Ascot Me to the Races

In Cocktail Dresses, Sundresses on May 13, 2010 at 1:41 pm

If you’ve ever been to a horse race — Foxfield, Gold Cup, the Kentucky Derby, or the like — you’ve probably enjoyed the change of fashion scenery.  Kind of fun to see everyone decked out in their finest, isn’t it?  Kind of ritzy, eh?  Well, those races are small potatoes (itty bitty ones) compared to the UK’s Royal Ascot, the mother of all horse races and the centerpiece of the British summer social calendar, which is coming up in about a month.  (By the way, if music started to play when you opened my site today — it’s the embedded video below!)

Above: Alainmar (#3), a Royal Ascot hopeful.

Established in 1711 by Queen Anne herself, the race has a storied history (Queen Anne originally commanded the racetrack be built “for horses to gallop at a stretch” — why don’t we talk like that anymore?) and draws close to 300,000 people a year.  As for tailgating?  You won’t find any fried chicken or BBQ — we’re talking champagne and lobster in the back of a limo.  (According to a London Times estimate, 10,000 lobsters, 5,000 oysters, and 18,000 baskets of strawberries were consumed at last year’s races.  The collective champagne bill?  $3.9 million.  That’s half the total of the purse at stake — nearly $8M.  Woah.)

Dress code is strict, especially if you’re lucky enough to find your way into “The Royal Enclosure” (sounds like something out of Robin Hood, but it’s no fiction — you need to have sponsorship from a member who has attended the Royal Ascot at least four times in order to enter) — gents must don “morning dress” and ladies must sport millinery (midriff exposure explicitly prohibited).  The official Ascot authority rules state: “For ladies, only formal day dress with a hat or substantial fascinator will be acceptable. Off the shoulder, halter neck, spaghetti straps and dresses with a strap of less than one inch and/or miniskirts are considered unsuitable. Midriffs must be covered and trouser suits must be full length and of matching material and color.”

…Morning dress?  Millinery?  Que? It’s clear that we’re not in Kentucky anymore.  When a high school classmate reached out to me for some thoughts on what to wear to the Royal Ascot (she currently lives abroad), I knew I had my work cut out for me.  The first challenge: a suitable hat.  You’ve got to invest in a well-appointed hat for this level of formality.  My top pick?  Kokin’s “Natural Polo” ($298, Hats in the Belfry):

If you’re a conservative and worried about overstepping your bounds with something too casual, stick with a classic black peplum dress — this McQ is perfectly prim ($395, Net-A-Porter):

Anything architectural or tailored (the above dress included) is to be applauded.  And while solid black is classic, stark white could be just as appropriate.  Her Royal Highness Princess Haya Bint Al Hussein (wife of the Prime Minister to the UAE and Ruler of Dubai) wore all white last year and looked beyond lovely:

Just imagine the splash you’d make in this to-die-for polished yet fashion-forward Kirribilla (I want it, I want it, I want it — and you can score it and make me jealous at eDressme — available for pre-order, $420):

(Um.  How did I not know about this designer until a couple of days ago!?  Die for the design; love the color palette.)  The Winter Park, Florida boutique Thread also carries the line and seems to be able to take orders by phone — their eBoutique features this gush-worthy, once-in-a-lifetime-it’s-so-perfect mint green dress (also comes in coral).  At first glance, I thought you may be able to squeeze by the Ascot Authorities with it, but I’m thinking the back is just too revealing.  I’m sharing it here for pure visual indulgence — have you ever seen a lovelier back to a dress?!

Excuse me while I drool.  Seriously — obsessed.

