Royal Ascot courts controversy again as it polices a new dress code • 'Dress code assistants' will check on racegoers' attire • In 2011 overzealous officials led to Ascot issuing refunds
guardian.co.uk, Tuesday 19 June 2012 09.44 BST
Royal Ascot begins with the event once again courting controversy by employing a team of specially trained "dress code assistants" to police racegoers' attire.
There were complaints during last year's meeting at the Berkshire track when small orange stickers were affixed to the clothing or badges of visitors who breached the course's dress code.
The policy, carried out by overzealous officials, was described by some as "patronising and humiliating" and Ascot later issued admission refunds to those affected. It is believed to have cost Ascot a five-figure sum.
As Royal Ascot 2012 started on Tuesday, women were expected to wear skirts or dresses of "modest length" which fall just above the knee or longer. This clarifies previous guidance which stated miniskirts were "considered unsuitable".
Strapless, off the shoulder, halter neck, spaghetti straps and dresses with a strap of less than one inch (2.5cm) are not permitted and midriffs must be covered.
For men, black or grey morning dress with a waistcoat and tie are now compulsory in the royal enclosure – despite the warm weather expected on the first two days of the five-day meeting. Cravats are not allowed.
A black or grey top hat and black shoes must be worn.
In the royal enclosure, fascinators are no longer deemed acceptable. However, in the grandstand, which is open to the public and subject to less stringent rules, a hat or fascinator will be compulsory for women. For men, a suit and tie will now be imperative.
A selection of waistcoats, ties, pashminas and other items will be available at the turnstiles for those who need them.
Royal Ascot's dress code aims to banish the commoner within
Cover your head, your midriff and any hint of thigh, and as for assless chaps ... fashion strictures are in a class of their own
guardian.co.uk, Tuesday 19 June 2012
Style. So unmistakable, yet so ineffable. How do you catch a sunbeam? How do you caress a gentle summer breeze? How, if you're the dress code administrators at Royal Ascot, can you define that timeless quality known as "commonness" and keep it out like a noxious sewer smell?
The new and exacting royal enclosure dress code aims to do just that. Out goes the old advice that "miniskirts are considered unsuitable" – this leaves too much room for the wearer's own judgment. In comes the admonishment that skirts must be knee-length or longer (trouser suits are also tolerable, but your tailored shorts can go screw).
Also, you should wear a hat, or at the very least a "headpiece with a base of four inches or more". Not that embarrassed apology for a head covering known as the "fascinator". (And by the way, who is supposed to be fascinated by a feather bobbing about on top of your head? Maybe they work like the lure on an angler fish, suggesting the movement of a small bird to draw eligible and unwary men towards your mouth.)
No longer shall royal enclosure sensibilities be assaulted by the full indecency of a lady's clavicle. Straps of one inch or more are a necessity, and they must go across the shoulders rather than snaking round the neck in a back-revealing halter.
And your midriff must be covered, although the idea that anyone ever thought the royal enclosure would be cool about their belly button hanging out all over the place makes me worry that public decency has sunk lower than I thought. Perhaps Royal Ascot should have also explicitly proscribed nipple cutouts and assless chaps (potentially allowed, as long as they're the same colour and fabric as your jacket).
If all this sounds absurdly prescriptive, it's because Royal Ascot is creating an absurd situation: dress codes are usually a way of keeping the wrong people out, not coaching them on how to fit in. No sportswear, no football colours, no pyjamas in the supermarket. The only places that normally have to give such stringent guidance on hem lengths and hat size are work and school – places you don't belong to by choice, which use apparel to stamp themselves on your identity.
Find a club you want to be a part of, though, and you'll infer the fashion rules quicker than I could bankrupt you if you left me alone for an afternoon with your debit card and the Net-a-Porter website. So why, when the royal enclosure is supposed to be a desirable place to be, a place where you have to prove your worthiness to belong by getting someone to sponsor your application to get in, can patrons not be trusted to figure out the vagaries of strap width for themselves?
The demise of formalwear is part of it: the number of occasions for which jeans are inappropriate is probably fewer than the number of pairs of jeans you own. And when nobody wears a hat any more, anything on your head – even if it is just one pluming feather – can feel like making an effort.
But most of all, I think it's about the occupants of the royal enclosure needing to feel reassured that the ticket they've paid for is keeping the wrong people out. You may not be totally au fait with the coded class meaning of the spaghetti strap (it means you have no class, apparently), but with all the money and effort you've made to get in there, you're bound to notice if someone else if lowering the tone with too much knee flesh.
It's a sign of wealth closing ranks. No more of the pretence that social mobility is likely or desirable: in the coalition's Britain, it's openly acknowledged that the poor will stay poor and the rich will stay rich. And the rich, increasingly keen to assume that their spoils are a result of good character (and not, say, luck or greed), prefer not to be confronted with the sight of other people struggling to articulate the signs of privilege – or worse, to feel that they themselves are showing their lack of breeding.
Any slip-up could betray them all, give away the secret that they're not some separate, midriff-less caste whose innate talents have simply drawn money towards them. The more they measure their hat bases and tug at their skirts, the more it's obvious that what rich people really fear isn't a commoner slipping past the sentries and sidling among them; it's that their own commonness might start to show.