LONDON (Reuters) - Ladies, forget those flimsy fascinators and get yourself a proper hat: one that has a base of at least 4 inches in diameter.
So says a new dress code coming into force at this year’s Royal Ascot, the annual horse-race meeting attended by Britain’s Queen Elizabeth and a highlight of high society’s summer season.
“Strapless, off-the-shoulder, halter-neck, spaghetti straps and dresses with a strap of less than 1 inch (2.5cm) are not permitted,” says the dress code for lady race-goers lucky enough to have tickets for the exclusive Royal Enclosure.
The document states that ladies’ dresses should be “of modest length”, defined as falling just above the knee or lower, while gentlemen should wear grey or black morning dress, which must include a top hat, waistcoat and tie — but no cravat.
Fashion has always been a feature of Royal Ascot and spotting the most daring outfits is as much of an attraction as watching the races. But the new dress code suggests organizers felt some race-goers were becoming rather too risqué.
They have trained a team of “dress code assistants” who will stop transgressors from entering the enclosure and supply them with emergency items to bring their outfits into line — waistcoats, ties, pashmina shawls and the like.
The British media were quick to dig out photos of women at Royal Ascot in previous years sporting short or otherwise revealing dresses that would fall foul of the sartorial squad.
Particular attention was focused on the issue of fascinators, a type of headpiece attached to women’s heads with clips or pins and often adorned with feathers, lace or netting.
Fascinators have long been a popular item at smart British weddings, but they shot to greater fame after Kate Middleton, then the future wife of the queen’s grandson Prince William, wore one during her first official engagement with her fiancé.
The couple married in April last year and the now Duchess of Cambridge has made her mark on the global fashion map — yet her favored fascinators have been banned from the Royal Enclosure.
“The most beautiful girl in the world, Kate Middleton, has skirts halfway up her thigh and usually wears fascinators,” said Jilly Cooper, best-selling author of racy novels with names like “Riders” and “Jump!”.
“But I think you’ve got to have very, very good legs,” Cooper told BBC Radio 4, suggesting that Royal Ascot organizers were quite right to regulate for those women not endowed with legs as attractive as those of the duchess.
The chief executive of Ascot dismissed suggestions that the dress code might come across as an attempt to restore archaic, aristocratic decorum, as opposed to a more provocative style of dress favored by some people from less exalted backgrounds.
“It isn’t a question of elitism and not being modern in a world where there is less and less requirement to dress smartly - far from it,” said Charles Barnett.
“We want to see modern and stylish dress at Royal Ascot, just within the parameters of formal wear,” he said.
There will be no excuses for those who get it wrong. All ticket holders were sent reminders of the new dress code including “style guides” with photos giving example of appropriate looks.
You have been warned.
Editing by Paul Casciato