Dressing for Ascot - A History

With so much focus on the ladies at Royal Ascot, it's time to put the boys in the spotlight. So, let's begin at the beginning with the history of men’s dress at this most sartorial of sporting events.

As with any event that has been running for over 300 years, you might expect the fashions of Royal Ascot to have changed extensively. As society changes, so too do fashions but the sartorial expectations at Royal Ascot are not about fashion, they are about style.

Style is about visual elegance, tradition and class. Fashion, as Oscar Wilde so eloquently put it, ‘is a form of ugliness so intolerable that we have to alter it every six months.’ Fashion is what is popular today; style will look good for centuries. Rooted in this priority of style over fashion, the dress code for men at Royal Ascot has changed very little over the last three centuries. However, minor evolutions have occurred and should not be overlooked.

The first race at Royal Ascot was in 1711, but dress style for the races can be traced back to the Regency Era. Beau Brummell was a dandy – often credited as being the original dandy - and certainly one of the first men to be famed for his attire. When he decreed the rules of style, everyone followed: ‘men of elegance should wear waisted black coats and white cravats with pantaloons’. This became the original standard dress code for Royal Ascot.

ascot-races-beau-brummell George 'Beau' Brummell - the original dandy

Over the years, the spirit of this standard has remained, but the style has evolved. In the mid-late 1700s, the morning coat (inspired by military wear) evolved into standard dress for horse riding (a morning activity for the well-to-do). During this time the frock coat would have been the accepted standard for formal occasions, comprising a knee length black coat with silk facing lapels, waistcoat, cashmere striped trousers, black button boots and a loose-knot cravat (which was also known as an ‘ascot’, being named after the races themselves).

ascot-cravat-ascot-races An 'ascot' cravat

By the Victorian era, morning dress as we know it (single-button morning cut tailcoat, waistcoat, striped trouser, shirt, braces, black shoes, top hat) gradually replaced the frock coat as everyday wear for professionals like doctors and bankers, while the frock coat remained a standard for weddings and other traditional affairs throughout the Edwardian era. Frock coats with an ascot would have been standard dress for Royal Ascot during this era. However, by the 1920s and 30s, the popularity of frock coats was waning, with lounge suits growing in popularity for every day wear and morning suits replacing frock coats for formal occasions. King Edward VIII abolished the frock coat at court in 1936, making the morning suit a staple for all formal occasions. Gentlemen attending Royal Ascot from this era onwards would have worn morning dress with either a tie or an ascot, finished with a top hat.

historical-morning-dress-at-ascot Victorian Morning dress at Royal Ascot

Because formalwear is mainly traditional in style and is not affected by changing fashions, morning dress has remained popular for formal events to this day, with little change since the mid-1930s. However, there has been one quite significant recent change to the formalwear standard for Royal Ascot. In 2012, the event organisers responded to a backlash from attendees complaining that the dress code for the races had become too lax. Since then, tighter rules have been introduced to include morning dress, black shoes, a top hat and a tie as the menswear standard. The ascot style cravat was also banned with neckties being dictated as the official replacement.

So, just as lounge suits replaced the morning suit for casual wear and the morning suit replaced the frock coat for formal wear, ascots have been replaced by long neck ties. Although the ascot would have remained popular in formal wear up until the 1970s, the ascot is no longer welcome at Royal Ascot because, according to them, the ascot is not formal daywear, but wedding attire.

yardsmen-morning-suits Yardsmen Morning Suits

We have an exclusive hirewear offer available for this year’s Ascot. Early booking is advisable as this is our busiest hirewear period.

But, whatever your sartorial needs, whether for a day at the races or beyond, we’re here to help. Visit us in Waterloo, call us or send us an email for more information.

Further Reading;
Royal Ascot – An Introduction
A Day at the Races - Exclusive Hirewear Offer
Dressing for Royal Ascot