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Chevaux et Chapeaux

Last month, I was delighted by the internet news coverage of Ladies' Day at Royal Ascot. Have you ever noticed that fancy hats and fancy horses seem to be very closely linked? I wonder if it has anything to with the fact that the two words look so much alike in French (chevaux=horses, chapeaux=hats). It is tradition for ladies to wear hats at the world's most famous horse racing events, including Royal Ascot and The Kentucky Derby. Because of my Bon Bon Queen hat, I'm often told that I'd be the perfect "date" for The Kentucky Derby, but truth be told, I'm more interested in attending the very posh Royal Ascot which is steeped in tradition and aristocratic pomp (the first Royal Ascot took place in 1711).

There are very few events left in this world where a strict dress code must be followed, but Royal Ascot is still one of them. Within the Royal Enclosure, skirts can't be too short (no more than two inches above the knee); dresses must have shoulder straps at least one inch wide (no halters, strapless, shoestrings or off-the-shoulder items); midriffs cannot be bared; and panties are required (is anyone checking?). Break the dress code rules, and you can be turned away at the gate. The code is equally strict for men - morning dress only, which means tailcoat, pinstripe trousers, and top hat. At Ascot, the tailcoat is traditionally grey rather than black. Men can indeed wear an ascot or cravat, but most prefer a tie since it doesn't require wearing a wing collar.

Hats for ladies are also required. And this is where it gets fun. I love the sofa hat; it's just missing one thing - a tin of South 'n France bon bons for "sitting around on the sofa eating bon bons". In the good ol' days, ladies' hats had to "substantially cover the crown of one's head". Now hats may be as simple as a "substantial fascinator". What is a fascinator, you might ask? I certainly had to. A fascinator is an intricate, slightly frivolous head decoration worn on the hair. They are commonly made with lace, flowers, feathers and beads and they attach by a comb, clip, hat pin, bobby pins, or a headband. All of the hats you see at Ladies' Day at Royal Ascot may not be fascinators, but they are all fascinating. Hats range from chic haute couture to the truly outlandish - one of my favorites in the 'outlandish' category is the Stilton Cheese hat. Is she The Fromage Queen, I wonder? Perhaps she owns a cheese shop. 

I'd love to get an invitation to Royal Ascot (it's the only way you're allowed in). Perhaps Simon Cowell will invite me next year. It certainly looks like his crowd had a good time this year - they even bet on the winning horse, which just goes to show that Simon really does know how to spot talent! In exchange for an invitation, I'd be more than happy to bring bon bons to the traditional Ascot "tailgate" picnic. (Unlike our casual American tailgate parties at football games, Royal Ascot tailgates usually consist of champagne, lobster and caviar consumed from the back of a limousine.)

Naturally, the Royal Family attends Royal Ascot each year. People even take bets on what color hat and dress ensemble the queen will wear (this year, it was yellow). Everyone watches the Queen for cues on how to conduct themselves. For example, as soon as she puts down her fork to indicate that she's finished with the luncheon before the races, everyone else must do so as well. I hope she eats very slowly!

I absolutely adore this YouTube video, which is a great compilation of the most wild and wonderful hats of Royal Ascot in recent years. I would be proud to wear any one of the hats featured in the video. So far, I've only come across one Royal Ascot hat, I don't think I'd be willing to don. It might make a nice carpet for my office, though...

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