From time to time on BTLOH we will be armchair travellers and travel in the imagination to different places where we can learn about horses and the equestrian life in unique ways.
It is, to be sure, not easy to travel at the moment. But the time will come when it will be easier. And I think that, when things seem so very difficult, it does us good to think about what we can do now and what we will be able to do in the future, once the clouds of this storm of the pandemic have passed, and the sun comes out shining brightly once again, as it will assuredly do. And one day all of our preparations and imaginings will have had their effect and we will find ourselves where we can only dream of going now. I believe that we must believe in Spring
And one of those things that we can do right now is to dress up a bit. I think part of the fun of life is in the dressing up. Imagine for a moment the beauty and wonder of a brightly coloured yellow spring dress, bathed in warm sunlight through an open window. Just because we are in a pandemic doesn’t mean we can’t look our best even now. The situation reminds me of the stories that my mother used to tell me about her experiences during WW2. She would tell me of how my grandmother would insist that she would keep her Sunday dress neat and tidy and ready to wear on Sundays. My mother had only the two dresses. They were hung in her room on two pegs. One peg for her everyday dress. The other peg was for her Sunday dress, for dressing up and feeling pretty. She would dress up on Sundays all through the War, and this no doubt helped her cope with the difficulties of the war itself and helped her to endure it.
In view of these reflections on dressing up a bit, for our first equestrian armchair travel adventure, I thought it might be fun to go to one of the most significant equestrian events in Britain, the Royal Ascot, which is truly a national institution. The Royal Ascot is the place where, you might remember, in the movie My Fair Lady, Miss Eliza Doolittle, a poor flower girl, is taken by Professor Higgins to test her preparation for entry into British society. He had undertaken to train her to speak quote-unquote “proper” English.
Now you might be thinking, go to a horse race for a bit of fun in dressing up? Why yes! Because the Royal Ascot is not only a place of exquisite interest in horses and horse racing. It is also where these intersect with an intense interest in fashion. The Royal Ascot is not only a significant equestrian event, but it is also a fashion event of international significance. It is, on top of this, and maybe in part because of it, an important social event as well.
The Royal Ascot has a long and illustrious history. Located less than an hour south-west of London, horse racing at the Royal Ascot has had Royal interest ever since Queen Anne in 1711 saw its potential as a place for horses to “gallop at full stretch.” Queen Anne subsequently drove with “a brilliant suite” from nearby Windsor Castle to inaugurate the Races at Ascot. Horseracing has been called ‘the sport of kings”. And this has been entirely evident at the Royal Ascot ever since that inauguration.
Over the years, the meeting of the deep affection of the British people for their Royalty, and their deep appreciation of the horse and horse racing, has made Ascot what it was and is. It is where you have an opportunity to see the Queen arrive promptly at 2 o’clock in the Royal Procession consisting of the Royal Landaus carriage led by four Windsor greys, which, since 1825, has marked the commencement of the Royal Meeting, as the event is called.
But we must not conceive of Ascot as only a royal affair, but also as an event embraced by the British people themselves. Anyone can buy a ticket to attend. It is where you might place a bet or, in the past, buy a pigeon pie.
There are, however, sections of the seating, in the Royal Enclosure for example, which are by invitation only. The Royal Enclosure has its own dress code. But there are also strict dress guidelines for all of the attendees wherever they are seated. In the Windsor Enclosure, for example, ladies are quote “encouraged to wear smart daywear with a hat or fascinator.” You couldn’t, however, wear a fascinator in the Royal Enclosure.
The Royal Ascot is, then, where ladies wear magnificent hats and beautiful dresses. It is where men wear morning suits and black top hats. It is where everyone looks, as the British say, smashing.
On the Royal Ascot website there is this declaration regarding its “Style Guide”:
Quote: “Royal Ascot is synonymous with sartorial elegance. This is upheld by its dress code, which guests are invited to embrace with their own individual style and thus contribute to an occasion heralded internationally as a major fashion event.”
So, we will want to look our best at the Royal Ascot and to do that we are fortunate because we happen to have one of the preeminent British fashion stylists joining us this morning, Sarah Kate Byrne to help us pick out what we should wear to an event that will be attended by the Queen.
