Leading article: Fancy dress

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Ladies, if you want to visit the Royal Enclosure at Ascot race course, make sure you bring your substantial fascinator along. And if you do not know what a substantial fascinator is you are probably not the sort of person who ought to be allowed in anyway. Goodbye.

Welcome to the weird world of the establishment dress code. The injunction is part of Ascot's new clothing regulations. Along with demands for substantial fascinators to be donned, the race course stipulates that dress straps should be more than an inch wide. Midriffs must be covered. Trouser suits must be full length. And do not even think about wearing a mini skirt.

Dress codes are ambivalent things. They are usually defended on the grounds of decorum and general good taste. For instance, we are told that the new clothing stipulations at Ascot have been introduced because many members are appalled by the vistas of bare flesh and tattoos that have begun to proliferate at race meets.

But the truth is these codes are often as much about indulging the British establishment's enthusiasm for fancy dress as anything else. Consider: mortarboards for Oxford students; full-bottomed wigs for senior judges; knee breeches for the Lord Chancellor; mitres for Anglican bishops. Perhaps all that sartorial paraphernalia adds to the gaiety of nations. But it does leave you at something of a disadvantage if you do not know your substantial fascinator from your subfusc. To those unsure of what to wear, we would simply recommend turning up in a hoodie.

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