Hats Off to Royal Ascot

Hat created by designer David Shilling, 1980s

It is that time of year again when fashion and sport collide at one of the most popular and colourful events in the British summer season – Royal Ascot. It truly is an event which sees people making an effort to get dressed up. The dress code at Royal Ascot requires all women to wear hats and all men, in the most prestigious Royal Enclosure, having to wear morning dress, including a top hat. Traditionally the third day of Royal Ascot, known as ‘Ladies Day’ is when race-goers really make a statement with the most flamboyant fashions, especially hats.

The Leeds’ dress and textile collection has lots of fantastic hats, including some amazing ones by top British milliners who will, in no doubt, have many of their creations on show at Ascot, this year. From the 1980s we have a hat by David Shilling (born 1956). His name has become synonymous with Royal Ascot, since he made his name designing and creating hats, from the age of 12, for his mother Gertrude to wear at Ascot. Although he did not have any formal millinery training his extravagant hats were an instant success.

Philip Treacy hat (purchased with help from the V&A
Purchase Grant, Leeds Art Fund, and Friends of Leeds Museums)

Another amazing hat is this one off couture hat commissioned by Leeds Museums and Galleries from the internationally acclaimed designer Philip Treacy (born 1967), in 2009 (purchased with help from the V&A Purchase Grant, Leeds Art Fund, and Friends of Leeds Museums).  The hat has a small central disk with knot design, from which radiate out antique bird of paradise feathers that give an overall delicate, smoky effect. The hat is currently on display in the Leeds Gallery at the City Museum.

 Smaller headpieces and fascinators have become increasingly popular recently. At Royal Ascot however, the organisers felt they needed to stave off this fashion and maintain a ‘proper’ hat dress code. In the Royal Enclosure it is now stated that a hat or headpiece with a disk of over 10cm in diameter has to worn.

This Philip Treacy hat is just about big enough and so would be allowed in the in the Royal Enclosure.

By Costume and Textiles Curator Natalie Raw

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