Hats off: How to choose a hat for Royal Ascot

From fascinators to fedoras, with Royal Ascot taking place next week, we have the lowdown on heading out in style

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Indy Lifestyle Online

Hats may once have been an integral part of an everyday outfit, but in most modern wardrobes dominated by jeans, sweaters and flat shoes, they are limited to only the most formal of occasions.

Royal Ascot, which kicks off on Tuesday, is one event where the hat still reigns supreme – but with over 300,000 visitors across its five-day run, Britain’s most popular racing day isn’t just for royalty.

To mark the occasion, the racecourse has collaborated with six of the UK’s best milliners, who form the Royal Ascot Collective: Stephen Jones, Philip Treacy, Piers Atkinson, Noel Stewart, Rachel Trevor Morgan and William Chambers.

Philip Treacy's design

Each has created a special hat inspired by the event – varying from the gravity-defying swirls of Treacy’s signature styles, to the coy veiling of Stephen Jones’s “Hysteria Wisteria” (“You’re very kissable in it,” the milliner insists). Most include abundant references to English Country Gardens, while the neutral palette harks back to the famous black-and-white Cecil Beaton-costumed racing scene from My Fair Lady – a mine of inspiration for fashion designers.

Stephen Jones' design

If the budget won’t stretch to a limited-edition number, the high street provides plenty of viable alternatives. Jones’s “Top Hat” collection for Debenhams is in its third year and translates his playful and romantic signatures into an affordable collection.

Prescribed dress codes are no longer the norm, even for special occasions, but the five-day Ascot race meet comes with a stringent set of requirements that all attendees must comply with. While fascinators were once the headgear of choice for most, Ascot put its foot down in 2012 and guests in the Royal Enclosure are now required to wear headpieces that have a base of 10cm.


Nevertheless, “there are no absolute set rules,” says milliner William Chambers. When picking headwear, he advises “taking your outfit or a swatch of fabric along with you, but don’t over-match – sometimes a contrast can look sensational”.

And it’s stylish sensation – rather than a tiny titfer – that elicits the real fascination at Ascot.

Video: Royal Ascot Style Guide