Royal Ascot – the history, the clothes and of course those hats!

Royal Ascot is a multi-day thoroughbred horse race event that is held every June at the Ascot Racecourse in Berkshire, England.  It is considered one of the highlights of the British social season and Queen Elizabeth will traditionally open the event with several members of the British Royal family also in attendance.  In this post I will discuss the history of Royal Ascot and of course those beautiful clothes and amazing hats worn throughout the years. 

Special Note: Royal Ascot hats would be a great inspiration for a guest attending a spring or summer wedding.

The History of Royal Ascot

The Royal Ascot, the story goes, dates back to 1711 when Queen Anne had been riding out near Windsor Castle.  She came across a large flat open area, known as the Ascot Heath, which would be ideal for horses to run at a full stretch.    Originally the race was an endurance event but later it became a speed race for thoroughbred horses. 

As the years passed the British Royal family has become forever associated with Ascot.  For centuries Kings and Queens have shared a passion for horses and attending the annual Ascot races, from Queen Anne to King Edward VII to King George VI to Queen Elizabeth II.  The Royal Procession is a grand tradition at Ascot and was first introduced in 1825 by King George IV.  Today the Queen and members of the Royal family arrive in carriages and the Queen’s Ascot landau is drawn by Windsor Grey horses.

King Edward VII was well known for his equestrian passion and was a constant attendee at Ascot during his lifetime.  In 1910 when he died just a short time before the event it was decided that the late King would not want the race to be suspended.  That year Ascot was a very somber event with the Royal family in deep mourning and in seclusion so the Royal Box remained empty.  Those attending the race wore head to toe black to show respect for the loss of the King. 

During World War II there were no races run at Ascot between 1940 and 1943.  The racecourse was taken over by the army and converted to provide housing for the Royal Artillery.  After the war a young Princess Elizabeth, the future Queen Elizabeth II, attended her first Ascot in 1945.  The Queen would soon develop a keen interest in horseracing, something she had shared with her parents, and she would eventually become an owner and breeder of a stable full of racehorses.  The jockeys riding the Queen’s horses are identified by her racing colors, a purple jersey with gold braid and red sleeves and black cap with gold fringe.

1956 – Queen Elizabeth and Prince Philip

To date, the Queen has rarely missed Ascot since her Coronation in 1953 with the exception of 2020 during the coronavirus pandemic. She returned in 2021 just a few months after the death of Prince Philip.   

2019 – Queen Elizabeth and Prince Philip
(sadly this would be the final Ascot that the Royal couple would attend together)

The British Royal family fashion worn at Ascot

The fashions of Royal Ascot have obviously changed throughout the years to keep pace with the different styles from the Victorian era to the Edwardian era to the time during both World Wars and now in the 21st Century. 

Shown below are several photos of the fashions that the women of the British Royal family have worn throughout the years; including Queen Elizabeth II and the Queen Mother as well as Princess Diana and then later Camilla, the Duchess of Cornwall and most recently Katherine, the Duchess of Cambridge and Meagan, the Duchess of Sussex.    

1931 – Duke and Duchess of York
(later King George VI and Queen Elizabeth)

1956 – Queen Elizabeth with the Queen Mother and Princess Margaret

1970 – Queen Elizabeth with the Queen Mother and Princess Anne

1981 – Queen Elizabeth with the Queen Mother and
Princess Diana (it was her first Ascot as the Princess of Wales)

1988 – Princess Diana
(this is perhaps my favorite outfit she had worn at Ascot)

1990 – Prince Charles and Princess Diana
(her style had changed from girlish ruffles to elegant suits)

1996 – Queen Elizabeth and Princess Margaret

2013 – Prince Charles and Camilla, the Duchess of Cornwall
(this photo would be used as their Christmas card for that year)

2016 – Katherine, Duchess of Cambridge
(this was her first Ascot that she attended after marrying Prince William)

2016 – Katherine, Duchess of Cambridge

2018 – Prince Harry and Meagan – The Duke and Duchess of Sussex

2018 – Meagan, the Duchess of Sussex
(this was her first Ascot after marrying Prince Harry)

The three photos shown above are of Queen Elizabeth
wearing just a few of her hats worn at Ascot over the last few years

2019 – Prince William and Katherine – the Duke & Duchess of Cambridge

2019 – Katherine, the Duchess of Cambridge

2021 – Prince Charles and Camilla, the Duchess of Cornwall
(after the pandemic quarantine a mask has become a fashion accessory)

2021 – Camilla, the Duchess of Cornwall

2021 – Queen Elizabeth at the first Ascot after the coronavirus pandemic

So, as previously mentioned, any of the Royal Ascot hats shown above would be a great inspiration for a mother of the bride or groom, a grandmother or any guest attending a spring or summer wedding.