The Utterly Inessential Ascot Shopping List: How to safely navigate one of British society’s most draconian dress codes

We've rounded up all the utterly inessential products that you absolutely do not need (top hats for Ascot aside) to enjoy this summers season of festivals, shows and races. This week: Royal Ascot.

Any event with the word ‘royal’ in the title is bound to come with its own unique dress code. Henley is the younger sibling of the lot; unless you’re going to dinner at your grandparents (Stewards Enclosure), you can get away with a nice dress and a harmless blazer.

Ascot is a little more draconian. Each of the three seasons come with their own unique dress code. Thankfully, you only have to worry about one for now. Unfortunately, it’s the most stringent one.

The Royal Ascot Dress Code (it’s so institutional that those capitals are indeed correct) spreads out over four different enclosures, each with their own unique rules. Deep breath.

The women’s Royal Ascot Dress Code spreads over half a page of words and warnings, the best of which being ‘a headpiece which has a solid base of 4 inches (10cm) or more in diameter is acceptable as an alternative to a hat’. Ladies, get your rulers out.

The male dress code is slightly more forgiving in some ways and less in others. Black or grey morning dress is a requirement, as is a black or grey top hat. After that, it’s up to you!

It’s not. It’s really not. Keep reading to avoid social suicide. 

Hats off to you sir

Customisation of top hats is strictly prohibited, so you’ll have to let your personality shine in other ways. No coloured ribbons for you. However, a tasteful pair of binoculars never goes amiss – to watch the race or, a more likely use, to spy on other people’s outfits.

Binoculars, £85, Henry Gregory, www.henrygregoryantiques.com

Top hat, from £500, Oliver Brown www.oliverbrown.org.uk


If horses eat Polos, you should too

Next up on things-that-could-get-you-kicked-out-of-Ascot: Waistcoats. The key here? Be sensible. Novelty waistcoats are not permitted, nor are novelty ties. In fact, it may shock you, but fancy dress in all its shapes and forms (except the fancy dress which requires you to wear a top hat, of course) will earn you a swift escort out of the vicinity of the better-dressed folks. You probably wouldn’t even get into the Waitrose down the road.

There is one caveat; waistcoats ‘of a patriotic nature’ are permitted, so dust off your union jack patterns and get cracking.

Every gentleman should carry mints, wear a watch and have a chilled bottle of Pol Roger at the ready. I would say this is an unwritten rule but, well, I just wrote it. Another unwritten rule that is now written down; full beard or clean shaven at posh events, or else you’ll risk looking scruffy.

Waistcoat, £135, Sir Plus www.sirplus.co.ukDolceVita watch, £1,240, Longines, www.longines.co.uk; Aventus eau de parfum, £250, Creed, www.creedfragrances.co.uk

Edwardian shaving brush, £180 for set, Truefitt & Hill, www.truefittandhill.co.uk; notebook, £45, Smythson, www.smythson.com; cufflinks, £110, Deakin & Francis, www.deakinandfrancis.co.uk

Brut Réserve Champagne, £45, Pol Roger, www.polroger.co.uk


You’ll need something to throw when your horse is pipped to the post

Look, at the end of the day, you’re there to have a good time. So get out your Racing Post, swallow a quick mint and tell Dover to move his bloomin’ arse. We’re sure you’ll do fine.

Morning trousers, £275, Oliver Brown www.oliverbrown.org.uk; silk tie, £65, Oliver Brown www.oliverbrown.org.uk; cotton socks, £30, Gieves & Hawkes, www.gievesandhawkes.com; Chelsea shoes, £965, Edward Green,  www.edwardgreen.com


If you purchased our entire shopping list you would’ve spent £3,490 and good golly old chap, you’ll fit right in. Just remember to only remove your hat when in a restaurant, a Private Box, a private club or a terrace, balcony or garden.