Giving us a sense of how long held is the Royal Ascot emphasis on fashion, we have the following newspaper quotation from the latter part of the nineteenth-century as found in a work entitled: Royal Ascot: Its History and Associations, itself published at the turn of the twentieth-century:
The exquisite rose silk, trimmed with lace, of Mrs. Sloane Stanley, with parasol to match, was admired by many present. The Marchioness of Westminster was easily recognized by her rich Indian mantle of claret and gold, and the new half shawl of point avere, coming greatly into vogue. An attractive group on the rustic seat, beneath the Royal Saloon, included the Duchess of Manchester, in pink silk, Lady Royston and her sister, Lady Feodorowna Wellesley in silver grey, with hats to correspond, but with contrasting streamers of violet and cerise velvet.”
Fashion and Style are in their own way life affirming. There is a joie de vivre about the whole affair, isn’t there? It is about enjoying the occasion when one can dress up a bit and look one’s best and enjoy the company that surrounds one.
It is an event for which one prepares with considerable care. You want things to look just right. If you happened to be in a Vintage shop when our guest, Sarah, was with one of her clients at a Vintage shop, you might overhear her say to her client: “Given that its Royal Ascot we will probably have it taken in just a little bit...”
One particular aspect of her approach to dressing beautifully for an event such as the Royal Ascot that I find captivating is her interest in sustainability and in obtaining Vintage items of clothing. It impresses me to think of being able to be environmentally sensitive while at the same time looking so very lovely for such an event. I find her courage to do something positive for the environment by recommending Vintage and secondhand clothing compelling.
Welcome Sarah, it is so nice to have you with us today. (8 minutes including quotation)
Achieving the look of beauty that Sarah does for a formal event such as the Royal Ascot, while at the same time mining Vintage and second-hand items, is evidence of a unique gift of design and arrangement. It is a singular achievement.
The notion of accessing a Vintage Shop is a unique one which allows for a contribution to the planet while at the same time honouring the wearer, the garment and the occasion itself. It is in its own way a commitment to remaining environmentally conscious and responsible. It can be thought of in this vein as even an affirmation of life.
On top of this, we have the whole aspect of discovering the secrets of the dresses themselves. The idea of dresses procured at a Vintage Shop presents the fascinating possibility of choosing an item of clothing that has a curious and illustrious history all of its own. Maybe it was worn by a diplomat’s wife, or a diplomat herself. Maybe the dress had been worn to a reception at a royal palace or on a ship in the Mediterranean. Maybe we will never really know.
Through making responsible choices we can all do our part to help make the environment stronger.
At the end of the day, exploring the fascinating aspect of fashion at the Royal Ascot has been delightful. I hope that you have enjoyed it too. We look forward to the time when we can actually travel again, when things return closer to the way they were before.
As a rider at 60 years old, I believe that all can benefit from the secret of riding. I myself, raised with a British background, take inspiration from the Queen who continues to ride at 94 years old. I believe that the same can be true for today’s youth. Riding can give them hope that they can overcome the challenges that they face and give them the confidence to become all that they can.
I was moved by the calls I received after my interview with Libby Znaimer from women and men who told me their stories of their love of horses and riding. They told me how riding set them up to overcome their circumstances. Some came out of the Depression, some out of World War II... these riders did not let these experiences dampen their efforts to achieve a full and happy life and make a contribution to their respective communities. All mentioned that riding helped immeasurably in this. They believe that riding gave them the confidence in themselves and in their ability to do something ... to go after what they wanted their lives to be.
If you are interested in sharing your experiences of horses, whether of riding or not, in the past, or more recently, on my show on Zoomer Radio, please contact me at ByTheLoveOfHorses@redscarfequestrian.ca Susan Jamieson
By The Love Of Horses is written by Doug Allen, a student of history at the University of Toronto, who believes in the need to be versed in country things. Doug’s father travelled extensively by horse on the Canadian prairies and his uncle as a small boy wept at the passing of a family horse. He is writing a novel set in Winnipeg, Canada exploring the nature of indigenous and non-indigenous relations and what it means to come home.