Ladies' Day at Royal Ascot - Heads Up for the Hats

01 of 16

Ladies Day at Ascot - Oversize Flower Hats at Royal Ascot

Outrageous Hats at Royal Ascot
Steve Finn/Getty Images

Royal Ascot is the social event of the British racing and royal calendar. The crowds come out for the prestigious horse racing, of course, and to see the Queen and other members of the royal family. 

The racing meet held virtually in the Queen's backyard near Windsor Castle, has been a dress up royal event for hundreds of years. It was founded by Queen Anne and the first race was run on the original course in 1711. According to legend, Queen Anne was riding out from Windsor one day when she came across a large area of open heathland.

"Why what a spiffing spot for a full gallop!" she said - or words to that effect - and the famous race was born. It was a very different race back then. Instead of the slender thoroughbreds that race today, the horses were heavy English Hunters. And they were required to carry a weight of 12 stone - that's 168 pounds. And each race consisted of three separate 4-mile heats. Queen Anne's role in founding Royal Ascot is remembered by the Queen Anne Stakes, the annual opening race.

Today, Queen Elizabeth II is an avid race-goer and race horse owner herself. But being royal gives no advantage in the rarified horseracing circles when in comes to backing a winner. In 2013, when her horse, Estimate, won the Royal Ascot Gold Cup, she was the first reigning monarch to win it in the 207 years the race had been run to that point.

What Makes Royal Ascot Such a Spectacle

Even for those who have never watched a horse race or bet on a horse ( what Brits call having a "flutter") Royal Ascot is irresistable because of the fashion stakes that always accompany it. The real spectacle of Royal Ascot for most of us is the fashion parade of Ladies' Day. Hats are de rigueur and they range from the bizarre to the beautiful. But usually, the more outrageous the better.

Fashions became so outrageous that in 2012 a dress code was imposed for the Royal Enclosure - so as not to shock the Queen we suppose. The code - minimal bare flesh, modest skirt lengths and appropriate hats for women, ties rather than cravats and morning suits or suits with waistcoats for men - were enforced by genteel fashion police, called dress code assistants. Waistcoats, ties, pashminas and "other items" were available at the gates to prevent "wardrobe malfunctions."

But beyond setting a minimum size for hats, no one tried to restrain the exhuberant headgear. Open this photo gallery to see for yourself.

02 of 16

Zara Phillips Arrives for Ladies Day at Royal Ascot

Zara Phillips, daughter of Princess Anne and the Queen's granddaughter arrives for Ladies Day
Sion Touhig/Getty Images
03 of 16

A Flutter of Butterflies at Royal Ascot

Madcap Butterfly Hat at Royal Ascot
Gareth Cattermole/Getty Images
04 of 16

Delicate Leaves Set Off a Pretty Face at Royal Ascot

Ladies Day at Royal Ascot - Hat of Delicate Leaves
Scott Barbour/Getty Images
Continue to 5 of 16 below.
05 of 16

Delicate Feathers and Blue Chiffon Roses

Traditional finery for Ladies Day at Royal Ascot includes feathers and blue chiffon roses
Sion Touhig/Getty Images
06 of 16

Ladies Day at Ascot - An Architectural Statement?

Ladies Day at Royal Ascot - Even the Millennium Dome Becomes a Hat
Gareth Cattermole/Getty Images
07 of 16

Ladies Day at Royal Ascot - And They're Off

Ladies Day at Royal Ascot - And They're Off
Scott Barbour/Getty Images
08 of 16

Balancing Act at Royal Ascot

Yellow Lady
Scott Barbour/Getty Images
Continue to 9 of 16 below.
09 of 16

Black and White for Ladies Day at Ascot

Ladies Day at Royal Ascot - A Pretty Face and Delicate Black and White Feathers
Gareth Cattermole/Getty Images
10 of 16

A Big Hat for the Little Lady

Ladies Day at Royal Ascot - Tall Feathered Hat
Scott Barbour/Getty Images
11 of 16

Small is Beautiful at Royal Ascot

Delicate Hat at Royal Ascot
Steve Finn/Getty Images
12 of 16

Ladies Day at Royal Ascot - A Vision in Pink

Lady in Pink Hat at Royal Ascot
Scott Barbour/Getty Images
Continue to 13 of 16 below.
13 of 16

Ladies Day at Royal Ascot - Black and White With Red Dotted Netting

Veiled hat in black, white and red at Royal Ascot
Scott Barbour/Getty Images
14 of 16

Ladies Day at Royal Ascot - Anyone for Lunch?

Rachel Littlejohns poses wearing a hat with watercress sandwiches on top
Scott Barbour/Getty Images
15 of 16

Ladies Day at Royal Ascot: Shocking Pink

Rebecca Shaw wears a hat designed by Elida Hats
Scott Barbour/Getty Images
16 of 16

Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth at Royal Ascot

HM Queen Elizabeth Arrives for Royal Ascot in a hat trimmed with white tulle and purple feathers.
Sion Touhig/Getty Images
Was this page helpful?