Royal Ascot Hats

Royal Ascot, could this be the most important racing event for milliners?

Royal Ascot is not only one of the hi-lights of the horse racing calendar, it is the pinnacle of the hat-wearing season.  With stunning women’s fashion and awe-inspiring millinery, Royal Ascot hats and horses go hand-in hand with each other over five exhilarating days in June.

Revered across the globe, Royal Ascot attracts many of racing’s finest horses. It is also equally synonymous with sartorial elegance, being awash with exquisite fashion and magnificent millinery creations.  From the arrival of the Royal Procession, to the communal singing around Ascot’s Bandstand, each of the five days is an event which must be seen to be believed. 

On 11th August 1711 Ascot Racecourse was founded by Queen Anne.  “Her Majesty’s Plate", worth 100 guineas and open to any horse, mare or gelding over the age of six, originally took place on 11th August.  Each horse was required to carry a weight of 12 stone and seven runners took part. The race consisted of three separate heats which were four miles long, so the winner would have been a horse with tremendous stamina.

With racing long established at Ascot race course, London society evacuated to the countryside for the event.  It wasn’t until the mid-19th century that The Royal Enclosure was developed, primarily for the Emperor of Russia, a guest of Queen Victoria.  Guests were invited by invitation only, a system that continues to this day.  In an enclosure with tight sartorial rules; men wear top hat and tails, ladies’ dresses must be below the knee, and hats should cover the crown of a lady’s head. 

Gold Cup Day as it was then, was coined ‘Ladies Day’ by a poet in 1823, when he wrote “Ladies Day... when the women, like angels, look divine.”  It is with this premise that the hats of all shapes and sizes tended to be of their most extravagant.  

Today Royal Ascot, held for five days annually in June, has continued to be the course’s highlight of the British social season. Royalty, celebrity and high society gather at this ‘jewel in the crown of British racing’.  However it is not just the racing that attracts attention globally.  While the men are encouraged to wear traditional dress, it is the women’s fashion and in particular their elaborate and unique hats that the world’s press wants to see.  It is without question, the most important event for milliners the world over. 

Whilst every day of the event sees the most glamorous women wearing beautifully crafted hats, it is perhaps “Ladies Day” that pushes all boundaries of proportion and glamour.  Some chose to match their hats with their outfits, or have their millinery specifically dyed to colour match a garment.  Others prefer a more avant-garde look, donning crazy creations that scream for attention!  This is the day where hats can often reach several feet above the head in mountains of tulle, feathers and flowers and can often be just as wide!  

As the highlight event for milliners across Britain; the hats at Royal Ascot have always been a point of interest for racegoers and followers of fashion alike.   

Tara exclaimed to one journalist that “Royal Ascot is ‘our Christmas’ and often the end of a very busy time in the studio”.  

For the first time, 2023 sees the exceptionally strict rules of “covering your crown when attending the Royal enclosure” have been reneged, the only requirement is that a hat should be worn at all times with a base of 4 inches in diameter. 

Other English racecourses with a hat wearing history include; The Epsom Derby (June), Cheltenham Festival (March), Glorious Goodwood (August) and the Grand National (April).  

Internationally famous hat wearing races include; Kentucky Derby, America (May), Melbourne Cup, Australia (November), Dubai World Cup (March), Prix de L’Arc de Triomphe, Paris (October) 

If you are looking for a Royal Ascot worthy hat creation, or wish to discuss your race going millinery please don’t hesitate to call Tara O’Callaghan Millinery or email to book an appointment.

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