Returning to HRH Haya Bint Al Hussein and her white hot get-up: if money’s no object, this ivory-with-navy-trim crepe Miu Miu ($1,260, Net-A-Porter) would be spot-on with its old-world sporty chic vibe:

I’d top it off with a dramatic white bow-heavy hat (Kokin’s “Naughty Luncheon,” $448, Hats in the Belfry):

Or maybe Christine A. Moore’s “The Janel” — ($495, Marissa Collections):

You can get the same graphic look with this much more affordable TopShop frill-shouldered dress ($80) and either the Christine A. Moore “Maggie” Hat ($625, Marissa Collections) or the Maggie Mae “Chelsea” hat below:

The Kirribilla navy bow-front dress I featured in yesterday’s “It’s Wedding Season!” post would also be a fetching choice ($385, Sunday Brunch Dress Shop) with a solid white or ivory headpiece:

Side note: if you’re really hip, you’ll get a custom-made Stephen Jones hat.  He’s the ultimate “get,” recently teaming up with big fashion houses like Galliano, Dior, and Comme des Garcons for special runway collaborations, including this lovely little concoction for Jason Wu:

If you’re wearing him, you’re in the know.  You’re probably also a millionaire — custom-made doesn’t come cheap, especially from someone recently named the Dorchester Hotel’s “Fashion Ambassador.”  (! Those exist?  How do I get that job?  Read about it here.)

While demure navies, blacks, and ivories are always appropriate, I did notice that vibrant solids were the trend last year.  I am *thisclose* to snapping up this Willow brand dress in cheery orange for a UVA event down the road (Wahoowa!), but think it would be an excellent option for Ascot Week as well (on sale for $282, Les Nouvelles):

…but only if accompanied by a statement-making headpiece (otherwise — it’s not dressy enough).  This $350 Del Mar Hat Co. “Opening Day” variation should do the trick:

Alternately, the Trina Turk “Etiquette” dress (what a perfect name) could be your lucky little number ($248, Trina Turk — though it’s all over the place, including at Nordstrom):

You could go matchy-matchy with a tone-on-tone yellow hat (see this Del Mar Hat Co. version for $250) — strict color coordination seems to be a de rigueur fashion practice at the races — but I just can’t get behind that.  It looks too matronly.  I’d bend the rules a tad and swap in a neutral with a big design ($350, also Del Mar Hat Co.):

Much fresher.  It would look just as lovely with this structured Milly dress ($398, Mabel and Zora — also comes in white at Net-A-Porter):

(Beware: if you’re long-legged, this dress might infringe upon the “no minidress” rule — for petites like myself, it’d be suitable.  Oh, and by the way: heels seem to be the footwear of choice, although one magpie reader has provided me with some insider intel: it’s next to impossible to make the trek along the dirt road from the station to the racecourse and then walk through grass all day without wanting to die.  Hm.  Fashion predicament.)

And if you’re looking for something still brighter, this fire-engine red Milly dress is as eye-catching as it is appropriate — tres chic, tres Lanvin ($324, Mint Julep):

Now you might be able to get away with a color-coordinated hat in this case.  The cut and style of the dress are fashion-forward enough to take anything fuddy-duddy (i.e. tone-on-tone hat and dress getup) into the 21st century.

(Kokin “Sevilla Hat” — $448, Hats in the Belfry.  Love the big bow.)

Speaking of “bows” — let’s talk about your beau.  What is “morning dress,” and does he have to wear it?  Morning dress entails a tailcoat, waistcoat, and striped pants.  Men may also wear morning suits — a popular all-gray variation.  And yes, he must wear it.

A top hat is also required (I had formerly suggested they were just “typical”– thanks, reader!) of gents at the Ascot Races (snag a decent one — like the one below — at Hat Box, $220):

Still not clear on the rules?  Check it out:

Vodpod videos no longer available.

I’ll be raising a glass from this (far less fashion-policed) side of the pond.  Cheerio!

Photo by Chris Jackson


Several of you have asked after my mother’s go-to manicurist, whom I mentioned in my “All About My Mother” post.  Her name is Gloria and she works at Salon Jean Paul on Yuma Street in the Spring Valley area of NW Washington, D.C.  You can arrange an appointment by calling 202.905.0706.  You may just be lucky enough to brush shoulders with my own magpie mother.  (After a mani/pedi, walk around the corner to Wagshal’s Deli — amazing sandwiches and deli meats.  Their brisket earns an A+ from the Washington Post’s tough food critics.  It’s dry-aged; cured; rubbed with 16 spices; smoked; then let to rest.)

Also, check out my new email subscription feature (bottom right hand corner of the blog home page) — opt to get an email anytime I post!

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