British People Wearing Bonkers Headgear: An Explanation of Ladies Day

Today marked an annual ceremony called Ladies Day, when Royalty and their hangers-on gather to ostensibly attend a horse race in the small town of Ascot in England. The exclusive Royal Enclosure also requires attendees to adhere to particular fashion requirements, which prompt the question: Dear England, what the fuck is on your head?

British People Wearing Bonkers Headgear: An Explanation of Ladies Day

The days of balancing finery upon your hair to communicate class stature are not over. This custom is still raging on into 2013 at the Royal Ascot's Ladies Day.

To begin, let's go over some terms, vocabulary and history, shall we?

  • The Royal Ascot is a racecourse in England, in a small town of Ascot, Berkshire. It was founded on August 11, 1711, decades before our dear nation was a glint in someone's eye. Who knows why no one had anything better to do on that day?
  • The Royal Meeting is a five-day event in June held at the Ascot, which is now most famous for its sartorial fuckery.
  • The Royal Enclosure is a separate area to ensure privacy for the royal family and their guests. King George IV established the exclusive enclosure in 1822. One must be "brandishing" a royal invitation to get in.
  • Brandish means to flourish or wave something excitedly or threateningly.
  • Ladies' Day is the Thursday of Royal Meeting, in which women in the Royal Enclosure are required to wear a hat that covers "the crown of their head." It was founded in 1823, though the requirement of women to wear hats is a tradition dating back to the middle ages, when Churches were like cover up your sexy head hair. Don't worry—there are "dress code assistants" on hand, who can dole out fascinators to people that forgot their bonnets. Expect to be judged.
  • Fascinators are petite hats, in short supply this year.
  • The Royal Procession starts each day of Royal Week. This parade dates back to the 1820s. The Queen and the Royal Party arrive in horse-drawn landaus.
  • Landaus are four-wheeled, convertible carriages.
  • The Car Park Picnic is what the British call tailgating.
  • Singing Round the Bandstand is a tradition only dating back forty years, which involves an after-race medley of British standards. Songbooks are handed out so everyone knows what the fuck to sing.
  • The Grandstand is a roofed stand for spectators at a racecourse.
  • Grandstanding is to show off, usually ostentatiously.

British People Wearing Bonkers Headgear: An Explanation of Ladies Day

To gain entry into the Enclosure, you must be sponsored. This sponsorship has to be signed by someone who has been to the Royal Enclosure for at least four years. While convicted criminals and "undischarged bankrupts" (people that have declared bankruptcy) are excluded from the enclosure, divorcées have been allowed since 1955.

Now that you've made it inside, you're wondering about hat etiquette on Ladies Day, which can tidily be summed up as the following: FUCK IT. Don't bother being concerned about blocking someone's view. Ladies Day is not about the race, it's about the shit that you've piled onto your head. Oh and did I mention horses briefly? Because forget those beasts, you wanna put birds on your head if you'd really like to fit in. Also this.

British People Wearing Bonkers Headgear: An Explanation of Ladies Day

Here are some highfalutin highlights from 2013, year of our hat:

  • There's a hat apparently constructed from dozens of thin mints linked together into a semi-geometric explosion.
  • The outfit of veteran racing pundit John McCririck, which reminded me of this fashion tip: before you leave your home, you should always take off the last thing you put on, so that your outfit isn't overcrowded. What could he have possible left in his home? He's wearing all his things.
  • One hat appears to have stifled and killed a Avatar creature, whose remains are flinging themselves out from underneath a mollusk shell.
  • Potted plant, growing from human brain.
  • Dutch artist Larisa Katz, who claims that her jacket is "the first 3D printed jacket in the world." Her hat is a homemade crafts project made from ice-cream cartons.
  • Made in Chelsea's Cheska Hull who certainly yelled "Gimme that seat cushion! It's going on my head."

So it's a mixed bag to be sure—there are some hats that are atrocious, some that are bewildering, some that are made of strange materials, some that render you speechless with concern. But to each her own (hat), right? You know the phrase, that's what makes horse racing? That's definitely what that means.

Again, this Royal Ascot Ladies Day is an annual thing, happening just across the ocean. When Ladies Day was founded in 1823, an anonymous poet wrote "the women, like angels, look sweetly divine." But, now it is the hat that reaches into the ether. Keep imitating angels in heaven, hats. Looking forward to seeing you in tip-top form next year.

[Images via Wenn]

To contact the author of this post, email maggie@gawker.com.