Should tattooed ladies be allowed into Ascot?
Joanna Southgate's heavily tattooed arms caused a stir at Royal Ascot. Rachel Johnson and Sali Hughes debate whether tattoos should be banned from future events
Rachel Johnson and Sali Hughes
guardian.co.uk, Saturday 23 June 2012
Rachel Johnson, editor-in-chief of the Lady and novelist
So should females with tattoos be allowed or verboten at Ascot? Should tramp stamps be on view, and their owners permitted to penetrate the royal enclosure, that epicentre of social climbing during the especially rainy midsummer period still wistfully called The Season?
As editor-in-chief of the Lady, I would like to make my position on this important matter of etiquette crystal-clear. A discreet tattoo on your ankle is OK and you are more than welcome to trail around in your stilettos in the Berkshire mud for as long as you like. After all, if Ascot turned away all women with tattoos, Sam Cam wouldn't be allowed in the royal enclosure.
But when it comes to dressy, regal, social occasions and women sporting wide expanses of flesh inked with barenaked ladies and writhing octopi (as one race goer did) – nooooo! We don't want to see your "body art" any more than your thighs, thong or side-boobs. The dress code is there both to protect others from the unsightly, and help you preserve your own tattered shreds of dignity. The 2012 one demands that "midriffs should be covered". So should tattoos. Expect to see this enshrined in the 2013 rules.
Sali Hughes, writer, broadcaster and Guardian columnist
The organisers at Ascot are utterly correct in allowing tattoos in the royal enclosure, and rightly consistent. Had they adopted zero tolerance on body art, they would have had to exclude Prince Albert, Winston and Lady Randolph Churchill and countless debs and Sloanes from the inner sanctum, as well as ban George V and Edward VII from their own do. Besides, I think the aristocracy rather lost its right to tattoo snobbery when Queen Victoria allegedly inked her front bottom (something I would be in favour of covering up for the races, let the record reflect).
Not all tattoos are created equal, any more than hats and frocks are. I'd set the rate of exchange at one tramp stamp = one Debenhams fascinator; one tribal arm band to one pair of naff nude stilettos. I happen to think good tattoos are beautiful (I have two myself), but whatever your thoughts personally, they are part of how people live today. A ban on them would be about as discerning as outlawing Facebook users or those who can't tell Ant from Dec.
RJ But, Sali, are your tattoos on exposed flesh? That's the point, surely, not whether you have two, or that so many mugs have had themselves inked. The organisers at Ascot, you're correct in saying, have not banned tattoos, but after this year's shower on the dress code front, they surely will follow my advice to outlaw visible "body art" (if we really must insist on calling it that). For while milliner Stephen Jones said approvingly – in other important sartorial news – that Ascot was "hattier" than usual, following the historic ban on fascinators in the royal enclosure, the truth is, not everyone at the races looked straight out of Cecil Beaton's My Fair Lady, despite the stricter dress code and all the fashion police patrolling the course. My friend Catherine went on Ladies' Day and sent me texts from the front line. "A bit cold. And slaggy," was the first. I sent back, "Visible tattoos, and thongs?" to which answer came, "Yes. Too much orange flesh and ugly legs and hideous shoes."
Look, Sali, Ascot is not just a racecourse. It is a showground for English style. I happen to like the nude stilettos you find so naff, and have a pair myself, but tattoos? I find they don't pass the crucial test on these matters of elegance and style, which is "Would Kristin Scott Thomas have one?" Like hell she would.
SH My tattoos are indeed on exposed flesh (weather permitting). I know – the very idea! I am now imagining you clutching your pearls in horror. But you are right in saying Ascot is a showcase for British style. A style known for its boldness, eclecticism and eccentricity – never more evident than during these sorts of events. Frankly, the best thing about Ascot (and arguably its chief purpose in 2012) is the gawping and smiling at all the brilliantly bonkers looks on parade. Tattoos can only add more flavour. I think it's entirely fitting to have them on display – one can hardly be offended by mermaids, roses and anchors while lauding a hat shaped like an ice cream cone wedged in a teapot. How is Sam Cam's (visible) dolphin – the cliched hallmark of any art-school toff – acceptable, but not other, larger, bolder designs? Or are you planning to police this by drawing up a list of acceptable/unacceptable motifs and a sizing chart, like those for determining what you can and can't carry on to a plane?
Re: Kristin. Admire her though I do, the day we apply Jeremy Clarkson's acid test for style is the day fashion meets its maker.
RJ Precious few institutions still insist on any standards of appearance. I think that women (OK, ladies) secretly appreciate the ones that do have dress codes. And they like knowing that, for just one day, they are expected to make a superhuman effort to look dainty (I spent approximately three weeks "getting ready" for Ascot last year, even with the expert assistance of Bruce Oldfield). We can slob around in tracksuits for 364 days a year, but on occasions such as Ascot, or the royal box at Wimbledon, or a garden party at Buckingham Palace, it's a rare chance to scrub up en masse. If one of us fails, we let the whole side down.
The sad thing in all this is that no woman ever goes to Ascot thinking she looks less than cracking, so there is plenty of snobbery at play here, not to mention insane pressure on us all to be as thin and groomed as Kate Middleton. I'm all in favour of people doing what they like, but when you're in a club, you have to play by the rules, for the sake of all members. So I do think that racegoers should refrain from flaunting tattoos as well as their plunging declivities, inner-thigh stubble, etc, even if at Ascot this demands the enforced deployment by the style Stasi of that most dreaded and offensive item – the cheapo pashmina in jewel tones.
SH Oh, I'm all for fashion snobbery. It's Ascot's lifeblood. The difference between us is how we view tattoos. You have the rather peculiar idea that having a tattoo is equal to not cleaning one's teeth or shaving one's underarms. Those with tattoos don't see them as sloppy or slatternly. They are permanent features on our bodies, albeit ones that we have chosen. Banning them is like banning nose jobs and face lifts – at which point, Ascot would be a barren landscape soundtracked by tumbleweeds and crickets. I respect that tattoos aren't for everyone, but frankly, I'd sooner have view-obstructing top hats and braying twerps banished from The Season. We all have our crosses to bear.
We do agree on one thing, however. Jewel-toned pashminas are the devil's work but, given that they are being handed out to overexposed women by the Ascot fashion police, you may have to pick a team. Tattoos or pashminas, Rachel? I know you'll make the right choice.