The Melbourne Cup vs Royal Ascot

I distinctly remember being astounded by three things on the news when I arrived in Australia at the end of 2016.

I remember the tragic news of the four lives lost on the Thunder River Rapids ride at a Gold Coast theme park. The news that Donald Trump was elected President of the United States, and the pictures and videos of drunk people at the Melbourne Cup.

I remember being very surprised at how this huge day in racing seemed to be all about drinking and partying.

The Royal Ascot carnival is very different. The annual five-day event during the European summer is probably the most ‘English’, traditional and unique sporting event you can attend. It’s a must for any sporting or horse racing fan.

Now, I’m not saying it’s better, just different.

One of the ways it differs comes down to style.

Fashions on the Field champion Crystal Kimber says Australian racing fashion is far less traditional.

“You don’t see any of those crazy outfits, men wearing rainbow suits,” she says.

“Everyone puts in the effort – beautiful millinery. People also really invest in it, too.”

The Royal Family
The Queen and other members of the Royal Family ride from Windsor Castle to Ascot Racecourse in open-topped, horse-drawn carriages, known as landaus, and parade along the track in front of other racegoers.

This happens at 2pm like clockwork each day and marks the start of the day. The first race sets off soon after at 2:30pm, giving the Queen time to settle in the Royal Enclosure.

The royal procession is a tradition that dates back to the 1820s and the reign of King George IV, when it was then referred to as the Royal Parade or Royal Drive.

This is a rare opportunity to get so close to the Queen and serves as the moment the public get to see the colour of Her Majesty’s outfit, as many bookmakers take bets on what colour hat she’ll be wearing.

Did you know?
The Queen (accompanied by Prince Phillip, Duke of Edinburgh) was the first reigning monarch to visit Flemington in 1954. Her Majesty was again a visitor in 1963 and 1977.

The Birdcage vs the Royal Enclosure
While The Birdcage at Flemington is a hive of celebrity and notable personalities during the Melbourne Cup Carnival, the most sought-after ticket at Royal Ascot is admittance to the Royal Enclosure, the place to be if you want to rub shoulders with the Royal Family.

Access is highly restricted: you need to be sponsored by an existing member who has attended for four previous years, and a strict dress code is enforced.

The dress code for the Melbourne Cup
The Club Stand and the Grandstand
A day in the Members Enclosure at Flemington is a special event and attendees need to dress smartly and appropriately, taking into consideration true racing style.

Attendees cannot wear any form of the following footwear: joggers, sports shoes, track shoes, runners, slippers, dilapidated footwear, gumboots or thongs.

The following are also not accepted:

  • shorts
  • jeans, jodhpurs, tracksuits or untailored pants
  • denim
  • torn or ripped clothing
  • midriffs on show
  • pants tucked into socks
  • leggings worn as pants
  • parkas, duffel coats or windbreakers.


Ladies must wear items of a suitable length and gentlemen are required to wear a suit of tailored slacks (tailored chinos acceptable), sports coat or blazer, plus tie and dress shoes.

Overseas visitors are welcome to wear the formal national dress of their country.

General admission
There’s no formal dress code for the general admission area, people are encouraged to put some imagination into their outfits. But attendees have to keep it tasteful and classy, fancy dress, rips, lots of bare skin, denim, or casual wear is not acceptable.

All the elegance and glamour of Royal Ascot is still there in Fashion on the Field and the marquees though.

The dress code for Royal Ascot
Royal Enclosure – Ladies
Formal daywear is a requirement in the Royal Enclosure, defined as follows:

  • Dresses and skirts should fall just above the knee or longer.
  • Straps need to be at least one inch wide. Strapless, off the shoulder, halter neck and spaghetti straps are not permitted.
  • Jackets and pashminas may be worn.
  • Midriffs must be covered.
  • Full-length trouser suits of matching material and colour are welcome.
  • 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.


Royal Enclosure – Gentlemen
It is a requirement for gentlemen to wear either black, grey or navy morning dress, which must include:

  • a waistcoat and tie (no cravats or bow ties)
  • a black or grey top hat
  • black shoes worn with socks.


The customisation of top hats (with, for example, coloured ribbons or bands) is not permitted.

The Village Enclosure
Things are a little more relaxed in the Village Enclosure. Ladies are still asked to dress to fit a formal occasion, but fascinators can be worn in place of a hat. No strapless or sheer dresses but jumpsuits are allowed, midriffs must still be covered and absolutely no shorts.

Gentlemen must wear full-length trousers and jacket with a collared shirt and tie, bow tie or cravat. Socks that cover the ankle should be worn and jeans and sneakers are not permitted.

Another key difference between the UK and Australian racing experience is the respect for the racing itself. A day during Royal Ascot usually starts with a formal lunch, then the royal procession, followed by six races in quick succession, and only then is it time to party.

Are you a fan of horse racing? Have you attended Royal Ascot or the Melbourne Cup? Would you change anything about either event?

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Ellie Baxter
Ellie Baxter
Writer and editor with interests in travel, health, wellbeing and food. Has knowledge of marketing psychology, social media management and is a keen observer and commentator on issues facing older Australians.
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