Hot to trot: Royal Ascot is the ultimate hat parade

view gallery VIEW GALLERY

Never mind the horses... Master milliner Stephen Jones tells Susannah Frankel why Royal Ascot is hat heaven.

"In the millinery year, Royal Ascot is Christmas," says Stephen Jones and, as this country's foremost hatter, he should know. "It's probably the most important event for milliners and always has been, because that's when people wear extravagant hats. Yes, it's the ultimate millinery event of the year. Every year. Full stop."

This is saying quite something, given that Jones (pictured below) not only creates bespoke hats for the rich, famous and indeed royal, produces twice-yearly signature collections and the Miss Jones diffusion line, but also collaborates with the greatest talents in international fashion, designing catwalk millinery. Comme des Garçons' Rei Kawakubo, Marc Jacobs and, most famously, John Galliano, are just three of the names he has worked with for years. He has it covered, then.

The flamboyant sartorial nature of Ascot started when Queen Anne bought the land near Windsor Castle that is the racecourse today. By the time it was ready for action, its original owner found herself in somewhat foul spirits and a favourite courtier (female), concerned that this might not be conducive to a good time had by all, dressed up as a man to put a smile back on her face. "It was the first year of Royal Ascot and she did it to make the proceedings go more amusingly," Jones says. "Since that time it has been all about dressing up."

Celebrating its 300th birthday when it opens on Tuesday, the event has, of course, changed immeasurably from the time when it took two days to travel there by horse and carriage from London. "Originally, Ascot was about the aristocracy – it's Royal Ascot, after all – but also the working classes. It was the lower classes, as they were known, that actually made the whole thing function; the two sides understood each other and rubbed along just fine. The middle classes didn't arrive until the birth of train travel and the aristocracy really couldn't cope with that," says Jones.

Ultimately, though, cope they did. It wasn't long, meanwhile, before both photography and the newsreel were born, at which point Ascot was immediately identified as a media opportunity par excellence. "It's so camera-friendly," enthuses Jones. "The royalty, the racing, the fashions – it's got it all."

Three centuries on, and for one week in June, race-goers – royalty, the general public and now at least a handful of the requisite celebrities – still gather in their finery, ensuring that the otherwise somewhat anachronistic code of dress best known as "occasion-wear", topped off as it invariably must be with a hat, still has its place.

"It's very strange, because the summer in Britain is when people spend money on clothes," says Jones. "They buy expensive clothes for race meetings and for weddings, but you never see anything like that featured in magazines, because it's not perceived as fashionable – it's not cool."

As the following highlights, commented on by Jones himself, go to show, such an unabashed display of formality nonetheless makes for quite irresistible eye candy. From the staunchly stiff to the sublime and the really rather ridiculous, Royal Ascot, and the hats at Royal Ascot especially, are a sight for sore eyes.

PROMOTED VIDEO
Life and Style
ebooksA superb mix of recipes serving up the freshest of local produce in a delicious range of styles
Life and Style
ebooksFrom the lifespan of a slug to the distance to the Sun: answers to 500 questions from readers
News
A model of a Neanderthal man on display at the National Museum of Prehistory in Dordogne, France
science
News
Dawkins: 'There’s a very interesting reason why a prince could not turn into a frog – it's statistically too improbable'
newsThat's Richard Dawkins on babies with Down Syndrome
Sport
Malky Mackay salutes the Cardiff fans after the 3-1 defeat at Liverpool on Sunday
footballFormer Cardiff boss accused of sending homophobic, racist and messages
Sport
Rodgers showered praise on Balotelli last week, which led to speculation he could sign the AC Milan front man
transfers
Life and Style
life – it's not, says Rachel McKinnon
Arts and Entertainment
Eye of the beholder? 'Concrete lasagne' Preston bus station
architectureWhich monstrosities should be nominated for the Dead Prize?
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Fashion

    Relationship Manager

    £500 - £600 per day: Orgtel: Relationship Manager, London, Banking, Accountant...

