Royal Ascot – Ladies Day



United Kingdom




1 Day

Horse Racing in Ascot - Ladies' Day

Going to Ascot? Ladies' Day is a major social event of the British racing season. The most important part of the strict dress code is a headwear, the crazier the better - with a fried egg, cup or butterflies

Certainly, you have seen those absurd hats: a plate with English breakfast, a piece of cheese watched by a mouse, a bowl of doughnuts or giant flowers, and for sure you wondered where those women wear it, for God's sake!

Well, if you want to attend the Ascot Racecourse, a hat is a must, and the more extravagant, the better. I had always dreamt of going there... and finally I went.

The history of Royal Ascot began in 1711 thanks to Queen Anne, big equestrian sports fan. Whilst out riding in the forests near Windsor Castle she discovered an area of open heath that looked perfect for horses to gallop at full speed. As a sovereign, she could fulfill her dreams, so she immediately ordered it to be prepared for a competition. The first racing took place already in August.

Nowadays, three centuries later, Royal Ascot is one of the most important races in the world. It takes five days, attracts the best jockeys and the fastest horses but it is also the aristocratic social event of the season. It’s the merit of King George V, who since 1825 began to arrive to the event in a horse-drawn festive carriage with the whole family. Accompanied by a long procession, he greeted the spectators and went to the Royal box. His presence increased the prestige of Ascot and enticed the cream of the society as well as the numerous dressed up celebrities. Even now, journalists are more interested in the attendees and their clothes than in the results...

Each day includes six races with at least one Group One event. The Gold Cup is traditionally held on Thursday and is known as Ladies' Day because once a poet wrote about it as,Ladies’Day... when the women, like angels, look sweetly divine.`` On Thursday, the horses are less important, Thursday is about us, girls, about fashion and beautiful clothes, it is a day when all eyes are focused on the hats that are absolutely the most important part of the strict dress code.

Therefore, I went shopping.

It was the first time I was looking for a hat. For Royal Ascot, it should be as huge and as absurd as possible. Sophisticated, elegant but visible from the distance. I would have liked to buy one from the genius Philip Treacy, The Mad Hatter, who makes amazing things (google his jungle collection). However, when I saw the price as for a medium sized plane, I moved to the shops for the commoners :) .

Still, choosing a hat in London is a wonderful experience. The department stores are well supplied and they know that if a woman goes to an event, she needs not only a dress but also a matching jacket or sweater, hat, jewelry, handbag and shoes. You do not have to visit hundreds of boutiques; you can find everything in one place. What a joy of shopping!

I tried a decent blue hat, a shiny orange-pink one, a big black one, a miniature pale green one... and finally decided for a whitish fascinator with feathers and flowers. (Maybe I should explain that the fascinator is a decorative headpiece consisting of feathers, flowers, beads, etc. attached to a comb or hair clip.) They put it in a huge round box and I had to carry it to the other side of the city, but I felt like Julia Roberts in the Pretty woman movie. (The year after,I decided to make a hat by myself and ended up with a bunch of butterflies flying around my head).

We decided for a trip organized by a travel agency. In the morning, when we arrived at the meeting point, the Thames embankment was filled with women of all ages in joyful, colorful dresses and hats. They were scanning the rivals, praising what they liked, taking selfies and having fun. It is said that the English are cold, but why? In my opinion, girls are spontaneous, friendly and don’t have any problem giving a compliment on a dress or a hairstyle even in the middle of a London's street.

The bus left at 10 am. It's only 50 kilometers to Ascot, but because of traffic it took us an hour and a half. It didn't bother us at all, the agency promised "bubbles" and kept the word. As soon as we got to the highway, the guide started to open champagne and generously poured it to us. He wasn’t thrifty and kept filing our glasses until we got tipsy and reached the parking in a huge meadow, full of buses.

The other participants had already a picnic in the grass and we joined them with pleasure.

Who would go to the race hungry and thirsty?

Beneath the big tent the tables were laid out, covered with trays and bowls with salty and sweet food. We grabbed some goodies and sat down on the grass. We sunbathed, ate lunch and drank some glasses. The guide served the champagne and seeing three girls, winked and left us the whole bottle. My opinion of the services provided by the PP Travel agency has improved even more :)  .

There were some men with cylinders, but mostly women sitting around us. For many it was obviously no extraordinary event, they made one picture together, and that was all, then they were just having fun. The girlfriends came to enjoy a summer day.

Some groups were in matching dresses and when you wanted to take a photo with them, they enthusiastically posed. We saw women whose hats just met the rules and women who wanted to stand out or shock. Between sips of the sparkling wine, we observed, admired and gave compliments to each other.

After a refreshment, we walked to the racecourse to watch the arrival of the Queen.

Behind the main entrance, the crowd separated. There were three rings in the time, (but I think they have changed, it is always necessary to check the new rules before the visit).

In the Silver Ring, there was an informal atmosphere, not restricted by any regulation on clothing. Visitors could take picnic baskets and some alcohol with them.

