Dressing to impress: how to stand out at Royal Ascot, all while following the rules

Royal Ascot is one of the great occasions of the Season, and we have the definitive guide on how to dress the part.

This might shock you, but we here at Country Life like rules. They are useful when it comes to clothes, this is why I was such a fan of my school uniform. At Royal Ascot there are plenty of rules — the idea is to conform, but also stand out. It’s quite fun to dress up as someone else for the day, and as long as the shoes are comfortable, and you’re wearing a breathable fabric, the pomp and ceremony of The Royal Enclosure is a joyous thing to be part of. There are a few simple dress code rules to adhere to, which can be found here, and below is my go-to-guide on how to make waves while staying on the right side of the stewards.


Hats: Must have a solid base, no frizzy fascinators please, and they must be four inches in diameter at least — but really, bigger is better. Novelty will get you in the papers, but not for the right reasons. Hats may be removed within any enclosed external seating area within the Royal Enclosure Garden.

Dresses: below the knee and nothing strapless, which I always think is a waste of a sleeve opportunity anyway. Straps must be at least an inch wide, the same goes for under a jacket, too, in case you have to whip it off. It’s a ‘no’ to one-shoulder or off-the-shoulder numbers. 

Jumpsuits, culottes and trousers can be worn (and I encourage them) as long as they fall below the knee.

Credit: Jonathan Tennant / Alamy Stock Photo


Shirts: apparently technically you’re allowed a short sleeve shirt, but also, absolutely not. Why miss the chance to sport some lovely cufflinks?

Socks: this really shouldn’t need to be said, but yes, please cover your ankles

Waistcoats: please choose something refined, pastels are ideal. Novelty waistcoats are not permitted and it would be really awkward not to be allowed in. Patterns are welcome.

Top hats: must be plain black or grey and may be removed within a restaurant, a private box, a private club or that facility’s terrace, balcony or garden. 

What to wear


I would encourage you to have fun with your outfit, it’s only once a year (unless you are the type to go every day or work in the industry) so I would suggest going all out. If you buy something new, do make sure you can wear it again and again — this is where separates come into their own. 

Suits and waistcoats

Don’t automatically opt for a dress, as suits can be very versatile, especially if the weather is looking mixed. The Deck makes beautiful bespoke women’s suits, but for something off the peg, look at this fun ensemble from Borgo de Nor.

Borgo do Nor Fern Linen Waistcoat and Melia Trousers, both in Wanderlust Pink

Wear it with a big pink hat like this from Jane Taylor and pair it with some comfortable-all-day shoes from Penelope Chilvers. Wear these trousers with a white shirt, and the waistcoat with jeans the rest of the summer, too. 

Hersilia Candy Pink hat from Jane Taylor.

Waistcoats are flattering and comfortable, and I would recommend sizing up a notch so they are even more flattering on limbs and will keep you aerated. Swan around the Royal Enclosure feeling incredibly chic in this two piece from Sézane. Keep accessories simple with a woven black and ivory clutch from Aspinal of London, and these cream and black raffia open toe mules  by Manolo Blahnik. Finishing touches could involve a gorgeous cuff like this Aalto Espa gold piece by Cassandra Goad 

Woven black and ivory clutch by Aspinal of London.

I’ve become transfixed by Alemais’ designs this season and in particular their silk coords. This floral silk shirt and trousers would be sensational with a large straw hat, or a structured boater. Possibly one for taller women, and there are incredible large ribbon bows all up the back. Dreamy. 

Alemais Constance Shirt and Trousers.


I recently tried on this Molly Dress at Seren London’s SS24 launch, and the brand’s designs just never fail to impress me. Their bold patterns are endlessly wearable thanks to the miraculously flattering cuts, you think ‘this won’t suit me’ and then, it just does. These colours are perfect for a summer day at the races, then wear again with sandals all summer long. Also the Cece dress was the style I wore to Country Life’s 125 party at Claridge’s and I will never tire of it. 

Seren Molly Dress.

For little jackets to cover arms or drape elegantly over shoulders Lalage Beaumont has some very chic pieces and also look at her handbags, which are made in every colour of the rainbow to match an outfit perfectly, and the ideal size for the day, too. 


A milliner I adore is Rachel Trevor-Morgan, a true artist whose headgear is heavenly. She can make you something unique, but at this stage in the day you could pop in and see what she has made up — always a fun trip. Same goes for Lock & Co whose designs range from chic little pillbox numbers to bigger statement pieces. They once kindly lent me a straw boater like this one and I felt very cool — literally and metaphorically. Jane Taylor always hits the right note and her experts are on hand from now til the day you go to help with your headgear. 

Chai Gold Boater by Lock & Co.

Ribbon gurus VV Rouleaux have a new millinery concept V V Chapeaux Atelier which means you’ll not risk having the same headgear as anyone else. Mix elements from the company’s vast range of ribbons and trimmings, many of which are vintage finds, to create the perfect party piece matching (or cleverly clashing with) your chosen outfit. Ready-to-wear is also available for last minute hat hecticness. This one is rather exquisite 


I once interviewed jeweller Kiki Mcdonough who told me simply to ‘wear jewellery that suits you, not just because it matches your clothes and never wear long earrings with a hat — the smaller the hat, the bigger the earrings can be’ 

I like the idea of no necklace and a bold cuff — I would avoid the trend for stacking lots of chain necklaces as this might look great on the beach or with a t-shirt, but clutters up a potentially lovely neckline. 


Sorry sorry, I mustn’t forget you chaps, but really you have it easy compared to the rigmarole we have to go through. Favourbrook for tails or hire through Oliver Brown, who can also sort you out with a top hat, being the official Royal Ascot licensee for top hats. A very important role. 

Morning coat, waistcoat, trousers and shoes by Favourbrook.


The above outfitters can help here too, but also look at Sirplus for more affordable options in lovely colours. They make their pieces from ‘cabbage’ fabric, so it’s an eco-conscious option, which, alongside hiring the rest of your gear, would be a good idea. 

Waistcoat by Sirplus

Royal Ascot runs from June 18–22.

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