Clothes make the man.
Naked people have little or no influence on society. — Mark Twain
Sometimes clothes make the entire event.
Jeff and I attended Royal Ascot for the first time this June. We were invited on the First Day, and despite drippy weather, nothing could dampen our spirits.
The Ascot invitation was accompanied by a compact yet formidable rulebook that outlined in detail the sartorial requirements for admission with picture references to ensure no errors of judgment.
Suffice it to say, the average teenage girl’s wardrobe of spaghetti strapped mid-riff baring tops and short skirts up to there are verboten. Most importantly, hats and headpieces are mandatory and “must be worn at all times”. Furthermore, fascinators are not permitted and all headpieces must have a “solid base covering a sufficient area of the head” (4 inches to be exact)!
My hat was my first purchase, carefully considered as I tried on colorful creations featuring feathers, flowers, and bows. I learned from my hat designer who was in residence at Fortnum and Mason that as a rule, the brim of the hat should not exceed the width of one’s shoulders. I chose a somewhat conservative style with feathered pizzazz in my favorite soft green color.
Gentlemen must also follow a strict code of dress that includes a waistcoat and tie but “no cravats”, a black or grey top hat, and black shoes. The top hat may be removed within a restaurant, private club, or terrace. Hence, there was not a coat check, but a top hat check in our dining facility.
Jeff and I pulled off our respective looks, though I do think Jeff resembled Mr. Monopoly!
I channeled Eliza Doolittle from My Fair Lady. In fact, I would have welcomed the expertise of my own Henry Higgins for his wisdom and worldliness during the hat selection process.
During the memorable Ascot scene in the musical, My Fair Lady, the crowd sings the Ascot Gavotte:
Ev’ry duke and earl and peer is hereEv’ryone who should be here is here.What a smashing, positively dashingSpectacle: the Ascot op’ning day.
I don’t know about dukes and earls, but the Queen made a wonderful appearance in her carriage as we watched the procession from the Royal Enclosure. I enjoyed hearing the genuine outpouring of affection from the crowd when they caught sight of the hard-to-miss Queen in her lemony yellow glow. “Ahh she looks so dear…what a lovely lady…isn’t she grand“. People literally cooed endearments that showed how beloved a figure Elizabeth II is as she enters her 90th year. (Note Prince Harry sporting a ginger beard in the front of the carriage and Zara waving in the foreground)
As is true of most wonderful English events, Ascot is an excellent excuse to dress up and drink up. Champagne flowed freely and added to an outdoor display of sorts as the day wore on.
The elaborate luncheon and traditional afternoon tea seemed more important than the races. The start of each race would elicit a brief break under our tented enclosure as people held their champagne flutes and tea cups still to watch TV monitors before returning to the din of conversation and gentle clink of cutlery and crystal put to good use.
We did manage to leave the protective comfort of our tent and wade through the soggy grass to the racecourse where we watched the horses sprint from the grandstand.
Only in England could people dress with such beauty and trod with such effort across sodden ground, leaving sunken high heels stained and exposed shins hopelessly mud spattered.
More interesting than the horses racing on tracks were the hats bobbing on heads. Such a sight to see!
I did feel like I was on a movie set, participating in an elaborate costume drama. The couplet in the lyrics from My Fair Lady is pitch-perfect: