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It is hard to decide whether Royal Ascot, undoubtedly a British institution par excellence, is a charming and stylish event to be celebrated, or a symbol of enduring privilege to be decried. Perhaps both.
Ascot as a racecourse, or so legend would have it, was founded by Queen Anne in 1711 , but it was not until the second half of the 18th century that what is now known as Royal Ascot began to develop as a great social occasion. The June gathering of the great and the minted is now as it has been for generations one of the main set-pieces of The Season.
What sets Royal Ascot apart from other race meetings is the guaranteed presence of members of the royal family, the Queen’s arrival in horse-drawn carriage part of the choreography. That presence sets a tone for those allowed into the Royal Enclosure, with a strictly enforced dress-code operating. Ladies must wear a hat or substantial ‘fascinator’, bare shoulders are banned, likewise midriffs and mini-skirts. Gentlemen must sport black or grey morning dress and woe betide any who fails to follow the rules on when top hats may be removed. Rather like membership of the aristocracy itself entrance to the Royal Enclosure is discreetly maintained, with new entrants requiring sponsorship by someone who has him- or herself held a badge on four previous years.
For all the annoying social-divide stuff there is much to enjoy about the event: the ridiculous hats previously worn by Gertrude Shilling and emulated since by thousands seeking a photo in the press; the decorum and dignity; and yes, even the racing, no day without at least one group race. Royal Ascot is a spectacle, a milestone in the year, and an opportunity for those with the opportunity to display some very British style.

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On this day:
Drake completes the first circumnavigation of the globe - 1580, 1st British Open Golf Championship - 1861, Blackpool illuminations light up for 1st time - 1925, 1st Birds Eye Fishfingers go on Sale - 1955, 21 IRA men escape from Maze Prison - 1983
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