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Ascot ladies' bizarre hat show

Is it a hat? Photo: Meridian

A drop of rain could not affect sartorial standards at Royal Ascot today.

Umbrellas went up as the clouds burst over the Berkshire racecourse but racegoers' vibrant outfits provided the splash of colour needed to brighten up the grey day.

The new dress code meant more thought had to go into outfits this Ladies' Day, always a highlight of the social season.

Headpieces, hats or fascinators must be worn in the grandstand area - with hats mandatory in the royal enclosure.

Bare shoulders are also a no-no, midriffs must be covered and dresses and skirts have to be of a "modest" length.

A race-goer shelters under an umbrella on Ladies Day during day three of the 2012 Royal Ascot meeting Credit: David Davies/PA Wire

Men must also wear a shirt and tie in the grandstand.

A team of dress code assistants are on hand to give out fascinators, pashmina-style shawls and ties to those not quite coming up to scratch.

Guide dog Zoey, a four-year-old black Labrador, had been kitted out in a purple, yellow and green hat by owners David and Judith Adams from Warwickshire, to make sure she passed muster.

They were also wearing the colours of Kauto Star, owned by their friend Clive Smith, as ribbons on their outfits.

Mr Adams, who borrowed the hat from a friend who wore it at Windsor racecourse on Monday, said: "We'd been reading about the fashion police and these rules and regulations, and thought: 'Oh my goodness, we'd better comply'.

"Because she's wearing the harness, both her crown and shoulders are covered."

Rachel Simpson from Lake District shows off her hat during day three of the 2012 Royal Ascot Credit: Steve Parsons/PA Wire

But one racegoer had her bubble burst when she was told her red, white and blue balloon creation was classed as a "novelty hat" - and therefore not acceptable.

A dress code assistant approached Natalie Haverstock, a balloon artist who works under the name Miss Ballooniverse, and took her to one side after she put the balloon hat on inside the grounds.

She was also wearing a miniature blue bowler hat headpiece as stipulated by officials, but was told she had to take the balloons off.

Ms Haverstock, who also wore a Union Jack dress and shoes, told the woman: "I'm wearing a hat."

Nick Knowles and Jessica Rose on Ladies Day Credit: David Davies/PA Wire

But the dress code assistant, who had been patrolling the grounds looking for those flaunting the fashion regulations, told her firmly: "It's definitely a novelty hat."

Ms Haverstock, from Canary Wharf, London, was ushered off the premises by a security guard when she tried to pose for photographs just outside the gates.

She said: "I thought I could bend the rules, but no such luck.

"This is the fourth year I've worn one of my creations to Ladies' Day - and the first time I've been told to take it off.

"I knew there were new rules in place, but I'm a balloon artist and this is my creativity, and I'm being told it's not welcome.

"Usually the staff take pictures of me themselves.

"I think they've taken it too far."

Natalie Light shelters under an umbrella as she attends the third day of Royal Ascot Credit: AP Photo/Alastair Grant

Asked what she would do with her balloon hat, she replied: "I've got to check it into the cloakroom - but it's quite robust so it should be all right."

A group of five friends wearing hats on the theme of Britishness were luckier however and got past the so-called fashion police, who were distinctly dressed in purple suits, with no problems.

The dress code assistant who had spoken to Ms Haverstock said they were not classed as novelty hats.

She added: "They're quite clearly eccentric and we support British eccentricity."

Is there anyone there? Sarah Gomme reports from Ladies' Day at Ascot.

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