Dress for Royal Ascot & Beyond


by Liz Cocozza

Leading fashion director and stylist Liz Cocozza talks Royal Ascot dress codes and styling a flattering on-trend dress that will see you through Royal Ascot into summer and beyond.


Ridley London's special dresses for summer occasions come in a selection of statement floral print and vivid solid silks. Paired here with hats by Camilla Rose Millinery which are available to hire and purchase in store

Next week marks the start of Royal Ascot, without doubt one of the highlights of the British summer social season and now a major destination fashion event in its own right. Millions of people will be tuning in or reading the daily front row coverage of the celebrity outfits and latest trends hoping to get a steer or some inspiration, perhaps for an outfit for a wedding or special occasion later in the summer. And with this in mind, I think we’re going to see the emerging trend of adaptable ‘smart’ dressing come to the fore at Royal Ascot this year. As consumers, we’re definitely changing from the days of buying an outfit for a one-off special event, particularly when we think about the environment and a 30 wears target. We’re all looking for much greater wearability and versatility from our clothes. In short we don’t just want a special dress for this year’s Royal Ascot, but something we can wear right the way through the summer and potentially also for events next year and beyond, courtesy of a clever accessories update. With this in mind there are a few important considerations to take into account.


Dress Codes for Royal Ascot

If you’re visiting Royal Ascot for the first time this year you’ll need to understand the dress codes, especially if you’re in the Royal Enclosure where formal daywear is a requirement. While Royal Ascot dress codes have relaxed over the years in line with more contemporary style, they maintain certain standards and in many ways give Royal Ascot a special appeal and status. For the Royal Enclosure, dresses and skirts should be of modest length defined as falling just above the knee or longer. Dresses and tops should have straps of one inch or greater. Strapless, off the shoulder, halter neck and spaghetti straps are not permitted, neither is this season’s trend for exposed midriffs. Dresses and tops with sheer straps and sleeves are also not permitted. Jackets and pashminas may be worn, but the tops and dresses underneath should still comply with the Royal Enclosure Dress Code rules. Trouser suits are welcome. They should be of full-length to the ankle and of matching material and colour. Jumpsuits are also welcome, and they also need to fall below the knee, with regulations matching that for dresses. Hats should be worn; however, a headpiece which has a solid base of 4 inches (10cm) or more in diameter is acceptable as an alternative to a hat. Fascinators are not permitted. And while this may sound somewhat draconian, actually it still leaves a lot of leeway while maintaining standards.


Balancing personal style with fashion trends

Choosing the right outfit for a special event like Royal Ascot or a wedding is as much about embracing ones own personal style and enhancing our unique figures and colourings, as it is about following the specific dress codes. While basic style rules of thumb exist for matching dress shapes to body shapes, such as a V neck for a bigger bust and higher neck for a flatter chest area or the dated belief that a certain shade will only suit an individual colouring, they’re merely a guideline and it is important to remember that foremost you will always need to feel comfortable and confident in whatever you are wearing. Using the services of an experienced stylist will always be worthwhile. There’s also the careful balance to strike between choosing an outfit that's on-trend and something more classic. For an investment piece, I would always head away from this season's novelty fashion statement and into the more classic, chic half of the spectrum. However, this is far from old fashioned or fussy and with the right accessories and styling, a classic dress can look striking and contemporary. If you’re looking for a dress that you’re guaranteed to want to wear more than once, especially if like me you’re not 21. I would recommend shopping with a label like Ridley London, where each style can be tailored to flatter in any of their incredible silks and cottons. Their experienced stylists are there to help you find the right dress and fit for you. I can’t stress enough just what a game changer this type of service really is. While a price tag of £300 upwards can at first appear daunting, the amount of extra wear you’ll get out of it and the incredible feeling of wearing a customised dress that really flatters, definitely makes up for the price difference of other off-the-rail or high street alternatives. I’m still regularly wearing my Ridley dresses and skirts four years on. So with this in mind, here are my predictions for the key styles we’ll see in the Royal Enclosure next week that wouldn’t be out of place at a wedding or summer party this season or even a more casual event, along with my advice on how to style them.


Look 1: The classic British floral print dress


These chic floral print silk dresses from Ridley London epitomise classic Royal Ascott style (clockwise from top left) The Josie midi dress in the beautiful Evabelle print, The Arabela midi is a real favourite in the Lemon Hampton Wedding silk chiffon print, and (bottom) the Millicent shirt dress in shown here in the  white and tangerine Edie silk satin print is both elegant, comfortable and versatile

Nothing says Royal Ascot and the British Summer season like a beautiful floral print dress. The selection from Ridley London this season are exceptional, classically elegant and can be easily dressed up or down for a variety of events with the right accessories. And as each dress is individually made to measure, there’s also an incredible selection of printed floral fabrics and Liberty prints to choose from. For me, I like the balance between a more contemporary style and classical print. Here are three worth considering:

1. Arabella midi dress  

This dress would suit both a curvy figure due to the nipped in waist and button front fastening. Being a midi length it will also work well on slightly shorter women too. It is such a gorgeous floral print and perfect with trainers for a more dressed down look, but equally great worn with kitten heels and a hat for a special event. The tiered full skirt is both feminine and on-trend in equal measure. Shop Now

2. Josie midi dress 

Such a pretty style, this chic classic style with a vintage feel and high neckline would work well on a slightly flatter chest. The perfect summer day dress, with a satin ribbon belt, which would team beautifully with summer wedges and a headpiece for Ascot or with flats or trainers for a summer drinks party. The frill collar and belt detail make this a winner this season and beyond. The full balloon sleeve adds detailed interest and will not require a jacket to finish the look. Shop Now

3. Millicent shirt dress.

The slimline and length of this flattering silk satin dress, would look sensational on a slightly taller physique. This is an elegant cut with would work well for Ascot with gorgeous chic summer pumps and a pale yellow hat. The pale lemon and blue are a big trend this season and when worn down with trainers or candles it will immediately become more relaxed and feel more day like. Shop Now

My top tips for styling a classic Ascot look

1. Wear comfortable wedges or a block heel if possible. Stilettos are tricky on grass and you want to wear something you will be able to stand in all day.

2. If you are wearing a hat, try to avoid big earrings also, a smaller, more chic design, such as a pretty stud or small diamond hoop, this will allow the hat to centre stage while complimenting your outfit.

3. Accessories with a smallish hand or shoulder bag. A bigger bag such as a shopper or tote will give your classic dress a more dressed down look. A beautiful, chic smaller bag, will elevate your total look, creating a more glamorous appeal.

4. Choose a jacket or summer coat that will compliment your dress. If you are wearing a print or summer floral design, try teaming with a block colour smart jacket or coat. The contrast will appear more striking and give structure to the overall silhouette.

5. Accessories block colour classic dresses with a more flamboyant style hat to add drama and balance to your overall appearance.


Look 2: On-trend block colour dressing


I predict that this seasons trend for solid, block colour dressing will be extremely visible at Royal Ascot this year and Ridley London have some great options (clockwise from top left) the tailored Heyde shirt dress in turquoise silk crepe de chine, and the new Isla dress in tangerine lawn cotton and navy broderie anglaise cotton

While floral prints are pretty much timeless, a lot of the catwalks, magazines and high streets are all about dressing head to toe in solid block colours. This does slightly reduce the versatility of an outfit compared with a print, and you will need to choose a flattering colour that compliments your natural skin tone, however this look is very workable. As with the RHS Chelsea Flower Show a few weeks ago, I predict we’re going to see a lot of block colour dresses in the Royal Enclosure and forthcoming fashion pages next week. Here are my three favourites from the new Ridley London Collection:

1. Isla dress in tangerine

This gorgeous tangerine coloured dress, is great for either curvy or a more slender physique. This strong tone always suits a more olive or tanned skin tone. The lightweight cotton is perfect for a balmy summer day, together with the ruffle design detail which is an on-trend feature, plus in my book the tiered maxi is here to stay. Shop Now

2. Isla dress in navy

The Isla dress in navy embroidery anglaise, takes chic and modern dressing to a whole new level. This colour suits everyone and the weightier fabric gives more structure to the design, and is possibly more forgiving than its lightweight cotton sister. Shop Now

3. Heyde shirt dress

This stunning and elegant block colour silk dress is a true classic in every sense of the word and in my opinion looks fabulous with blonde or dark hair. The flattering tie waist and midi length would suit most body shapes and for those who avoid maxis, this dress ticks all the boxes. Shirt dresses seem to reinvent themselves every season, but the fabric, vibrant colour and chic design make this one extra special.

My styling tips for dressing in block colours

Dress up block colour outfits with statement hats, jewellery and handbags. Here you can afford to go a little over the top with accessories as you are working with a blank canvas. Make sure you chose accessories that compliment the shade of your dress and allow the outfit to work together as a total outfit. 