We had tickets for the Grandstand tribune, which is a bit more ,,noble“ and the dress code is stricter:

- a hat or fascinator is mandatory all the time

- a strapless and a see through dress or top with straps are not allowed

- the trousers must be long

- jackets and scarves are allowed, but the dresses under them must still comply with the above rules

- the midriff must be covered

- gentlemen must have a suit with a shirt and tie

To tell the truth, we saw some violations of the dress code. A girl in a strapless dress and another one whose mini skirt was so mini we almost saw her panties. Perhaps the control is not so strict, they know that most people happily adhere to these rules and make an effort to  ,,dress to impress”. The most important thing is always a hat! (Apparently, a bare butt is no problem - if you have a headpiece, you will pass). One old lady had a wide leg motley beach trousers and a straw hat on which she pinned two ugly butterflies - and they let her in as they let two transvestites with large shoulders but in the beautiful dresses complying with the rules.

At 2 pm the Royal Procession arrived from the nearby Windsor castle. Queen Elizabeth II attends Ascot every year but you never know which other member of the Royal family will be waving in a horse-drawn carriage, if Prince William, Kate, Harry, Meghan or somebody less famous.

The landau led by four Windsor greys made its way along the Straight Mile, welcomed by applause, then the Queen in pastel colors went to her box and the first racing could begin.

I confess that all my information about this sport comes from the books of Dick Francis. I didn’t know the competing horses, I didn’t know anything about the jockeys, this was for me only unimportant part of the hat show - but at the end I really enjoyed it.

As the horses approached, the atmosphere became electric. I was amazed to see the otherwise quiet Englishmen in a state of such great excitement. They screamed, jumped, cheered and when their hot favorite achieved the winning post, they hugged each other and shouted with joy. I don’t think they won millions, just came to have fun and really had it.

The races are held every half hour, between them we had enough time to look around. Many women gave it up already; they threw away shoes on the killer heels and walked barefoot on the grass. Imagine those contrasts, a girl sitting on the stairs in a perfect outfit, but with black soles, while sandals and empty wine glass laying on the ground. Next to her two perfect gentlemen in cylinders reading the Financial Times, sitting in a crossed-leg position, in the erect posture as if they swallowed a ruler...

In the building behind us the bars and restaurants were situated, also the escalator guarded by the staff in livery. Upstairs, there is The Royal Enclosure, where we did not have access. It is the most prestigious one, for the Queen and Royal Family members but also some chosen. First-time applicants must apply to the special office and be nominated by someone who has attended the enclosure for at least four years. However, this does not automatically give them membership, each case is considered separately, even your family tree is examined. Until 1955, the entry was refused to divorced people and still hasn’t been allowed to anyone with criminal records and those who have gone bankrupt.

The badgeholders - fixed members of the Royal Ring, also have to wait for an invitation from the Queen to request badges. Dress code is even stricter, inappropriately dressed person can be asked to leave the enclosure. There are plenty of other (fun) tips on how to behave so you wouldn’t be considered a country bumpkin:

- if they introduce you to someone, don’t say ,,Please to meet you”. You do not know who it is, so it can’t really please you.

- Never kiss people you don’t know. Higher society gives one kiss, but never to unknown

- Do not use the word "toilets" but "lavatory"

- Never talk about money or anything that is linked to them (like work)

- Do not use the word "Pardon?" If you did not understand, ask "Sorry?” ”Pardon” is the word worse than "f ** k". (Don’t ask me why).

Just remember this and you can be sure you will not embarrass yourself at the Royal Ring, (if a miracle happened and they would invite you).

The winners receive the awards on the lawn behind the main building and there are also some other bars and restaurants so that nobody needs to wait for a drink for a long time (by the way, around 50 000 bottles of champagne are consumed in four days). You can enjoy the glorious atmosphere and sample good plates from the numerous artisan food stalls.

The pavement in front of the main building entrance is the place where the women longing to appear in the media are posing; and the photographers and cameramen working. Professional hatters, promoting their work, silicon girls, TV celebrities and eccentrics or designer disasters are on show. Undoubtedly, pictures of their original hairpieces will fly round the world. I recognized one lady from photos on the internet, apparently she comes every year. I almost said hello to her as to an old friend. She didn’t disappoint me; having a large patulous construction on her head, decorated with a lace, she looked like a deer that had gone through the curtains.

The last race was held at six and we decided to bet. Bookmakers have their miniature booths all around; each has his own billboard with the names of the horses and hands all the time full of banknotes.

The smallest possible bet is two pounds. We had no clue how it worked (and it was not time to ask, I had to rely again on my knowledge of the Dick Francis books), I just chose the most likeable name - Venezia. Well, I arrived fourth ... My friend ​​chose a loser, he didn't even finish the race.

Traditionally, the last point of the program is communal singing around the bandstand. We got textbooks and joined the crowd on the lawn.

We sang well known songs, many of them from the Beatles. We all were tipsy, waved flags, shouted, laughed and again exchanged compliments for hats with other women…

Well, Ascot was even better than I expected! Unforgettable experience for the whole life!

Little tip: In the UK, I never became acquainted with anybody on the street. Now I finally found out what the Englishmen are attracted to! If you want to seduce a man in Slovakia, you will achieve it with a miniskirt; Italians are after blonde hair - and Englishmen after an interesting hat. On the way to the hotel, we conquered London; the men followed us and showered us with compliments concerning exclusively our headpieces. Therefore, ladies, if you are interested in an Englishman, put your hat on and you will get whoever you want!

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