‘Grandpacore’, girdle straps and top hats – the Ascot dress code is more confusing than ever

If you’re going to Royal Ascot in a few weeks, should you dress up? I only ask because, in April, the official Royal Ascot Instagram account dropped a video featuring a cowboy in a lively cowboy outfit and glittering boots.

‘Ascot presents The Ascot You,’ the video declares, before the cowboy walks around Piccadilly Circus and admires himself in the window of Lillywhites, accompanied by a suitable man. Once in the West soundtrack.

It’s a spiffy suit and looks very Dallas, but I’m not entirely sure you’d bother wearing it to Ascot.

You definitely don’t go into the Royal Enclosure, where fancy dress is not allowed. According to the Ascot website, ‘custom top hats (with, for example, colored ribbons, feathers or decorations)’ are also not allowed.

In other words, if you went to all the trouble of dressing up as the cowboy in this year’s Ascot advert and then tried to enter the event wearing a hat decorated with rhinestones, chances are good that you turned away. Which would be very annoying as the badge to enter the Royal enclosure this year costs £195.

A distraught fashion stylist informed me of the cow situation. ‘I’ve had a lot of conversations recently with milliners, particularly about their biggest week of the year and how orders have dropped,’ she told me. ‘Clients are confused about what to wear and it feels like Ascot is moving in a very different direction.’

Royal Ascot front cover

Daniel Fletcher’s eye-catching book cover features two women in polka dot dresses, hats and ties – Becky Hetherington

This year, for the first time ever, Ascot has appointed a creative director, a man called Daniel Fletcher and a successful young fashion designer who has dressed the likes of Harry Styles, Nick Jonas and Emma Corrin.

In March, Daniel revealed this year’s lookbook, with outfit suggestions for the various enclosures.

On the cover are two women in dresses, hats and polka-dot ties; inside a woman wears a dress made by a hot new label, Chopova Lowena, which seems to come with straps over her chest, and a man wears a suit made by Daniel Fletcher himself, under the heading ‘Grandpacore’.

low chopovalow chopova

A dress by Lowena Chopova in the lookbook appears to ‘come with straps that cinch across her chest,’ writes Money-Coutts – Becky Hetherington

You are a telegraph reader and he might be a grandfather, but in case you’ve missed the 2024 trend, ‘grandfather’ means an old knit, high-waisted trousers and maybe a pair of glasses.

You may be wearing them all right now to read this piece, in which case, congratulations. You have accidentally nailed one of the biggest looks of the year.

There are some great hats in the lookbook, with models in vintage Hermes scarves and employee hats to make the point that you don’t need to buy a whole new outfit.

‘Can you work with the pieces in your wardrobe to create a new Royal Ascot look or take your Mum’s old prom dress and tailor it to meet the dress code?’ Daniel writes at the beginning of the sustainable section.

I would hazard a guess that a good number of people in Ascot, at least in the Royal Enclosure, do not know what a prom is. But I could ask my mother the same question.

Ascot’s attempt to attract younger fans has caused a bit of a fuss, however, and unhappy traditionalists. ‘This all awakened “be who you want to be”, someone tells me. ‘If you want to be who you want to be, don’t go to Ascot and celebrate the Royal family.’

A miller points out to me, with what looks like genuine disdain, that the look book has ‘men with sweaters’, as if wearing a sweater to the racecourse is some kind of perversion of you.


Ascot’s attempt to modernize is causing concern among traditionalists – Becky Hetherington

‘The style guide is confusing, made by someone who doesn’t understand the tradition,’ continues the milliner. ‘I’m desperate!’ declares the stylist.

Should Royal Ascot be adapted or not? For a few years now, he has been trying. In 2017 he declared that women could wear jumpsuits in the Royal enclosure; in 2021, the biggest news was that men could wear a navy suit, instead of black or grey. The position of the buffs, and so on.

You may have seen some of the ads for the week this year announcing ‘There’s you. And then you have Ascot.’ In one, a woman wears a floor-length dress in a washroom. In another, a man in pigtails and a top hat holds a fork in an allotment.

Maybe a little patronising, maybe, sticking models dressed for Ascot in places like launderettes and allotments – but you can see what they’re trying to do. It’s not just for the toffs, that’s their point. Anyone can go to Ascot.

Last year I went in an electric pink pantsuit and a Panama hat, but this year I declined the invitation. Not because I’m horrified by the sightbook; simply because I didn’t like it. It was a very kind invitation from some very kind friends and we had a lovely lunch in the car park, but the 10.47 from Clapham Junction was a very unhealthy experience, the racecourse was overcrowded, we hardly looked at a horse , and to get back on the train again we were in a pen queue, and anything that takes the glamor out of a day like being kettled at the end of the day.

Racecourses need to make money, like everyone else these days. But should Royal Ascot try harder to maintain standards? The King and Queen are expected to go this year, after all. Should Camilla wear a wedding dress?

Models for Royal AscotModels for Royal Ascot

‘Should Royal Ascot try harder to maintain standards?’ – Becky Hetherington

Many of his quiz friends say they don’t bother with the week anymore, that it has changed in the last decade or so and is like many other race meetings – too noisy, too crowded , too interested in horses.

Australian racing fans suggest that focusing on style and fashion can be an attempt to accidentally drag a horse onto the track, in an attempt to find the future of the scene when the sport is in disrepute for being cruel. Down Under, she says, race meetings are called carnivals and are as much about the costumes and main musical acts as the racing.

Maybe that’s the future here? We’ll see. But better luck if you’re going in a few weeks, and don’t despair if you’re stuck for a hat.

A Stetson might do the trick. You can say you’ve seen it on their Instagram.

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