Look 3: The tailored jacket over the floaty floral dress


If you're looking for the ultimate in on-trend versatility then I would strongly recommend a Co-ord like this beautiful floral print Carmen midi skirt and blouse combination (top), which can be paired with an on-trend tailored jacket in a complimentary shade. (Bottom) the new Manon dress fits the strictest of formal dress codes but will also see you onto a beach and into summer holidays

Many of this season’s most influential catwalk shows have featured the key combination look of a floaty floral dress teamed with a tailored jacket. This is hardly surprising given the immediate versatility this look brings, not to mention the flattering benefits of good tailoring. While many of the jackets from the edgier labels such as Gucci and Celine were oversized, heavily shoulder padded and tailored with lashings of irony, this is a look which has already successfully translated onto the high street and I’m sure will feature at Ascot's the Royal Enclosure, as well as a number of weddings and garden parties, all be it with slightly more classic tailoring. Ridley’s classic cord blazers are also available in striking satin to give your outfit some playful punch.

1. Manon Dress

I love the idea of teaming this vintage print Manon dress with an oversized satin blazer for Ascot. The juxtaposition of the feminine floral print and a masculine tailored jacket is always a strong fashion statement, but here it works equally well to create a striking finished look for Ascot. Shop Now

I also adore this print for Ascot and would wear it with a striking white oversized jacket or blazer and summer wedges creating a bold and flattering noticeable look. A contrasting hat and satin clutch would add a finishing touch to your race day style. Shop Now

2. Hettie Dress

This show-stopping holiday dress is completely versatile. Worn with a cord blazer or satin tailored jacket and it would be transformed into a smart modern day look for any event. Often shoes make all the difference. A heel or wedge immediately says event, where as adding trainer or flat sandals creates a more relaxed easy style always.

My styling tips for achieving this look

The beauty of buying a well designed dress, is that it will work hard in your wardrobe. Longevity and sustainability are more important now than ever and each considered purchase we make has to fit the bill. All of the Ridley London dresses I have mentioned can be transformed season after season by simply adding a jacket, changing a shoe or styling with new and up-to-date accessories.

Look 4: Tailoring & trouser suits

One of the big catwalk trends this season is the return of tailoring, and trouser suits were in full bloom at RHS Chelsea Flower Show a few weeks ago, including being worn by a senior Royal as well as a number of celebrities (Read our report). The trend is an obvious reaction to a recent period of increasingly feminine floral dresses, and with the right footwear, hat and accessories it is definitely a look considered acceptable within the Royal Enclosure. My prediction will be trousers will be shorter and more formally tailored and dressed with heels opposed to trainers. It’s worth remembering that while a trouser suit can look amazing, dresses it would seem, are universally more popular.

Look 5: Clever Co-ords

Who doesn’t want three looks (a dress, skirt and top) for the price of one and if you’re looking for ultimate versatility and value for money, then capsule co-ords needs consideration. Co-ords broke through into the public consciousness last year and when a belt and accessories are added they look utterly seamless. Given their obvious versatility, my bet would be on this outsider for the Royal Enclosure’s fashion stakes.

The Sammy maxi skirt & Carina blouse

It makes absolute fashion sense to buy co-ords allowing you to create 4 or 5 outfits out of 2 pieces. This beautiful blue ruffle cotton blouse and matching maxi skirt look sensational worn together as a dress or styled separately. This is clever dressing for the days you just want to slip on a dress, or for other times when you have more hours to spare and want to play with styling. Shop the Skirt  Shop the blouse

. Team your maxi skirt with contrasting tops, sweatshirts or jumpers for a more relaxed look.

. Wear the cotton blouse with high-waisted flared silk trousers and a velvet blazer. 

. These beautiful soft cotton separates can be rolled into your suitcase and work equally well on holiday, the skirt with flip-flops and a t shirt or he blouse with cut-off denim shorts and a sunhat.


Let's talk about length

While maxi continues to be the length of choice and a key fashion statement on the catwalk and on the high street, it isn’t a length for everyone. The key to dressing is to remember your proportions and also what suits your body shape and your personal style.Ridley London, tailor make their beautiful dresses and separates, specifically for you. Your style, your fabric, your choice.


Ridley London's new collection of made to measure statement summer floral and solid colour dresses is available to purchase online and in Ridley's Barnes store. Celebrate your individuality this season with a unique piece that's individually crafted to flatter from your choice of any of our stunning new printed floral or solid silks or cottons. Or call us to arrange a virtual fitting: 

Ridley London, 82 Church Road, Barnes, London SW13 0DQ T: 01730 823097


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