What It’s Like to Attend Royal Ascot for the First Time

I was reading Elsa Schiaparelli’s autobiography Shocking Life under a collection of trees in Place Des Vosges last Monday when I received a message from my friend and menswear designer, Stephen Mikhail, encouraging me to join him for this year’s Royal Ascot. The ticket was for Friday which meant I had four days to brush up on British etiquette and prepare a wardrobe. Stressful, sure. But, who am I to ever say no to pomp and circumstance?

For those unfamiliar, Royal Ascot is the annual horse-racing event that takes place in Berkshire, England. Some of the world’s most powerful thoroughbreds and jockeys race on the grand track. But athleticism is not the only reason why people from all corners of the world feel its allure. Royal Ascot is pure pageantry, where members of the British royal family are joined by thousands of spectators who dress in their finest to see and be seen, gossip, and drink from an endless well of champagne. The event has had great significance in the British social calendar ever since Queen Anne founded it in 1711. “Royal Ascot is the last great society event, anywhere in the world,” English socialite Henry Conway tells me. “Nowhere else do you get the heady combination of royalty, power, grandeur, exclusivity, and indulgence.”

I set my book down, bought my Eurostar ticket, and got to shopping. See, Royal Ascot tickets have a hierarchy, and where you land on this hierarchy dictates which wardrobe rules you must abide by. If you don’t, you’re simply turned away. I made it my mission not to embarrass my host.

I would be in the Royal Enclosure, the most prestigious ticket of the five-day event, meaning that I had to don a three-piece morning suit, a black or gray top hat free of embellishments, and black oxford shoes that were not patent, but lightly buffed. Below the Royal Enclosure are the Queen Anne Enclosure and The Village Enclosure. Here, men must wear a suit and tie while women are asked to wear dresses and a hat. At the bottom of the hierarchy is the Windsor Enclosure which is free of dress code.

What I Wore

Mikhail, a British-American, further clarified the dress code guidelines for me and recommended I learn the first two lines of “God Save the Queen.” He had the luxury of designing his own gray morning suit made out of lightweight herringbone cashmere which teetered between the traditional and contemporary. “I love Ascot above most other royal events due to its tradition and its adherence to the extraordinarily strict dress code,” he says. “It leaves almost no room for the gentlemen in the Enclosure to experiment, so exceptional tailoring is really what stands out.”

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