The Season: the annual migration of the social elite from the countryside to the metropolis. During the 17th and 18th centuries landowning aristocracy, the gentry and anyone with any social aspirations would temporarily move to London from April to August for a social whirl of debutante balls, sporting events and grand parties. Today the social elite’s unofficial Season includes Royal Garden parties, the Chelsea Flower Show and a host of sporting events: Royal Ascot, Henley Royal Regatta and the Polo at Windsor Great Park in its social calendar. These are events where guests can mingle and rub shoulders with royalty – but only if they adhere to the strict dress codes of The Season… At Royal Ascot, ladies must wear dresses of ‘a modest length’. This is defined as falling just above the knee or longer; furthermore dresses and tops should have straps of one inch or greater, jackets can be worn but dresses and tops underneath should still comply with the Royal Enclosure dress codes. The website lists an almost equally long list of things to beware: bare midriffs among them. Although there are strict rules and customs for practically every aspect of guests’ attire, it is the headwear that signals the wearer’s compliance with the event’s formality and tradition as well as one’s true understanding and association with such an occasion or social scene. Hats are essential and with a specified base size of at least 10cm wide, to avoid the social faux pas of turning up in a fascinator. Advice for such a labyrinth of etiquette abounds: “I would always encourage clients to wear big hats or headpieces because Ascot is all about the hat, everyone is wearing one and you will regret not going for it! The size of the hat is the only restriction for headwear, so it’s an opportunity to really make an impact and enjoy your hat wearing.” The Queen’s milliner, Rachel Trevor-Morgan, whose hats are all hand-stitched in her St James’s atelier, is well versed in the etiquette and style of what’s expected and desirable at Ascot. “What is acceptable at Royal Ascot would not necessarily be appropriate for a Royal Garden party or Henley. For these events, whilst it is formal, it is more understated.” While Ascot’s written rules on hats may sound rather daunting, they are in fact a godsend in comparison with other events whose dress code is less clear. Royal Ascot 14 - 18 June 2016
This is an extract from Clare Lewis' article in the Millinery issue.