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).
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.
“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.
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.