into my radar when I was about six years old. I had just watched My Fair Lady with my friend Tina, and within days, we were crooning away to anyone who would listen to us, with the not-so-quiet assurance that we could do a great cockney accent. And who can possibly forget the Ascot scene in My Fair Lady? The costumes were designed by Cecil Beaton, and it’s one of my favourite film moments. The Ascot hat and dress worn by Audrey Hepburn were purchased by the actress Debbie Reynolds. They were later sold by auction for a staggering $3.7 million.
Royal Ascot – A Few Horsey Facts
- In 1711, Queen Anne came across a stretch of land that she thought would be an ‘ideal place for horses to gallop at full stretch’. The first race took place in August of that year.
- 1825 was the year of the first Royal Procession.
- Ladies’ Day is on the third day of Royal Ascot, and it’s the busiest.
- The Queen has attended every Royal Meeting during her reign. Her racing colours are purple body with gold braid, scarlet sleeves and black velvet cap with gold fringe.
- In 1955, divorcees were allowed to enter the Royal Enclosure.
- 300,000 visitors will come across the 5 days.
- The money pot this year is worth £6.58 million.
- Approximately 400 helicopters and 1000 limousines will be used as a transportation mode this year.
- There are more than 100 bars and food services surrounding the racecourse, and 247 private boxes.
- Some of the food and beverage we will consume:
- 51,000 bottles of champagne
- 160,000 glasses of Pimms
- 35,000 spears of English asparagus
- 2,900 lobsters
- 30,000 chocolate choux éclairs