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Ascot Through the Ages

Posted 19.06.23

Royal Ascot is arguably the last race meeting in the world where formal day dress is required for those fortunate enough to be accredited to the Royal Enclosure.

Founded by Queen Anne in 1711, Ascot has been the glass of masculine fashion for the tailors and makers of gentlemen’s requisites on Savile Row and in St James’s since George III erected a marquee in 1808, presenting the royal family and their guests with strict codes of dress.

Today, formal men’s dress at the Royal Meeting is as stringent as it was in 1914 and remains as it was a century ago: namely, black or grey morning tails, waistcoat, shirt, tie and top hat. However, within the rules men have licence to be as flamboyant, if not as extreme, as the late great Mrs Shilling - the Ascot Mascot - whose sky-scraping hats made by her son David caused applause and outrage in equal measure.

Contrary to Sir Cecil Beaton’s Edwardian ‘Ascot scene’ in the film My Fair Lady, where all the chaps in the Royal Enclosure wore dove grey morning coats, the grey three-piece was not popularised until the 20s, when Turnbull & Asser icon the Prince of Wales (the future Edward VIII) broke with protocol and favoured grey rather than black. The Prince fell foul of his father George V when he once wore grey, forgetting the court was in mourning for a distant royal relative. His tailor Scholte made a black morning coat overnight in time for the royal carriage procession the next day.

Black morning tails still rule in the Royal Enclosure, though puppy tooth trousers rather than the traditional black and grey pinstripe are the rage. Sheikh Mohammad and the present Prince of Wales still wear grey three-piece morning suits and antique black silk top hats: a preference the Queen has made known. The grey felt topper with black hatband first appeared in 1901 at ‘Black Ascot’ to mark mourning for Queen Victoria. Unfortunately, this style tends to look hired and is frowned upon in the Enclosure. James Lock & Co on St James’s Street still sells restored antique black silk toppers for a four-figure sum.

Should you wish to see how the racing establishment dresses for Ascot, always look at the Owners and Trainers in the Parade Ring.

Ascot in Turnbull & Asser

While the Official Royal Ascot Dress Code remains unchanged, the Ascot Racecourse has unveiled a new direction for its annual Style Guide for the first time in over a decade. This 2023 Royal Ascot lookbook inspires racegoers to envision an ensemble that is authentic to their personal sartorial style.

Look no further than Turnbull & Asser for your Ascot staples. A sartorial starting point is a cotton shirt, as the basis of any gentleman’s smart ensemble. In place of a simple white shirt, elevate it with a Light Blue End-on-End Shirt with Contrast Collars, which is a subtle but elegant distinction to the normal every day. Exceptionally made in blue cotton, this clean-cut design features contrasting white collars and cuffs for a sleek finish.

Building on the ensemble, we approach the sartorial centrepiece. Whether you opt for a three-piece or two-piece suit, a Morning Coat or Blazer undoubtedly completes a look.

The Morning Coat is a popular choice among racegoers and a must in the Royal Enclosure. Our Morning Suit in Black Plain Wool is a safe and stylish bet, featuring a long jacket with a tail and peak lapels. Tailcoats are never removed in the Royal Enclosure, but top hats are when in a marquee or a private box. Pair it with one of our tailored Navy Escorial Wool Trousers for a sharp ensemble. Find our Morning Suit exclusively in-store at Jermyn Street, London or 50 East 57th Street, New York.

For the stylish gent at Ascot, the Grey Multi Check Barrington blazer is one of our finest jackets to date. In a light, sophisticated linen and wool blend, with slanting flap pockets and perfectly proportioned notch lapels, it's the quintessential centrepiece for any Ascot attire. For that meticulous detail, our sales associates have advised you to ensure your shirt sleeves are only peeking through half an inch outside of the suit and to end right above the top of your wrist bone. Any more or less can be assumed an ill-fitting shirt or jacket.

 Accessorising for the Royal Ascot is the cherry on top and the perfect way to show your flair. The dandy man’s dapper favourite, a soft Black and White Mini Spot Silk Ascot tie is a suave touch compared to a traditional knotted tie. Hand-sewn in England by a team of artisans, the silk used is woven using techniques dating back hundreds of years. 

And for the final touch, a pocket square. Choose from vibrant and colourful patterns like an Orange Spotted Silk or a more modest single-tone like a White-Piped Silk Pocket Square. Dotty silk ties look their best when paired with a pearl tie stud or antique tiepin.

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