Royal Ascot Ladies Day

Ladies Day is the highlight of the Royal Ascot meeting. Tens of thousands of horse racing fans pour into Ascot Racecourse to witness the running of the famous Group 1 Royal Ascot Gold Cup which takes place amidst one of the fashion and cultural highlights of the year.

The combination of high stakes and high fashion precedes Ladies Day by hundreds of years. In the early days of racing at Ascot, the on-track action was watched mainly by the English nobility, who were treated to lavish banquets and dances once the day’s racing had come to a close.

Just when the third day of racing at the Royal Ascot meeting came to be known as Ladies Day is difficult to tell. Legend has it that the third day at the races was traditionally the most popular, and drew in the largest crowds, including a big proportion of female spectators drawn to the pageantry, style and elegance of the event.

It was around the time that the first Royal Ascot Gold Cup was run that the tradition of Royal Ascot Ladies Day took root. During this period Beau Brummel, a close friend of the Prince Regent, advised him that it would be appropriate for men to wear black suits and waistcoats along with white cravats.

Over time this new dress requirement evolved into the rule, requiring male attendees to wear full morning suits with top hats. Women were provided a little more flexibility of choice, so long as they wore a hat and their attire was deemed ‘suitable’ – which meant no thin shoulder straps on dresses and a prohibition on bared midriffs.

As the years passed, Royal Ascot Ladies Day evolved into something of an unofficial fashion contest, with ladies competing for the finest hats. The Royal Procession at 2pm on Ladies Day sets the tone for the occasion, with the Queen and other Royals donning their finest as an open carriage transports them across the Ascot turf.

Whilst the Queen’s attire tends to be relatively formal, this is not the case throughout the Royal Enclosure. Many female race-goers attempt to compensate for the strict Royal Ascot Ladies Day and Royal Enclosure dress code by sporting the most outrageous hats in a contest that has been likened by some to the “Oscars” of the hat-makers.