The History of Ascot Fashion from 1711 - 2024

Guests at Royal Ascot in 1925
Guests in 1925

Though the rules surrounding the Royal Ascotdress code still seem as strict since the first official event 112 years ago, women's fashion for the most coveted racing event of the season is actually entering a new era.

Contrary to the lack of movement within the official dress code, Ascot fashion constantly moves with the times. Fast forward to 2024, more and more women are wearing suits and are also being encouraged to experiment with pre-loved clothing.

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Proving the determination to stay relevant, Ascot's official 'Style Guide' was renamed the 'Royal Ascot Lookbook' in 2023. It consisted of six different fashion edits: Luxe, Tailoring, Pre-Loved & Rental, Vintage, High Street and Emerging Designer. In 2024 Ascot introduced its inaugural 'Fashion Bible,' curated by renowned British fashion designer Daniel Fletcher. As the first creative director in the event's over 300-year history, Fletcher said he aims to embrace bold new styles, innovative sourcing, and a more mindful approach to dressing at the prestigious annual event.

MORE: 30 vintage Royal Ascot photos to inspire your race day style

RELATED: 5 Ascot outfit ideas that are actually pretty major for 2024

Throughout its illustrious history guests have always pushed the envelope as far as style is concerned; From pearls in the 1920s, to pared back looks during the 1940s thanks to fabric rationing after World War II, to the bright colours of the swinging 1960s. Let's not forget the elegant take on the boho movement during the 1970s, and also the momentous gender-norm defying moment in 2017, when Saville Row tailor Daisy Knatchbull became the first woman known to wear a morning suit. Looking back at interpretations of the races' sartorial structure through the years, is a first-place past time for fashion lovers.

Scroll on to find out more about Ascot Fashion throught the years...

The History of Ascot Fashion:

Ascot Fashion: 1700's - 1800's

"Though the first races were held in Ascot in 1711, it wasn’t until 1807 that a dress code was first implemented by Beau Brummell, a close friend of future King George IV, who decided that men were required to wear black coats with white cravats and pantaloons," explains Compton House of Fashion. Women who were allowed to dress more freely until Queen Victoria made hats the norm after wearing a porter bonnet (a headpiece that shielded the face from observers) to Ascot in the 1830s.

Illustration depicting two women, each wearing ornate flowing gowns, at Ascot Racecourse in Berkshire, England, Great Britain, 1880. Both women, each wearing a bonnet, are standing on a balcony overlooking a crowd watching the racing. By Jules David. (Photo by Hulton H Colour/Getty Images) (Photo by Edward Gooch Collection/Hulton Archive/Getty Images)
Illustration depicting two women at Ascot Racecourse, 1880. (Edward Gooch Collection)

Ascot Fashion: 1900s

TheS-bend corsetwas fashionable during the 1900s. "It thrust the hips backwards and forced the chest forward into a fashionable pouter-pigeon shape," explains the V&A. This silhouette was "emphasised with puffed, frilly blouses that were often embellished with decorations like lace collars and broad ribbon ties. Separates were popular, with skirts fitted over the hip and fluted towards the hem."

Two women at Ascot in the 1900s
Ascot Fashion in the 1900s (Mirrorpix)

Ascot Fashion: 1910s

The royal influence on Ascot was such that when the Royal Family were in mourning for King Edward VII in 1910, all the guests wore black.

Spectators, including the Marchioness of Camden, at the Royal Ascot race meeting at Ascot Racecourse, Berkshire, June 1910.  (Photo by Topical Press Agency/Getty Images)
Spectators, including the Marchioness of Camden, at Royal Ascot, June 1910. (Topical Press Agency)

Ascot Fashion: 1920s

Guests at Royal Ascot in 1925
Guests in 1925 (Getty)

In 1922 The Times newspaper declared that Royal Ascot races was "the best place in England to see beautiful women wearing beautiful clothes." Lots of Ascot fashion of the 1920s reflected the eras iconic flapper dress. Though women still wore shapewear, full corsets were falling out of fashion, dresses were slightly shorter and more freeing. We have Coco Chanel to thank for a lot of iconic fashion silhouettes, including the popularisation of the flapper. She was of course also a pioneer of pearls, which for Ascot were accompanied by fur accessories for that added touch of luxury.

Ascot Fashion: 1930s

The drop-waist androgyny of the previous decade gave way to a slinky femininity in the 1930s. "Parisian couturiers introduced the bias-cut into their designs, which caused the fabric to skim over the body's curves," explains the V&A. Long, simple and clinging evening gowns, made of satin were popular at Ascot.

UNITED KINGDOM - NOVEMBER 07:  Couple at Royal Ascot, 1935. A photograph of a couple walking past racegoers at the Royal Hunt Cup horse-race, taken by Edward Malindine for the Daily Herald newspaper on 19 June, 1935. The woman appears in an elegant white ensemble, whilst her partner wears top hat and tails - traditional dress by the 1930s. The racecourse at Royal Ascot was founded by Queen Anne in 1711. As a racecourse favoured by British Royalty Ascot has become a highlight of the social season and is famous for its fashions, especially its hats. This photograph has been selected from the Daily Herald Archive, a collection of over three million photographs. The archive holds work of international, national and local importance by both staff and agency photographers.  (Photo by Daily Herald Archive/SSPL/Getty Images)
A couple at Royal Ascot, 1935. (Daily Herald Archive)

Ascot Fashion: 1940s

As a result of the WW2 there were severe fabric shortages, which lasted until the end of the decade. Skirts were a little below the knee and straight, worn with boxy jackets and broad, padded shoulders. From 1942 onwards  clothes were made under the government Utility Scheme that rationed materials. During the war, accessories were important because of their relative affordability; tall platform shoes or sandals, and tall floral hats were fashionable.

