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What's the story with all the mad hats at Ladies' Day anyway? We investigated

Here’s everything you need to know about the first thing on any non-racegoers lips.

Image: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

LADIES’ DAY IS hands-down the glammest event of the year.

It’s a big ol’ glam sandwich.

Fancy dresses, suits, everyone making a bit of effort to scrub up well and get into the spirit of looking swank.

But the cherry on the top – kind of literally, actually – is the hats.

What’s the story there, though? The only other place a hat is such a MUST is on the head of the mother of the bride at a wedding.

Why the races?

We investigated…

It turns out that it dates all the way back to the early 18th century.

Source: AP/Press Association Images

We can thank the British royals for the tradition. It all began in 1711, when Queen Anne came across land that was, in her own words, “ideal for horses to gallop at a stretch.”

This became the Royal Ascot, with the first permanent building erected around 1794 by a local Windsor building. (PSSST: Bonus info alert. This actually explains why the opening race of the Royal Ascot is called the Queen Anne Stakes, if you were wondering.)

The popularity of the races reached new heights with the introduction of the Gold Cup in 1807. This became the feature race on the third day of the festival, which also now coincides with Ladies’ Day.

Fashion became a fixture at the races around 1825, when King George IV started a tradition of a royal carriage procession up the racecourse. Suddenly, this was a MAJOR event in the aristocratic social season.

Pass the caviar, dahlink etc etc.

Yes, yes… But what about the hats?

Source: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

By the early 20th century, Ascot has become as well known for its fashion as it was for its racing. For both men and women, the races became an occasion to dress up in their Sunday’s finest.

But they must wear a hat.

Why?

Well, Ascot’s dress code became quite strict in their attempts to maintain high standards.

Even though the fashion for hat wearing wasn’t as prominent in society, Ascot continued to make them obligatory dress at all formal occasions.

The only thing that did change was the style of the hats. Racegoers weren’t limited to traditional style, but were encouraged to wear the most extravagant and extraordinary hats possible. (Cue chants of “She’s got a pineapple… On her head…”)

And, why did people do it?

It was all so that they could get into the Royal Enclosure, of course.

OK. Wait, what’s the Royal Enclosure when it’s at home?

Source: PA Wire/PA Images

The Royal Enclosure was the place to be for anyone that wanted to mix with the higher classes. But entry requires stickin’ to that strict dress code. In other words: WEAR A HAT.

For men, this meant a sharp suit with a top hat – and for the ladies, it meant wearing a respectable dress with an OBLIGATORY hat. This naturally sparked a competition for the best dressed.

But the traditional, elegant dresses left little room to maneuver and so the sense of one-upmanship and competition became centred around the hats. They became increasingly more elaborate and extravagant as every year passed.

The tradition has only grown stronger down the years, with Ladies’ Day remaining the highlight of many people’s social calendars.

So now you know! Time to impress your mates down the pub with all your trivia on hats and Ladies’ Day… Or meet them at the Listowel Races, on til the 19th of September.

Check out all our previous craic on the races>

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About the author:

Donal Lucey

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