Some say fashion is just as important as the occasion itself. Never a truer word said when you look at quintessentially English sporting events such as Royal Ascot and Henley Royal Regatta. People like to be seen and play the part; what they wear adds to the fun. There are, however, different expectations at these events.
Henley is smart and there is a dress code but it’s not as draconian as Royal Ascot. Henley, seen as the pinnacle of a rower’s career, is not the place for dramatic hats, over-the-top wedding-style dresses and towering strappy shoes. The look is simpler: tea dresses and straw hats, the plainer the better.
Ignore the dress code at your peril
The best place to watch the rowing is from the Stewards’ Enclosure on the finishing line, but you need to be either a member or a guest of a member to get in. The dress rules are slightly tougher if you want to get into the Stewards’ Enclosure. Wearing a dress or skirt above the knee is a major faux pas. Every year many leg-baring women are turned away from the entrance because they’ve ignored the code – embarrassing, and a nuisance for everyone in the party! Trousers and jumpsuits are unwelcome too. Ignore the dress code and the only racing you’ll be part of is a dash to the shops in a bid to change your outfit.
Forget stilettoes, as they will sink into the grass. You need to make sure that your footwear is up to the job, particularly if you walk to the start of the rowing course which is well over a mile along the riverbank from the Leander Club and Stewards’ Enclosure. Wedges work best.
The next best viewing option for those wanting to follow the race is the Regatta Enclosure, which is just along from the Stewards’ Enclosure. Children of all ages are welcome and the dress code is more relaxed. It can get chilly by the river so a jacket or wrap is a must.
Dapper look of the men
The men are the real stars in the fashion stakes. Crew, club and team blazers are fine if they have been earned or, alternatively, a plain blazer or linen suit. A Panama hat completes the dapper look and a godsend on a scorching day. Men are requested to wear a jacket and tie, or a cravat, at all times unless permission is granted by the Stewards for men to go shirt-sleeved in the hottest of temperatures. If it rains have the wellies, brollies and raincoats at the ready.
There is also a mobile phone etiquette in the Stewards’ Enclosure. You are forbidden to be seen to make or receive calls. Should you ignore the rule you will be asked politely to cease, and repeat offenders will be expelled from the enclosure!
Star turn for the jumpsuit
A day out at Royal Ascot is special and dressing for the occasion is an important part of the race-day experience. For years the annual British racing event has been renowned for its strict, formal dress code but for the first time this year the rules were relaxed to allow jumpsuits to be worn into the most elite area, the Royal Enclosure. The inclusion of full-length jumpsuits as part of the Royal Enclosure dress code was a nod to ‘customers’ fashion-forward taste’ and reflected the organisers ‘awareness of seasonal trends’. The last time Ascot organisers made a significant change was in 1971 when they allowed the trouser suit to be incorporated into the dress code. Each year countless of racegoers get it wrong and are turned away.
Wacky, wonderful headwear
In the Royal Enclosure, the code states:
- Dresses and skirts should be just above the knee or longer.
- Dresses and tops should have straps no less than an inch wide. No strapless, off-the-shoulder, halter necks or spaghetti straps, and midriffs must be covered.
- Hats & fascinators should be worn or, alternatively, a headpiece with a solid base of 10cm or more in diameter.
- Jackets and pashminas may be worn.
- Men have to wear black or grey morning dress with a waistcoat and tie, black or grey top hat and black shoes.
One thing that remains the same at Ascot is how racegoers never cease to shock and delight by wearing wacky, wonderful, flamboyant headwear. It’s not the time to be a wallflower but a perfect opportunity for women to let a fashion statement really go to their heads.