15th June 1948:  Mrs Randolph Churchill (nee Pamela Digby, later Pamela Harriman) arriving at Ascot.  (Photo by Topical Press Agency/Getty Images)
Mrs Randolph Churchill arriving at Ascot, 15 June 1948. (Topical Press Agency)

Ascot Fashion: 1950s

During the 1950s dresses with pencil or full skirts as well as separates were popular at Ascot. Hats were either small pill-box styles or large brimmed, saucer-like hats.

16th June 1953: On the first day of the Royal Ascot meeting, model Fiona Campbell Walter (later Baroness von Thyssen) wears a black straw hat, a white corded suit and pearl necklace and is carrying a fur stole. (Photo by Keystone/Getty Images)
Fiona Campbell Walter (later Baroness von Thyssen) attended Ascot wearing a black straw hat, a white corded suit and pearl necklace in 1953. (Keystone)

Ascot Fashion: 1960s

The 'swinging 60s' was an epic era for Ascot Fashion. Wages were the highest they had been since the war, fitted undergarments like girdles were a thing from the past, and Ascot's dress code became ever more relaxed.

Tandy Cronyn, Ascot 1968
Tandy Cronyn, 1968 (Getty)

Ascot Fashion: 1970s

Women’s fashion at the races has managed to stay modern, and in keeping with the times. Fashion was also edging towards the 1970s, when of course funky patterns, theatrical looks and flamboyant outfits were all the rage.

Nina Baden-Semper, 1972
Nina Baden-Semper at Ascot, 1972. (Victor Drees)

Ascot Fashion: 1980s

The 1980s were known for its statement accessories, which was channelled through guests headpieces at Royal Ascot. Neon was of course also a big hit, which guests gave a chic makeover for Ascot by wearing bright colours in the form of outfits that adhered to the dress code. Princess Diana's outfits set the tone for chic style at the races.

Diana, Princess of Wales attended Ascot race meeting in England, wearing a black and white spotted dress by Victor Edelstein and a Philip Somerville hat, June 1988.
Diana, Princess of Wales attended Ascot race meeting in England, wearing a black and white spotted dress by Victor Edelstein and a Philip Somerville hat, June 1988. (Princess Diana Archive)

Ascot Fashion: 1990s

In contrast to the 1980s, iconic 1990s designers such as Calvin Klein made way for a minimal aesthetic that is still popular today. Race-going fashion trends followed suit, with streamlined dresses, loose flowing fabrics and slip dresses.

A female racegoer wearing a black dress, black evening gloves, and a red poppy hat on the first day of the Royal Ascot, 19 June 1990.
A female racegoer wearing a black dress, black evening gloves, and a red poppy hat on the first day of the Royal Ascot, 19 June 1990. (Tim Graham)

Ascot Fashion: 2000s

The Y2K era lead to experimental hats becoming the norm at Ascot, and bright bold colours.

ASCOT, ENGLAND - JUNE 18:   Jasmine Guinness attends Ladies Day of Royal Ascot at Ascot Racecourse on June 18, 2009 in Ascot, England. (Photo by Samir Hussein/WireImage)
Jasmine Guinness attends Ladies Day of Royal Ascot at Ascot Racecourse on June 18, 2009. (Samir Hussein)

Ascot Fashion: 2010s

In 2012 organisers of the event released a 'Formal Style Guide' for racegoers for the first time. For women, the rules include that women’s hemlines must fall just above the knee or lower and that straps on dresses and tops must be at least one inch wide. In 2017 jumpsuits were formally allowed into the dresscode. More and more women have worn suits to Royal Ascot in the 21st century, pushing the boundaries of the event's strict clothing rules.

ASCOT, ENGLAND - JUNE 18: Rosie Tapner poses during Royal Ascot 2021 at Ascot Racecourse on June 18, 2021 in Ascot, England. (Photo by Kirstin Sinclair/Getty Images for Royal Ascot)
Presenter Rosie Tapner poses in a jumpsuit at Ascot. (Kirstin Sinclair)

Ascot Fashion: 2020s

Many guests still opt for traditional elegance, but dresses are more slender and headpieces are more chic. In fact the Royal Enclosure dress code stipulates that ladies must wear a hat or headpiece with a solid base of four inches in diameter, and this year novelty hats and ones which are excessively oversized (or promoting or marketing any product or brand) are "not permitted."

In 2024, Royal Ascot made fashion history by introducing its first-ever 'fashion bible', overseen by Daniel Fletcher. This groundbreaking lookbook is a milestone for the esteemed event and aims to elevate its stylistic identity. The purpose of the book is to provide attendees with an inspiring fashion guide suitable for all Ascot enclosures. Fletcher, celebrated for his impeccable tailoring and structured designs, is leading Royal Ascot's new fashion direction. The guide includes a range of specially curated edits, featuring a sustainable section with contributions from acclaimed industry veterans Stella McCartney and Vivienne Westwood.

ASCOT, ENGLAND - JUNE 17:  Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge smiles as she arrives into the parade ring during Royal Ascot 2022 at Ascot Racecourse on June 17, 2022 in Ascot, England. (Photo by Chris Jackson/Getty Images)
Princess Kate smiles as she arrives into the parade ring during Royal Ascot, June 17, 2022. (Chris Jackson)