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Royal Ascot - the Traditions, the Fashions and the Future

Royal Ascot is a five-day race meeting traditionally attended by royalty, socialites and 300,000 visitors from all over the world. It is a highlight of the British social calendar and is as much about thoroughbred racing as it is about fashion.

It takes place during the third week in June each year, and with £2.5 million in prize money it attracts some of the best contenders in British flat racing.

Racing at Ascot

Ascot Racecourse is located in Berkshire, a short drive from Windsor Castle.

Owned by the Crown Estate, its most famous race meeting of the year is Royal Ascot.

The Royal Carriages at Ascot (c) Steve F via Wikimedia Commons
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The first races at Ascot took place in 1711 when Queen Anne realized the open area of heathland, as it was then, had great potential for entertainment being within easy reach of Windsor Castle.

Top hat and tails, Ascot (c) Steve & Jem Copley via Flickr
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Racegoers at Royal Ascot before the First World War Source:Imperial War Museum
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The Queen Anne Stakes, a Group 1 flat race, is held on the opening day of Royal Ascot each year in honour of the founder. Until 1939, the only race meeting held at Ascot was Royal Ascot, although it now hosts nine Group 1 races throughout the year.

Each day Royal Ascot begins with the Royal Procession from the golden gates to the parade ring. This marks the arrival of the Queen and the royal party in open horse-drawn carriages and is part of the pageantry and tradition of these races.

Ascot grandstand and paddock (c) monkeywing via Flickr
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Royal Ascot Dress Code

There is a strict dress code for those who have access to the Royal Enclosure, and a slightly less rigid dress code is enforced in the public grandstands. If you are thinking of attending, you will need to follow the protocol!

The Royal Box At Ascot (c) David Jones via Flickr
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In the Royal Enclosure, formal day dress and a hat or fascinator over four inches in diameter are required.

For gentlemen, this means black or grey morning dress, complete with waistcoat, knee-length tailcoat and a top hat, no less.

For women, there are a list of taboos - no bare shoulders, no thin spaghetti straps and no mini skirts. The 'dress police' are on hand to offer fascinators and pashminas to those who they feel do not quite comply with the dress code.

Royal Ascot is certainly the place to be seen for the who's who. Largely hijacked by the British fashion industry, most attendees flaunt designer outfits ranging from formal to flamboyant.

Ladies Day

Thursday is Ladies Day at Royal Ascot.

Racing, Ascot (c) Steve & Jem Copley via Flickr
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It has become a tradition for ladies to wear outrageous hats which inevitably capture more of the paparazzi attention than the horses! In fact, one of the most popular bets is to wager on the colour of the Queen's hat on Ladies Day.

The Future

Despite the economic downturn affecting other racecourses, the popularity and unique position held by Royal Ascot in British social life seems to assure its position for at least another 300 years, and who knows how many more monarchs will patronise this traditional social event?

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