Why Does the Royal Family Wear Their Biggest Hats to the Royal Ascot?

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The Royal Ascot is one of the U.K.’s most beloved horse racing events, drawing the likes of the British royal family who wear some of their most standout hats and fascinators.

The annual event kicked off today in its full format after last year’s scaled back edition due to the pandemic, with members of the royal family like Prince Charles, the Duchess of Cornwall, Camilla Parker Bowles, Princess Eugenie, her husband Edoardo Mapelli Mozzi, Princess Anne and others in attendance. Queen Elizabeth II did not attend the Royal Ascot’s opening day, but it is expected she may attend at other points during the five-day event.

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Each year, the horse race calls for the royal family’s most standout wears — including their biggest and boldest hats — producing some of the their most memorable looks. Take Princess Diana, who donned a color-blocked red and purple look with a matching hat in 1990 and the Duchess of Sussex, Meghan Markle.

Prince Charles, Prince Andrew, Princess Diana and the Duchess of York at the Royal Ascot in 1990. - Credit: Nils Jorgensen/Shutterstock
Prince Charles, Prince Andrew, Princess Diana and the Duchess of York at the Royal Ascot in 1990. - Credit: Nils Jorgensen/Shutterstock

Nils Jorgensen/Shutterstock

While the royal family never shies away from a bold headpiece, the reason behind their Royal Ascot looks is steeped in a 300-year-old tradition. Since Queen Anne started the Royal Ascot in 1711, the event has followed a strict dress code that dictates each guest’s attire depending on which of the four enclosures — Royal, Queen Anne, Village and Windsor — they’re a member of, according to the Royal Ascot’s web site. The dress code has evolved since its inception, but is still deeply rooted in British tradition.

The Royal Enclosure — which includes the royal family — requires women to wear a hat with at least a 4-inch base. Women are required to wear dresses and skirts falling above the knee or longer and are permitted to wear pants or a jumpsuit as long as it’s worn in a monochromatic color scheme. Men are also required to wear a top hat, only in black or gray. They’re also required to wear a waistcoat, tie and black shoes with socks.

The Queen Anne and Village enclosures follow the same dress code, requiring women to wear a hat, headpiece or fascinator and wear clothing fit for a “formal occasion.” Men are not required to wear top hats, but must wear a full-length suit in matching colors, a tie and socks with shoes.

The Windsor enclosure does not have a specific dress code, but men and woman are encouraged to dress in “smart daywear” with a hat or fascinator.

Princess Beatrice and Zara Tindall at the Royal Ascot - Credit: AP
Princess Beatrice and Zara Tindall at the Royal Ascot - Credit: AP

AP

This year, the royal family has gone with floral-embellished hats and fascinators for the Royal Ascot opening day. Princess Eugenie attended the event wearing a white and pink floral dress from Zimmermann paired with a matching pink floral headband from Juliette Botterill Millinery. The Duchess of Cornwall went with a pale blue coat dress paired with a matching floral hat.

In years past, many other members of the royal family have had standout fashion moments at the Royal Ascot. Take the Duchess of Sussex, Meghan Markle, who attended her first Royal Ascot in 2018 just a few months after her royal wedding to Prince Harry. Markle opted for a simple white shirt dress from Givenchy paired with a white and black hat by Philip Treacy.

Prince Harry and Meghan Markle at the Royal Ascot Day in 2018 - Credit: zz/KGC-107/STAR MAX/IPx
Prince Harry and Meghan Markle at the Royal Ascot Day in 2018 - Credit: zz/KGC-107/STAR MAX/IPx

zz/KGC-107/STAR MAX/IPx

While the royal family’s headwear is on the more conventional side, other attendees typically take liberties with the dress code, bringing out their most embellished and fanciful headwear.

For a look back at past Royal Ascot standout looks, click through the above gallery.

READ MORE HERE: 

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Launch Gallery: The Story Behind the Fanciful Hats at the Royal Ascot

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