A guide to Royal Ascot Style
La Loren leads the field
The Italian screen legend, Sophia Loren, the epitome of Royal Ascot Style, graces Royal Ascot, 1966. Ascot has always played host to famous international figures.
But whereas in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries they were most likely to be foreign royalty and international statesmen, in modern times you are equally likely to see some of the biggest names in Hollywood, dressed and styled by some of the leading names in couture fashion.
Today all kinds of people rub shoulders at Ascot – royalty, aristocracy and stars of sport and entertainment from home and abroad mingle with ordinary men and women from different backgrounds. But at times during Ascot’s 300-year history, reflecting the standards of society at the time, some public areas did not permit the mixing of the sexes, or of different social classes.
When the new Iron Stand opened in 1859 it was completely barred to women; divorced men could enter but were barred from the Royal Enclosure. The fashionable London clubs, such as Whites, and the “smarter” regiments provided refreshment tents, but entry was naturally by invitation only.
The essence of style for 300 years
Ascot has seen its fair share of era-defining, trend setting fashion moments. In the 1860s, poor Consuela, Duchess of Marlborough found Ascot week “very tiring… fortunes were yearly spent on dresses selected as appropriate to a graduated scale of elegance which reached its climax on Thursday; for fashion decreed that one should reserve one’s most sumptuous toilette for the Gold Cup day”. And it wasn’t just the ladies who gave careful consideration to their racing turnout. In 1922, when upmarket department store Selfridges opened its new menswear department, advertising focused on what the fashionable gentleman should wear to Royal Ascot.
A seemingly never-ending line of racegoers snakes towards the racecourse from Ascot railway station in the 1930s. Since the 1830s when the railways opened up the race meeting to the masses, the journey by train to Ascot has been an important and exciting start to the eager racegoer’s day.
In 1873 the Times wrote “Never has the South Western Railway brought down such a heavy and fashionably filled train as that which dispersed its contents over an Ascot radius of some half dozen miles or more, while the afternoon trains on the Great Western have filled the Royal Borough with bustle and excitement.”
The popularity of Ascot soon meant that racegoers demanded the best facilities that they could afford. Three centuries ago, just as today, the most highly sought after stands have not only been those with the best view, but the places where the most fashionable people in society have gone to be seen. For those not invited to the more exclusive stands and boxes, the grandstands have provided the best view of the action. The original 18th and early 19th century stands were temporary structures, but through time their successors have become larger and more sophisticated buildings including all the comforts that racegoers demand.
There are picnics, and then there are Ascot picnics. Eating and drinking has for three centuries played an important part in the enjoyment of a day at Ascot. In 1912 the motor-car was first allowed into the racecourse and shortly afterwards the tradition of the picnic in the car park started.
Number One and Two Car Parks are still generally where the most formal and elaborate picnics take place, with berths in these coveted spots being passed down from generation to generation in some families.