Dress Code: The Royal Enclosure


I’ve just had confirmation on my tickets for this year’s Royal Ascot, one of the great horse racing events in the flat season.

Our Royal Enclosure tickets will mean hiring a morning suit and top hat. This strict dress code may appear to leave you little room for individuality or possibility for error, but there are mistakes to be made, and plenty of people make them.


Firstly you have a choice of four types of morning dress; first, a light grey jacket, trousers and waistcoat; secondly, the charcoal grey jacket, waistcoat and trousers; thirdly, black jacket, and light grey trousers and waistcoat. Finally, the most common and most versatile is the black jacket, dove grey waistcoat and black and grey stripe trousers (you can substitute hounds-tooth trousers for stripped ). Any colour variations on these four are an aberration fit only for weddings in Las Vegas.

You’ll find that black and grey top hats are interchangeable with each morning suit choice according to individual taste.

The key to dressing with style at Ascot is (a) not looking like you hired your kit, (b) appearing to be at ease, and (c) using the freedom afforded you. Five tips you may want to remember;

1- Try to avoid the ultra-conservative and traditional single breasted dove grey waistcoat. It makes it look like you hired your suit. Some hire companies offer a single breasted buff waistcoat, and if you’re not looking to spend any more cash, then go for this option.

2- Go for a double breasted waistcoat if you can, and preferably one made of Linen. While bright colours and patterns can work well, try to avoid shiny materials like silk, they’re better suited to evening wear, and can also make you look as though you’ve hired your kit. The best most elegant dressers pick soft pastel colours with a matte finish.


3- Plump for the black top hat. Traditionally, grey is for weddings while black is for Court functions (Investiture, Garden Party etc). Those who really know what they’re doing go black.


4- A formal dress code can be intimidating and lead you to play it safe, through fear of ‘getting it wrong’. Ascot permits a little more individuality than you imagine, so ditch the white shirt. If you want to show yourself truly at ease in morning dress, go for colours, stripes or white collar and cuff with an appropriate tie. However, they should complement, not match, your waistcoat to avoid being OTT.


5- Do not under any circumstances be tempted to wear a Cravat/Ascot. This is a day collar and tie event, lured down any other road and you’ll look like a man in search of a wedding. Despite the similarity in dress code they are not the same thing.


  1. Jake said:

    I might add, based on that excellent first picture, that taking an umbrella is a good move. I’m talking, of course, about a proper old fashioned city umbrella, not a silly little one that you fold up and put in a handbag.
    If it rains (which is possible, though perhaps unlikely if the weather stays as it is) you may be grateful of the ability to still take the occasional stroll out of the grandstand and up to the fence. Even if it doesn’t rain, a good umbrella can be leant on as you stand, swung satisfyingly as you walk and, if necessary, used to defend yourself from the crowds as you try to exit the racecourse at the end of the day…

    May 21, 2010
  2. Ben said:

    What about shoes?

    May 21, 2010
  3. Peter said:

    I have never heard of the black jacket and light grey trousers and waistcoat combination. My understanding has either been one wears morning dress, that is a black or Oxford-grey morning coat with patterned trousers as described, or a morning suit, that is coat, trousers and waistcoat match.

    I personally favour the dove-grey double-breasted waistcoat. Though I like buff as well, colour is an ostentatious way to affirm individuality as opposed to the subtleties of variations of cut, the true telling point of whether a garment is rented or not. Regardless of colour a rented garment will look rented, in this case because it will be cut to accommodate those who wear their rented trousers around their hips.

    Traditionally a pearl-grey top hat was for more informal occasions, where one was also permitted to wear the more informal morning suit as well, i.e. race meetings and weddings. Ironically formal wear today is only worn at these ‘informal’ events and no longer for business and the like.

    Suggesting a ‘cravat’ is wrong because this is a day event suggests they may be worn in the evening, which is utterly inappropriate. I wonder whether you’re confusing a cravat (called ‘Ascots’ in American-English and tucked under the shirt) with an Ascot tie (worn over, with a wing collar and stick pin), the latter being acceptable, the former, never with any kind of formal dress.


    An umbrella is technically correct, as are gloves, which can be carried and can either be grey suede or lemon chamois.

    Black Oxford shoes are correct but others may favour Oxford boots or dress boots even!

    May 21, 2010
  4. Patrick said:

    Seriously, where do you guys source all this information on what is acceptable?

    May 21, 2010
  5. Peter said:


    The Cutter and Tailor forum has a number of interesting articles on modes of dress and its history. Of interest may be a series of articles on wedding attire by ‘Sator’, who seems to have a wealth of fantastic pictures he uploads. Also here are some links for dress charts. Though rather dated it is arguable formal dress is.



    May 22, 2010
  6. I doubt I will ever be dressing for the Royal Ascot. But your advice is certainly interesting.

    May 31, 2010

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