It’s seen as the ultimate display of British traditional dress, but this year organizers of the Royal Ascot race meet will allow women to wear something that certainly would have raised eyebrows in Victorian England: jumpsuits. The practical clothing item—which was first invented for parachutists—has been added to the 2017 style guide, published today.
The meet is held at Ascot Racecourse, which is owned by the Queen and is located close to her home, Windsor Castle. It features a large Royal box, and every day starts with a carriage procession from the castle featuring the Queen and other VIPs.
In the past, divorcees were not permitted to attend the Royal Enclosure and applications to attend were vetted by Lord Churchill, a distant relative of the famous wartime prime minister. Lord Churchill is rumored to have used three distinctions for applications: “certainly,” “perhaps” and “certainly not.”
Today, the Royal Enclosure has members who are invited to attend by Her Majesty’s Representative at Ascot, paying $140 a day for access to the best views in the venue.
Despite the changes to the dress code, women are still required to wear hats. The jumpsuits have to be the same color and must be down to the ankles. Women who wear dresses will have to ensure they are “just above the knee or longer.” Anything strapless is strictly prohibited. Men are required to wear black or grey morning suits (with tails), top hats and waistcoats.
Ushers man the entrances to the Royal Enclosure to ensure that those attending comply with the rules. It’s not unusual for VIPs—and even minor royals—to be turned away for failing to get things right.
In a statement, Royal Ascot said, “Fashion and style are an important part of the Royal Ascot experience for all of our customers. The annual Style Guide forms a key part of our support for customers to give them inspiration for what to wear to ensure they have a special occasion with us.”
“The inclusion of jumpsuits as part of the Royal Enclosure dress code recognises [sic] our customers’ fashion-forward taste and reflects our awareness of seasonal trends,” the statement continues.
One of the suggested outfits shows a model in an elegant, wide leg, pink Emilia Wickstead jumpsuit costing $1200. The hat from Sarah Cant comes in at $800, and the shoes are Sophia Webster at $480.
But the event is not as inaccessible as it first seems; every embassy in London has an allocation of passes. Traditionally, the American ambassador gives his Royal Enclosure invitations to US citizens who get their names drawn out of a hat. The practice started as a snub to Royal elitism, but the generosity does not extend to paying the entrance fee.
Those on a smaller budget can attend the Windsor Enclosure for just $40, and you can wear whatever you want—other than replica sports shirts.
Andre Walker is a Lobby Correspondent covering the work of the British Parliament and Prime Minister. Before studying journalism at the University of London he worked as a political staffer for 15 years. You can follow him on Twitter @andrejpwalker