Etiquette Expert Reveals How to Dress and Behave to Impress


Philip Sykes, Founder and Principal of The British School of Etiquette

Royal Ascot is famous for its strict dress codes and unwritten codes of etiquette. With it being more than 12 months since race goers were able to attend races in person, The Racing Post sat down with Philip Sykes, Principal and Founder of The British School of Etiquette to discuss proper attire, behaviour and where to get the best views of the racing.

Dress for the Right Enclosure

When it comes to dress code at Royal Ascot, the smarter the better. How you’re expected to dress depends on the enclosure from which you’ll spectate.

The Royal Enclosure

This is the premier enclosure, and you need to adhere to the dress code within almost an inch of its life. Ladies’ skirts should be of modest length. The tops should have straps of one inch or greater; strapless, off-the-shoulder or halter neck tops are absolutely not permitted.
Jackets and pashminas may be worn over them. Midriffs should always be covered. Jumpsuits are also welcome in the Royal Enclosure but must fall below the knee.
Hats should be worn. However, a headpiece with a diameter of more than 10 cm (four inches) is acceptable as an alternative. That rules out fascinators.
Gentlemen have a strict dress code as well. You can wear black, grey or navy morning dress which must include a waistcoat and tie (no cravats or bow ties), with a black or grey top hat and black shoes worn with dark socks.
You must only remove your top hat when in a restaurant, a private box or on a terrace. Coloured ribbons on the bands are not permitted in the Royal Enclosure. And novelty waistcoats and ties are definitely out.

The Queen Ann Enclosure

In the Queen Ann Enclosure next door, women should follow the same code as for the Royal Enclosure. For men, it’s slightly more relaxed. Men do not have to wear morning suits, but do need to be in a matching jacket, trousers and tie (again, no bow ties and cravats) at all times.

The Village Enclosure

Gentlemen should wear a tie at all times but bow ties and cravats are acceptable in the Village Enclosure. You must always wear socks – no jeans and trainers are permitted here. Ladies should again adhere to the Royal Enclosure dress code.

The Windsor enclosure

This is the most relaxed enclosure. There is no formal dress code in the Windsor Enclosure, but people are always encouraged to dress in smart day wear – nice hats, gentlemen making an effort and so on.
Going to the races, especially Royal Ascot, is all about the day and how you present yourself. Overseas visitors are permitted to wear the formal national dress of their country or service dress in representation of their military.
In terms of footwear, just dress sensibly. You’ll be on your feet a lot of the day so wear your shoes in ahead of the event. And when it comes to high heels, consider whether they’re going to sink into the turf.
One final note on dress code is to consider where you carry your phone: having it on your person can look untoward, with the bulkiness discrediting your lovely, refined suit or beautiful outfit. So I would recommend back pocket for men and clutch bag for women.

Blend In: Follow the Etiquette

Decorum at many, many events has changed. Think about going to the theatre in the past: people always made an effort to dress up. Now you see people going in flip flops and a pair of shorts.
Things have become very relaxed within the race setting, too, but it’s not about just you, it’s about everybody involved.
So, here’s a short list here of absolute no-no’s and they need little explanation:

Get off your phone. Take pictures but put your phone on flight mode. Embrace the day!
Be vigilant and don’t litter. It’s a question of being respectful!
Being fashionably late is not a thing. If you’ve been invited to one of the lovely enclosures or have a table booked at one of the amazing restaurants or terraces, then punctuality is absolutely crucial.

  • Urinating in public (this really happens)
  • Shouting
  • Getting drunk and/or abusive
  • Barging through crowds (just say ‘please excuse me’)

What to do if you see a Royal

If you’re lucky enough to meet a Royal in person, it is poor etiquette to make the first move, so don’t shake their hands unless they extend their hand as a welcome to shake hands with you. In terms of greetings, if you are addressing them in the Royal sense, it’s, “Good Morning, Your Majesty” or “Your Royal Highness”.
Otherwise, a sort of slanted nod is sufficient – no need for curtsies or bows. And don’t make the mistake that others have in the past of putting an arm around the Queen to have a photograph or walking directly in front of her.

On Racing Terminology

First-time attendees may fret over knowing their stuff, but the racing world is trying to encourage as many people as possible to appreciate and enjoy this wonderful sport, so it’s not necessary to brush up too much on your terminology.
That said, remember your ‘pleases’ and ‘thank yous’. Polished language skills will always be well received – bring your tonality to the party and just be very considerate of others.
Don’t lose your Ps and Qs because you’ve had one drink too many.

The Dos and Don’ts of Ordering Drinks

With the event falling in British summer horse racing season, it lends itself to sparkling wine, Pimm’s and lemonade and gin and tonic. Light drinks – no heavy reds and it’s not a cocktail frenzy. If you do choose a lager, don’t drink it out of the bottle! In the Windsor Enclosure, you can bring your own alcohol.
The Royal Family have a couple of preferred British sparkling wines and they really are top quality. A lot of the champagne houses are buying up land in Kent and Sussex to find grapes so they can produce the beautiful sparkling wine in this country.

Where Is Ascot’s Best Spectator Spot?

The Queen Ann Enclosure lends itself to some great viewing points and just close to the finishing spot is wonderful. At the end of the race, you see the horses come into the enclosure.
The trainers are being interviewed and there’s this beautiful energy in seeing the incredible horses. But there are also terraces and decks at a lot of the restaurants. Basically, there are pretty good viewpoints from most places.
Ultimately, The British School of Etiquette has coined a phrase: “the power of etiquette and manners”. Bring your etiquette and manners to Ascot if you really want to embrace the event.

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