For the first Royal Ascot covered here in June 2013, I shyly invited British milliner Katie Vale to join as a guest commenter. To my great surprise, she accepted (and returned for Ascot 2014!) and the addition of her millinery expertise, knowledge, candor and humor so elevated our conversations. After nearly a decade of cheering each other’s triumphs from afar, we were brought back together early this year to, with others, develop and launch The British Millinery Association. After spending many hours on zoom chats and email, I’m pleased to now count her as a dear friend. Last month, Katie attended Royal Ascot for the first time and generously shares that experience with us today. Welcome, Katie!
Back in 2019, my friend and fellow milliner, Jane Fryers, invited me to join her at Royal Ascot as her guest in the Royal Enclosure. Obviously, I jumped at the chance and we booked our tickets for June 2020. Then COVID hit. Royal Ascot was cancelled and we accepted Ascot Racecourse’s offer to roll our tickets over to 2021. Things were still uncertain as to whether we would be able to attend until just three weeks prior to the event when we finally heard it was a go. Having had nearly two years to think about it, I suddenly had three weeks to put together my outfit!
This year’s Ascot style theme was sustainability so I decided to wear a dress that I have had for some time. I have worn the mustard Grable dress from House of Foxy to all sorts of occasions and was confident it would work really well, not only because it adheres to the strict dress rules for the Royal Enclosure, but because it’s comfortable!
I teamed the dress with Astrid shoes and matching clutch bag from Rainbow Club. I had these dyed hot pink a few years ago and thought they would look great with this dress.
Pandemic guidelines at the time required facemasks when indoors. I purchased this fabulous sequined mask from Millhouse Millinery.
I continued the mustard and hot pink colour scheme with my hat which I made using freeform sinamay techniques I learned on a course with British milliner Tracy Chaplin. I finished the hat with golden floating curled quills in a technique I learned from Australian milliner Rebecca Share from Hatatelier.
It’s fair to say this is quite a bold colour combinations and I appreciate this palette isn’t for everyone. But for me, I am more confident in strong, bright colours (I actually feel strangely uncomfortable in neutral colours!) and don’t notice how bold my clothes are until I get comments about it! I think it’s best that we all wear whatever makes us most comfortable!
When you first arrive at the racecourse you are faced with a big grassy car park where lots of people are enjoying picnics prior to entering. This year of course was very different; as an NHS test event, we had to provide evidence of various negative COVID tests. Once through security we were greeted with a lovely view. The sun was shining, Pimms was flowing, photographers were taking pictures and I couldn’t get over the vast array of hats on display! We bumped into Elly Stemerdenk from The Hat Magazine then headed to the infamous flower wall- you can’t go to Royal Ascot and not take photos at the flower wall!
Once we had found a spot to sit were decided to take a look at the program. I picked out one horse per race to put a small bet on. I’m not into betting nor do I know anything at all about horse racing so I was pretty flummoxed when I had a big win early in the day!
In between each race, you can view the horses preparing for the next race or you can stay put and enjoy your Pimms! I went outside in the beautiful sunshine to watch some of the races, but I am actually frightened of horses! Yep, there I have said it. These incredibly beautiful animals run at very high speeds, in excess of 40 mph. The thunder of them as they charge past, whilst exhilarating for some, added to my fear. So I chose to watch a little further back, rather than right at the front barrier.
The day went by in no time and I could have stayed for several more hours. One thing that is worth noting to any one who is new to Ascot, is that there is lots of walking. Luckily, the shoes I wore are incredibly comfortable, even though high. Do make sure you consider this when working out what you will wear.
Something that I found so delightful was everyone complimenting each other. Women were happily approaching each other just to say “You look fabulous!”, “Your hat is wonderful!” There was no end of compliments passed between strangers or nods and smiles of approval. It was incredibly refreshing to see. And whilst the horse racing is of course the essence of Royal Ascot….it simply is “like nowhere else” and the fashion makes the event.
What a day, Katie! I was so pleased (and a little jealous!) to hear what a wonderful time you had. And your hat- what a beauty. I absolutely ADORE the scale, shape, quills and unexpected but beautifully vibrant mustard and fuchsia colour scheme. It’s such a head turner! Thanks, Katie, for sharing this Ascot adventure with us. May it be the first of many!
You can check out Katie’s lovely work at Katie Vale Designs and follow her on Instagram here. Jane Fryers is known for her fish leather hats (including the one she’s wearing above) which are showcased on her website and Instagram.
Images by Katie Vale and Jane Fryers. None may not be replicated without written permission.