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VM choice: Preparing for Ascot at Bates

The British sporting summer calendar is punctuated by a series of annual events, all of which require a particular formal dress.

For Royal Ascot - the horse racing event held just west of London for a week each June - admission to the most prestigious Royal Enclosure is permitted for male badge-holders wearing black or grey morning dress, where the tailcoat is accessorized with a striped tie and a top hat. For women, only a day dress worn with a hat is acceptable.

While today appropriate morning dress and hats might be hired, annual race-goers find it more convenient to purchase their own. Retailers catering for this very particular group of customers tend to be super-specialised and one of the best known is Bates, the hatters based on the corner of London’s Piccadilly Arcade and Jermyn Street and now owned by men’s shirt maker Hilditch & Key.

Anticipating Ascot week, the store window opening on to Jermyn Street has been transformed by the insertion of a panoramic view of the distinctive 2006 race stand in the background. The foreground of the carriage–backed window features a chest-height, white-painted barrier, like the one surrounding the racecourse, and the floor has been filled with faux grass. Imaginatively, passersby view the race meeting from the point of view of the horse or the jockey.

The accessories which are worn with men’s morning dress are artfully displayed: a striped tie, white gloves, a top hat displayed on a top-hat hat box, with, of course, a rolled umbrella in case of inclement weather.

Founded in 1898, Bates specialises in men’s hats and accessories, offering neither millinery (women’s hats) nor picnic baskets. The Ascot window is a crossover with Atelier Millinery, a milliner based in London’s Soho, which has provided a selection of hats suitable for Ascot. Traditionally the Ascot brim, with its flatteringly asymmetrical dip, is the widest used in women’s hats. The most extravagant millinery creations are worn on Thursday, Ladies Day, when the Gold Cup race is held.

The dress code in the Royal Enclosure now bans fascinators, the hat style secured with a hairband, and insists on a minimum 10cm diameter to the base of the hat. This means that the two flower-decked pillbox hats shown on millinery heads either side of the picnic basket, and the straw at the back of the window are permitted.

The picnic basket used as a prop allows further display of Bates’ accessories with ties and cufflinks, balanced across the top.

Appropriately for many of the race goers whose horses will be competing, a clear glass ice bucket is filled with bottles of ‘Bolly’ - Bollinger champagne. A few Perspex ice cubes suggest that these are chilled, and a fascinator-style wedding hat on a stand fills the centre of the bucket.

Bates offers premium merchandise and the ‘Handmade’ foil across the glass emphasizes its product, created in London. The two millinery straw hats nicely break the line of the back of the carriage window and seem to surround the central top hat – as worn perhaps, by the successful racehorse owner. 

Contact details for Atelier Millinery are included in the window.

This is an exceptional window for Bates, which usually displays a simple selection of seasonal hats on hat boxes in its window. This window reflects the importance that the social calendar and the weather has on their business: for Bates, Ascot is a second Christmas.