I’ve always hated dress codes, but dressing for Ascot was a total joy
At around 8:45 am yesterday morning, I found myself grappling with an object that seemed somewhat familiar but which, after being relegated to obscurity, felt rather foreign to me. I hadn’t worn a tie in 16 months, since February 2020 when the opportunity (a meeting with our future king, no less – couldn’t do that in an open-necked shirt) demanded it. It was weird to tie myself up again in an elegant outfit.
It wasn’t just any old City-ready costume, but the ultimate in evening wear: a morning suit and top hat before a trip to the Royal Enclosure in Royal Ascot. That meant paying attention to all the unnecessary frills, studious observations of the finest details, and the extreme thoroughness that is required to adhere to the strict dress codes of the enclosure. And after months and months of sloppy hoodies and tracksuits, it was a total joy.
Because, here’s the thing. Despite (or maybe because of) my role as a men’s style editor, I can’t stand expensive dress codes. I find the notion of disapproval pursed lips at the cut of a jacket or the elegance of a collar quite archaic; like a hawkish dowager aunt who hisses at you to be careful of your manners. Although I consider myself, in most cases, presentable, even I have fallen under the spell of a few outdated fashion cops.
There was a business meeting at a private club where I showed up in a lightweight unlined black Prada blazer, only to be informed that it did not meet “blazer requirements”. There was the nerdy Dubai bar that vetoed my stylish leather sneakers, recommending formal shoes in 49 degrees heat. There were sharp looks when I wore a grandpa collared shirt with a tuxedo to a black tie dinner party. Pearls were seized.
That doesn’t mean for a second that I arrogantly thinks I’m above dressing appropriately. I think Tom Ford was right that dressing well is a sign of respect for others. Singer Jess Glynne claiming she was “discriminated against” for being refused entry to chi-chi restaurant Mayfair Sexy Fish for wearing a hoodie and sweatpants is childish at best. People wearing T-shirts and shorts around afternoon tea at Claridge’s should read the Riot Act. But determining how “smart enough” a blazer is.
There is no more fussy than Ascot when it comes to dress codes. Beau Brummell, the great 19th century dandy, acted as the Prince Regent’s advisor to formulate the rules, and they are as exacting as one would expect of the man who defined the flamboyant English style.
Despite a kind of “relaxation” of the rules of the Enclosure Royal (the most chic and strict area) in the form of navy blue authorized in the jackets and playful or patriotic patterns on the vests, this remains very demanding.
The Royal Enclosure dress code for men is a gray, black or navy morning gown, black or gray top hat with no customization allowed, black shoes with socks (no cuffs) and absolutely no novelty accessories . Face masks can be surgical, but should preferably complement your other accessories. There is no room for maneuver, and the outfits are scrutinized on arrival. Even for a refusnik like me, it’s good because it’s appropriate. And the process of getting dressed again was quite a splendid experience.
Contemplating a black woolen gown as the temperature hits 27 degrees is no small task, but thanks to the expertise of Ascot’s official licensee, the specialist in traditional formal wear Favourbrook, it’s no small feat. as tortuous as it sounds. House founder Oliver Spencer outfitted me with a lightweight version that isn’t as heavy as it looks, and the micro houndstooth pants are deceptively soft though they are is pleated and structured.
Shaftesbury wool and cashmere morning coat, £ 990, Favourbrook
Gallery: Balenciaga’s Croc Collaboration Features Stiletto Heels (ELLE (UK))
There’s a lot of layering involved, with a shirt, waistcoat (with Favourbrook’s distinctive scalloped cuff) and tie, but the muted hues that Spencer directed me to – a shell-pink silk moiré fabric with a ikat pattern and a lilac tie, next to my own plum colored pocket square – felt more suitable for summer. While the loafers were spotted elsewhere the same day, I stuck with a sturdy pair of Grenson Oxford shoes.
Of course, the biggest company in terms of the Royal Enclosure uniform is the top hat, a shiny cathedral hat and a hat immediately reminiscent of great British sartorial traditions. I place myself firmly in the experienced hands of Lock & Co. Hatters, founded in 1676 and the world’s oldest hat maker (in fact, the 34th oldest family business in existence), which created Napoleon Bonaparte hats for everyone. to the lining of Queen Elizabeth’s coronation crown.
Silk top hat, £ POA, Lock & Co. Hatmakers
The company’s dressing room recalls the appeal of its customers, with measurements of Winston Churchill, Prince Philip, Duke of Windsor, Lawrence Olivier, Oscar Wilde, Harold Wilson, Franklin Roosevelt, of Princess Diana, Cecil Beaton and Charlie Chaplin. The greatest heads in history have the Lock & Co. treatment.
I was fitted with a device straight out of a Victorian surgery room called a shaper, which tightened around my head as various keys were adjusted. The shiny moleskin top hat was then steamed to fit my measurements. It’s a gloriously old-school experience.
Once in place, along with the full kit and the dust jacket caboodle, a top hat creates a striking silhouette that could only be an event of the English season. And despite the weight and weight of the hat and outfit, it’s refreshing to feel resplendent, as opposed to just “passable on a Zoom call” once again. It changes your posture and figure, and makes you feel more upright and confident.
If you are going for the full morning dress ceremony this summer, a few tips. If you have to take any advice from Prince Charles, pale gray is a glorious way to show off your morning coat prowess. It’s stylish alongside the lilac and purple accessories the royal is known to wear with him, and its lighter hue stands out against the more ubiquitous mid-grays and blacks. Some of the prettiest older gentlemen I recorded from my day at the races were in the palest gray.
Another tip is to streamline what you carry; the curved pockets sound the death knell for the tight-fitting shape of a jacket. Remember that proper morning coats, like the ones that Favoritebrook produces, have a hidden pocket in the tail, a nod to their original use as equestrian attire when the pocket was used to store gloves. ‘horse riding.
Dressed happily and sipping chilled champagne while cheering Onassis in the Duke of Cambridge Stakes, it was the best way to draw a line in last year’s sartorial form and start from scratch.
Royal Ascot is back – with some dress codes and Covid changes
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