    Marketing & PR Assistant - NW London

    £15 - £17 per hour: Ashdown Group: Marketing & PR Assistant - Kentish Town are...

    Senior Network Integration/Test Engineer

    £250 - £300 per day: Orgtel: Senior Network Integration/Test Engineer Berkshir...

    Software Developer - Newcastle - £30,000 - £37,000 + benefits

    £30000 - £37000 per annum + attractive benefits: Ashdown Group: .NET Developer...

    Day In a Page

    Middle East crisis: We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

    We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

    Now Obama has seen the next US reporter to be threatened with beheading, will he blink, asks Robert Fisk
    Neanderthals lived alongside humans for centuries, latest study shows

    Final resting place of our Neanderthal neighbours revealed

    Bones dated to 40,000 years ago show species may have died out in Belgium species co-existed
    Scottish independence: The new Scots who hold fate of the UK in their hands

    The new Scots who hold fate of the UK in their hands

    Scotland’s immigrants are as passionate about the future of their adopted nation as anyone else
    Britain's ugliest buildings: Which monstrosities should be nominated for the Dead Prize?

    Blight club: Britain's ugliest buildings

    Following the architect Cameron Sinclair's introduction of the Dead Prize, an award for ugly buildings, John Rentoul reflects on some of the biggest blots on the UK landscape
    eBay's enduring appeal: Online auction site is still the UK's most popular e-commerce retailer

    eBay's enduring appeal

    The online auction site is still the UK's most popular e-commerce site
    Culture Minister Ed Vaizey: ‘lack of ethnic minority and black faces on TV is weird’

    'Lack of ethnic minority and black faces on TV is weird'

    Culture Minister Ed Vaizey calls for immediate action to address the problem
    Artist Olafur Eliasson's latest large-scale works are inspired by the paintings of JMW Turner

    Magic circles: Artist Olafur Eliasson

    Eliasson's works will go alongside a new exhibition of JMW Turner at Tate Britain. He tells Jay Merrick why the paintings of his hero are ripe for reinvention
    Josephine Dickinson: 'A cochlear implant helped me to discover a new world of sound'

    Josephine Dickinson: 'How I discovered a new world of sound'

    After going deaf as a child, musician and poet Josephine Dickinson made do with a hearing aid for five decades. Then she had a cochlear implant - and everything changed
    Greggs Google fail: Was the bakery's response to its logo mishap a stroke of marketing genius?

    Greggs gives lesson in crisis management

    After a mishap with their logo, high street staple Greggs went viral this week. But, as Simon Usborne discovers, their social media response was anything but half baked
    Matthew McConaughey has been singing the praises of bumbags (shame he doesn't know how to wear one)

    Matthew McConaughey sings the praises of bumbags

    Shame he doesn't know how to wear one. Harriet Walker explains the dos and don'ts of fanny packs
    7 best quadcopters and drones

    Flying fun: 7 best quadcopters and drones

    From state of the art devices with stabilised cameras to mini gadgets that can soar around the home, we take some flying objects for a spin
    Joey Barton: ‘I’ve been guilty of getting a bit irate’

    Joey Barton: ‘I’ve been guilty of getting a bit irate’

    The midfielder returned to the Premier League after two years last weekend. The controversial character had much to discuss after his first game back
    Andy Murray: I quit while I’m ahead too often

    Andy Murray: I quit while I’m ahead too often

    British No 1 knows his consistency as well as his fitness needs working on as he prepares for the US Open after a ‘very, very up and down’ year
    Ferguson: In the heartlands of America, a descent into madness

    A descent into madness in America's heartlands

    David Usborne arrived in Ferguson, Missouri to be greeted by a scene more redolent of Gaza and Afghanistan
    BBC’s filming of raid at Sir Cliff’s home ‘may be result of corruption’

    BBC faces corruption allegation over its Sir Cliff police raid coverage

    Reporter’s relationship with police under scrutiny as DG is summoned by MPs to explain extensive live broadcast of swoop on singer’s home