Royal attendees and 306-year-old dress codes: The history of Royal Ascot

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The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge frequent the racing event. [Photo: Getty]
The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge frequent the racing event. [Photo: Getty]

Each June, Ascot Racecourse, located in its namesake town in Berkshire, holds a week of special races known as Royal Ascot.

Britain’s most valuable racecourse attracts around 300,000 visitors including the top of British society for the annual racing spectacle.

The races, which spawn over five days, get their royal name thanks to the presence of the Queen and members of the royal family who attend each year.

The event is known famously for its formal guests, with strict rules upholding its long-standing dress code.

Aside from the fascinators and stilettos, racegoers have the chance to bet on horses who compete for the £7.3 million prize money.

Royal Ascot is said to be the first event that the Queen puts down on her calendar every year thanks to her lifelong love of horses, but where did it all begin?

The Queen and Prince Phillip at Ascot in 1973. [Photo: Getty]
The Queen and Prince Phillip at Ascot in 1973. [Photo: Getty]

How did Royal Ascot start?

The now-reknowned Ascot Racecourse was founded by Queen Anne in 1711, and since, it’s received the financial backing of eleven monarchs including the current Queen.

Due to its royal sponsorship, the names of the week’s races have a royal theme, such as ‘King George V Stakes’, ‘Diamond Jubilee Stakes’ and ‘Windsor Castle Stakes’.

The Queen’s love of horses has a lot to do with her passion for the event.

Her Majesty has loved horses since she was a young girl and much of her leisure time involves around breeding of thoroughbreds for horse racing.

By 2013, horses owned by the Queen had won over 1,600 races and even many have even won races at Royal Ascot, such as Irish-bred thoroughbred horse, Estimate, who won the Gold Cup in 2013.

The Queen pats her horse, Estimate, in the winner’s enclosure after it won the Gold Cup on the third day of Royal Ascot in 2013. [Photo: Getty]
The Queen pats her horse, Estimate, in the winner’s enclosure after it won the Gold Cup on the third day of Royal Ascot in 2013. [Photo: Getty]

What involvement do the royals have in Royal Ascot?

Each day of the week begins with the Royal Procession, whereby the Queen and fellow members of the royal family arrive up the racing track in horse-drawn landaus.

The Queen mother with Princess Diana during the Royal Procession in 1984. [Photo: Getty]
The Queen mother with Princess Diana during the Royal Procession in 1984. [Photo: Getty]

Staple attendees include senior members of the royal family such as the Queen and Prince Phillip, Prince Charles and the Duchess of Cornwall, the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, Princess Eugenie and Princess Beatrice, Prince Edward, Earl of Wessex and Sophie, Countess of Wessex, Zara and Mike Tindall and Peter and Autumn Phillips.

For the 2018 races, the newly-married Duke and Duchess of Sussex are expected to attended.

The royals then watch the races from the top-tier viewing area, the Royal Enclosure, which is reserved for the royal family and invitation-only invited guests.

Amenities of the exclusive area include a champagne bar, Michelin-starred restaurants, luxury afternoon teas and the best views of the track.

Senior members of the family such as the Queen and the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge often leave the enclosure during the day to give trophies and meet officials.

Originally, the Royal Enclosure was exclusively reserved for the guests of King George III.

Sophie, Countess of Wessex and Crown Princess Mary of Denmark watch the racing as they attend Royal Ascot in 2016. [Photo: Getty]
Sophie, Countess of Wessex and Crown Princess Mary of Denmark watch the racing as they attend Royal Ascot in 2016. [Photo: Getty]

What are they other areas at Royal Ascot like and what are the dress codes?

The second-tier area at Royal Ascot is the Village Enclosure, an exclusive area which also boasts fantastic hospitality experiences, but is located on track level.

Finally, there’s the Windsor Enclosure, the area used by the majority of racegoers, which includes a grass area where people can watch the races and lay picnic blankets.

The Windsor enclosure also boasts a slightly more relaxed dress code, simply asking guests to ‘dress in a manner as befits a formal occasion’.

However, the Royal Enclosure boasts a far stricter one.

Synonymous with sartorial elegance, the enclosure’s formal dress code stipulates that men must wear morning suits and women’s dresses must fall below the knee.

In 2017, Ascot updated its 306-year-old dress code by allowing jumpsuits and trouser suits (matching only) inside the Royal Enclosure.

This year’s Royal Ascot kicks off on Monday 18th June – check back for all the coverage.

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