Ascot orders cover-up for race-goers amid accusations Queen's favourite meeting is dumbing down
Crackdown: Ascot wants its guests to dress with more refinement
In recent years, efforts to broaden appeal have seen the stands at Royal Ascot become increasingly popular with a less distinguished – and rather more casually dressed – breed of race-goer.
Now, following accusations that the Queen’s favourite annual meeting is dumbing down, the racecourse is again tightening up its dress code outside of the already stringent royal enclosure.
The move will affect thousands of visitors who use the grandstand during the week-long June meet, attended each day by members of the Royal Family.
It will call for gentlemen to wear a shirt and tie, with a jacket, while it is expected that ladies will be given strict instructions on skirt length and the width of dress straps.
Ascot spokesman Nick Smith said yesterday that in recent years the dress code had been ‘relaxed’ to rid the sport of its elitist image and attract more racegoers to the 300-year-old event.
But he admitted many had since come dressed ‘as if they are going to the beach’.
‘Everything has been relaxed over the last few years but it had been clearly indicated to us by our regular customers that it is not right for us,’ he said.
‘With standards it is very hard to give an inch without a mile being taken.
‘We will get criticism, not everyone is going to be happy. But I’m pretty optimistic that the silent majority will be.
'Relaxed': Efforts to broaden the races' appeal have led to a wider spectrum of society attending the event
‘We have taken the view that Ascot is different and standards of dress are linked in with it.
He added: ‘It was decided we should bring back the sense that going to Ascot is special and unique.’ But the less formal Silver Ring area would not be affected, he added.
Details of the exact dress code are due to be finalised over the next few weeks but it is understood that sports attire, jeans and shorts will be strictly forbidden.
With the first jumps meeting of the season due to be held at Ascot on Saturday, stewards will start to enforce the no leisure-wear rule building up to the showpiece royal meeting in June.
It is also understood that the already fairly rigid dress code for the royal enclosure – where only formal day dress including morning suits and hats or ‘substantial fascinators’ is acceptable – is also under review.
Inappropriate: A spokesman said some guests had complained over the outfits
Spokesman Mr Smith insisted that the track would exercise common sense in policing the new rules.
He said: ‘We are not going to get ourselves into a situation where we have an all-out fight with our customers. It will take a while to change some people’s habits.’
But it is hoped that the changes will ensure that commentators are not forced, as they were last year, to describe the meeting as ‘a sea of flesh and unsightly tattoos’ with women in ‘tawdry dresses’.
Ascot’s move has won the support of Racing For Change, which has championed the breaking down of barriers on racecourses.
Fashion police: Hat designer Tracy Rose. It is thought likely that organisers will impose a minimum skirt length and rules on width of dress straps
Spokesman Nick Attenborough said; ‘We looked at whether there should be one standard dress code and on a family fun day we would not think it appropriate to be too formal but courses know their customer best and dressing up is an experience for some people.’
The history of Ascot can be traced back to 1711, when Queen Anne first saw the potential for a racecourse on an area of open heath not far from Windsor Castle.
The inaugural event, Her Majesty’s Plate, was held on August 11, 1711 – the prize a handsome 100 guineas.
Ever since then Ascot has been inextricably linked with the Royal family, attracting the highest ranking and most fashionable members of society who come to see and be seen as well as enjoy the racing.
Queen Elizabeth II has not missed a meeting since she first attended with her parents in 1945, aged 19.
She spends four summer days there each year and no other engagement is allowed to take precedence over Royal Ascot, which attracts some 300,000 visitors.
Four years ago the racecourse owners were forced to issue a guide to dress and etiquette in order to encourage better deportment among visitors which included suggestions that women wear ‘knickers, but not on show’, cover their midriffs and take care not to apply streaky fake tans.
The decline in standards has not gone unnoticed, as racing commentator Sir Peter O’Sullevan pointed out when he said: ‘Sometimes the grandstands seem over-run by tattoos and bare flesh. It’s disrespectful – not just to the Queen, but to the horses.’