Show Us Your Ascot: Fashion Under Coronavirus Lockdown

Royal Ascot is galloping ahead this June without a live audience–but fans are asked to fundraise through fashion at home. So, is it finally time to harness the fillies? By which, I mean…do I really have to wear a bra again?

There are few occasions on the British social calendar more sartorially daunting than Royal Ascot. The Queen herself is in the habit of attending this legendary thoroughbred racing meet near Windsor, and the bold and the beautiful have been flocking to the big event for more than 300 years. (Well, not the same people, mind you, although a few attendees appear so well-preserved that you might wonder).

Queen Elizabeth II rides into Royal Ascot in a horse-drawn carriage.

Events have historically kicked off with the Queen’s procession from neighbouring Windsor. (Yes, Liz is the tiny regal canary in the yellow suit). Hey, it’s called “Royal” Ascot for a reason.

Rocking up in the proper attire has always been essential. Men were required to wear a top hat in the coveted Royal Enclosure, exposed midriffs were verboten in the Royal, Queen Anne and Village Enclosures, and fancy dress” (as in costumes, not “fancy dresses”) were forbidden everywhere. Daisy Duke cut-offs were, presumably, right out. 

So, while the dress code has traditionally varied according to where you were seated, 2020 is proving to be the great equaliser. Because this year we’ll all be sat at home, watching the horses haul Ascot on TV from the comfort of our settee.

Two ladies relax on the grass at Royal Ascot's Windsor Enclosure. © Amy Laughinghouse

A masterclass in how to look fabulous at Royal Ascot’s Windsor Enclosure.

“Fantastic,” you might think, breathing a sigh of relief as you unzip your jeans another inch, watching with morbid fascination as your muffin top expands like a marshmallow in the microwave. (I jest, of course. Clothes with zippers are like, sooooo 2019).

But not so fast! Organisers for Royal Ascot, which runs from June 16-20 this year, are encouraging sofa-bound spectators to celebrate in style to raise money for four frontline charities: the National Emergencies Trust, NHS Charities Together, the Care Workers’ Charity and the Berkshire Community Foundation. Suited-and-booted studs and coltish fashionistas can participate by ponying up £5 on the fundraising page and posting photos of their race day attire–complete with de rigeur headwear–accompanied by the hashtags #StyledWithThanks and #RoyalAscot.

Amy Laughinghouse in a feathered fascinator at Royal Ascot.

I thought I had retired this feathered fascinator, but I may have to dust off the old molting peacock (not a euphemism…or is it?) for Royal Ascot 2020.

It is, indisputably, a worthy cause, and super-fit Instagram influencers–those beautiful people who have spent the entirety of lockdown subsisting on wheatgrass fasts and perfecting yoga pretzel poses–will doubtless welcome an opportunity to giddy up in their glad rags for the greater good.

But many mere mortals, myself included, have looked upon the corona quarantine as an opportunity to let our hair down, quite literally, morphing into sofa-squatting Sasquatches with unsettling speed. We have learned that whisky works just as well as a medium for breakfast cereal when you can’t be arsed to stand in line for half an hour outside the grocery store to buy a pint of milk. In lieu of lifting weights at the gym, we hoist plates piled high with pasta. (One must somehow dispose of those 50 bags of stockpiled linguini languishing in the cupboard).

So we might bridle at the notion of exchanging our elastic waistbands for buttoned-up waistcoats, of abandoning baggy sweatshirts for unforgiving “bodcon” dresses that cling to our lumps and bumps like sausage skin–and then posting those pics for all the world to see on social media.

For me, the idea of simply strapping on a bra is a total ‘mare. My nags were first out of the gate in mid-March, and after a few months of free-range grazing (although not yet grazing my waistline, thank you very much), I’m not keen to wrangle them back into the stable.

Had I thought about it sooner, the most effective fundraiser I could have organised would have been to ask all my female friends to donate £5 for every hour that I wore a bra during lockdown, operating on the assumption that people will only give you money when they want to see you properly miserable. Applying this retrospectively, that would amount to a measly £20, but I would’ve gone all out (or rather, reined them both in), if I’d raised the stakes and asked folks to place an exotic wager on my daily double.

But despite the fact that I’m hardly at my jockey weight, I’ve got to face the facts. I need to get back in the saddle–or at least into undergarments. I’ll show you my Ascot if you show me yours.

Rear view of a woman in a white feathered hat at Royal Ascot.

I bet the Queen was pissed when she saw what happened to her missing swan.

If, like me, you need a little runway inspiration to help set you apart from the herd on race day, check out Isabell Kristensen’s elegant styles. The Danish-born designer’s clients include Nicole Kidman, Kate Winslet, Katy Perry…and the UK’s National Health Service, thanks to Scrubs4Heroes, a crowd-funded volunteer group within the House of Kristensen that is raising funds to provide uniforms for medical staff around the country.

Here are a few favourite fashions from years past, back when “corona virus” was just a euphemism for a beer hangover.

models in champagne-colored fascinators at Isabell Kristensen's 2017 Royal Ascot Couture Collection runway show

Beautiful in beige. Or, given that we’re talking about Royal Ascot, perhaps we should call it “champagne.”

Baby blue, buns and bows play a strong role in Isabell Kristensen's 2017 Royal Ascot Couture Collection.

These ladies have got the buns, hon. Oh, and a bow, too.

model in rose-shaped hat at Isabell Kristensen's 2017 Royal Ascot Couture Collection

Everything’s coming up roses.

models in baby blue and pale pink dresses on the runway at Isabell Kristensen's 2017 Royal Ascot Couture Collection catwalk show at the Hyde Park Mandarin Oriental London

Feeling blue? This should cheer you up.

A black dress trimmed with white made a dramatic impression on the catwalk at Isabell Kristensen's 2017 Royal Ascot Couture Collection runway show.

Of course, you could eschew colour altogether. Black and white needn’t have a negative image. (See what I did there?)

Isabell Kristensen's ruffled black hat proves the frill is not gone when it comes to Royal Ascot fashion.

Isabell Kristensen’s ruffled black hat proves the frill is not gone when it comes to Royal Ascot fashion.

Isabell Kristensen's 2017 Royal Ascot Couture Collection places a heavy emphasis on monochromatic black and white.

But depending on where you sit at Royal Ascot, you don’t necessarily HAVE to wear a hat. In the Windsor Enclosure, where there is no formal dress code, a Mona Lisa smile will do just fine.

Detailed tailoring and clean, classic lines reigned at Isabell Kristensen's 2017 Royal Ascot Couture Collection catwalk show.

Everything’s gonna be all white. Bonus: you could wear this again for your wedding. How often can you say that?

From the runway to the racecourse..to your sofa.

Designer Isabell Kristensen (sixth from left, in black) joins her models at the top of the catwalk following her 2017 Royal Ascot Couture Collection runway show in London.

Isabell Kristensen (brunette in black, on the left) joins her models on the catwalk back in the days when “social distancing” meant nothing more than leaving someone swimming in the wake of your absolute fabulousness.

woman in high heels walking on crutches

Just remember…if your heels aren’t high enough to require that you walk on crutches, you’re not really trying.

Social Media:

Twitter: #RoyalAscot #StyledWithThanks @Ascot @IK_Couture #fashion #couture

Instagram: #RoyalAscot #StyledWithThanks @ascotracecourse @isabellkristensenofficial #fashion #couture

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