Top of page

Royal Ascot, Ladies Clothing, and Whips

Share this post:

The United Kingdom is renowned as a nation of animal lovers.  Our laws protecting animals are extensive, and range from prohibiting sheep from riding in the backseat of cars (even if they are the family pet) to the controversial ban on hunting with hounds that outlawed fox hunting across the nation.  Animals are an integral part of many peoples’ lives, with a couple of animal-related events being an annual highlight of the social calendar.

One of these events is Royal Ascot, which is popular with Royals and “commoners” alike.   For those who may not be aware, Royal Ascot is a horse race that for the past three hundred years:

... has established itself as a national institution and the centrepiece of the British social calendar as well as being the ultimate stage for the best racehorses in the world.

The event occurs over five days and includes horse races such as the Queen Anne Stakes, the King’s Stand Stakes and the Prince of Wales’s Stakes.

Now, an event of such standing and magnitude does not operate without some rules of its own.  They are a blend of the Rules of Racing, set by the British Horse Racing Authority (BHA), and the Dress Code set by Royal Ascot itself.

The dress code of Royal Ascot is rather important as, if this is going to be the social event of the year for the British calendar, by jove, it has to be done properly.  The resulting event is not only important for horse racing, but also has become a high fashion hot spot among the ladies.  Unique hats have even resulted in people losing their jobs.

The Dress Code of Royal Ascot has altered slightly over the years, and does vary according to which enclosure the spectator is in.  The Royal Enclosure has the most stringent dress code.  Gentlemen must wear morning dress (also known as top hat and tails) in grey or black with a waistcoat and tie (no cravats), a matching top hat, and black shoes.  For ladies, the list of what must not be worn includes: strapless dresses, and those with halter necks or straps less than one inch wide are not permitted; dresses and skirts must not be shorter than “slightly above the knee,” midriffs may not be exposed, and hats are required.  Fascinators (made popular by Her Royal Highness The Duchess of Cambridge, Catherine Middleton) are no longer permitted in the Royal Enclosure.  The Grandstand, which is not as formal and where “the masses” gather, still permits fascinators, but reminds ladies to: “dress in a manner as befits a formal occasion.”  Strapless dresses; mini-skirts; bare midriffs and shorts remain prohibited, and hats or fascinators must be worn at all times.  Gentlemen must wear a suit with shirt and tie in this enclosure.

On the race track, the rules are no less stringent with regards to the conduct of races (not the attire of the horses).  The BHA is:

the regulator for [horse] Racing in Great Britain, [and] takes its responsibilities in relation to animal welfare extremely seriously. The Authority believesthat high standards of animal welfare and good horsemanship are central to the future of the sport.

One area of controversy in British horse racing has been the use of whips on horses during races.  This has been tightly regulated by the BHA, which recently modified its rules after undertaking an extensive study on the use of whips.  Previously, it controversially limited the use of the whip on horses to five hits in the final furlough or after the last obstacle, or no more than seven times in a flat race, or eight times over jumps.  The resulting punishment for violating this provision was a suspension, which, if longer than three days, led to the loss of entitlement to any prize money and the riders’ fee.  This was criticized by many as being too punitive and the BHA quickly modified it.  The rule now provides that the whip is still limited in terms of how many times it may be used, but not where in the race.  The penalty for its use is not quite as harsh – there is no loss of the riders’ fee, and the jockey only loses a percentage of the price money if they receive a suspension of seven or more days.

In addition to the rules on how many times the whip may be used before it is considered to be excessive, there are also rules regulating where the whip can be used, and that it must not be used improperly.  Examples of what the BHA consider constitute improper use include:

hitting the horse to the extent of causing a weal or an injury; with the whip arm above shoulder height; rapidly without regard to their stride (that is twice or more in one stride); with excessive force; without giving the horse time to respond; or hitting horses that are showing no response; out of contention; clearly winning; or past the winning post.

Whilst these rules are some of the most stringent of any nation, horse racing continues to be the sport of Kings and commoners alike and is extremely popular and well attended in Great Britain.



  1. Reading this, I can’t help but be reminded of the Ascot Opening Day scene in the film version of “My Fair Lady”.

Add a Comment

This blog is governed by the general rules of respectful civil discourse. You are fully responsible for everything that you post. The content of all comments is released into the public domain unless clearly stated otherwise. The Library of Congress does not control the content posted. Nevertheless, the Library of Congress may monitor any user-generated content as it chooses and reserves the right to remove content for any reason whatever, without consent. Gratuitous links to sites are viewed as spam and may result in removed comments. We further reserve the right, in our sole discretion, to remove a user's privilege to post content on the Library site. Read our Comment and Posting Policy.

Required fields are indicated with an * asterisk.