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Hats off to Royal Ascot as horserace boasts stunning millinery

Going all out - a race-goer wears a vast headpiece at Royal Ascot
Going all out - a race-goer wears a vast headpiece at Royal Ascot Copyright AP Photo
Copyright AP Photo
By Saskia O'Donoghue
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It's the glitziest event in horse racing but, like most years, the main talking point is the vast array of impressive headwear on show.

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While all eyes were on the newly-crowned King Charles and his wife Queen Camilla at this year’s exclusive Royal Ascot, there was another talking point aside from the royals - the extravagant, impressive and sometimes gravity-defying hats worn by some race-goers.

While Charles attended his first event since he succeeded his late mother Queen Elizabeth, with he and Camilla wiping away tears in the Royal Box as their horse Desert Hero won the sporting affair, much of the focus of the opening day's glitzy happening was the millinery on show.

AP Photo
Feathers galore - an impressive headpiece at Royal AscotAP Photo

Remarkable hats have long been a mainstay at the event, the jewel in horse racing’s crowning. Over the past nine years, the Royal Ascot Millinery Collective has been in place, celebrating the ‘wearable art’ which top milliners create for those who attend the fete, whether it’s be seen, to see - or both. 

Hats off

American hat designer Sarah Sokol was part of this year’s collective. Best known for creating hats worn by celebrities like Beyoncé, Janelle Monae and Billy Porter - including the mechanical headpiece he wore to the 2020 Grammys - she explained, "Designing a hat for Royal Ascot is different than designing hats for celebrities… it was a project that I was able to have full creative control [over] and it was just anything I wanted it to be. It really just came out so magical and better than I ever hoped".

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Tutti fruity - colourful hats made a splash at the racing eventAP Photo

Souri Sengdara, who hails from Australia and was the winner of the Melbourne Millinery competition, told press, “I just wanted to create works of art and so it was wonderful that Royal Ascot approached me to create a work of art for them. Because I thought, how could it get any better after winning the biggest Millinery competition in the world? So, then it got better.”

Royal Ascot
Souri Sengdara's 'peace dove' designRoyal Ascot

Talking about her stunning design, Sengdara added, “Royal Ascot asked me to create this work of art and I created this thing, it's a peace dove, it's turned its back on us, it's sitting idly and not doing its job while the world goes to war".

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Blooming lovely - one Royal Ascot attendee wore a sunflower-inspired pieceAP Photo

It seems like anything goes at Royal Ascot - when it comes to hats at least. 

While the Jockey Club announced in February that it was removing all formal dress codes at all of its 15 racecourses as part of a drive to make horseracing more “accessible and inclusive”, the Royal event is in an entirely different league.

Rules are incredibly strict, with the organisation’s websites stating, among other requirements, that dresses and skirts should fall just above the knee or longer, shoulder straps must have a minimum width of 1 inch or 2.5cm and hats must be worn, with fascinators deemed unacceptable.

The rules also state that items “excessively oversized, or are promoting or marketing any product or brand” are forbidden, but given some of the designs on show - vast feathered headpieces, fruit-inspired designs and enormous feathered millinery - it’s not entirely clear how tough this part of the dress code really is.

Watch the video above to see more of this year's headwear.

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