The English Season, a calendar of esteemed social and sporting events that take place during the spring and summer in the UK attracts visitors from all over the world. Think Champagne, strawberries, fabulous hats and picnics at the races, outdoor concerts, tennis tournaments and regattas.
’The Season’ dates back two hundred years and originally marked the occasion of high society women ‘coming out’ at debutante balls. Now it has become the collective term for events including Glyndebourne, the RHS Chelsea Flower Show, Royal Ascot, the Henley Royal Regatta, Wimbledon, Cowes Week and the Last Night of the Proms, ending on the ‘Glorious Twelfth’ of August, which marks the start of the shooting season.
Some of these events have strict dress codes and navigating what you need to have in your wardrobe requires the orientation skills of an Arctic adventurer, but we are here to help…
Glyndebourne, East Sussex
Opera in the open air at Glyndebourne against the backdrop of the South Downs will require some clever occasion wear dressing. While there is no official dress code most men wear black tie. This sets the tone for the ladies who largely wear evening and cocktail gowns. While the opera at Glyndebourne takes place indoors, picnics before the opera are eaten outside on the lawn at the interval. With that in mind, a jacket or shawl is an absolute must.
Royal Ascot, Berkshire
Ascot is the absolute pinnacle of the English Season. Her Majesty The Queen has been to the 300-year-old horse racing event every year since 1945. It is the most formal event in terms of dress code, and a day out at Royal Ascot is almost as much about the outfits as it is about the horses. Each year, Ascot Racecourse releases a new style guide with updated rules. In the Royal Enclosure (the smartest of the enclosures) skirts must be worn just above the knee or longer, with straps no less than one inch wide and headpieces with a “solid base” – so that means no headbands or fascinators. Men must wear black or grey morning dress with a waistcoat and a tie wider than 7cm with black or grey top hat and black shoes. In the Queen Anne and Village Enclosures, formal day dress is required – lounge suits for men and hats or fascinators for women.
Henley Royal Regatta, Oxfordshire
Watching Henley Royal Regatta will feel like you’ve stepped back in time to a P.G Wodehouse novel. Straw hats and stripy blazers are the order of the day at Henley-on-Thames where rowing races take place on the River Thames. The best place to watch is in the Stewards’ Enclosure, next to the finish line and reserved for members and their guests. Sartorial standards are high though. Men must wear suits or either navy or rowing club blazers with chinos. Jackets are compulsory but ties are not, and boaters or panama hats are definitely encouraged. Women cannot wear trousers, divided skirts or culottes and skirts must be below the knee. Only small handbags are allowed – for security reasons – and we do suggest you swap your stilettos for wedges or a block heel as you’re likely to be watching the rowing on grass.
The Championships, Wimbledon, London
Wimbledon is one of the biggest sporting events of the social Season and what you wear is almost as important as the tennis itself. Despite being more informal than other events in the Season (and with no fixed dress code) a sense of occasion surrounds the grounds spectators definitely dress up. Floaty summer dresses, floral, white or brightly coloured are a safe bet for ladies but with the British weather being unpredictable, be prepared for all conditions. Bring a light jacket to wear on top of your summer dress. Sunglasses, a hat and an umbrella are also wise additions. For men, chinos, blazers and linen shirts are the look to go for.
Cowes Week, Isle Of Wight
The oldest and largest sailing regatta in Europe takes place at the end of July or in August and sees 100,000 visitors head south to the Isle of Wight to compete in or watch the Cowes Week races. The Season’s most laid-back event sees yachts compete in the demanding five-mile-wide channel between the Isle of Wight and the south coast of England. Apart from the yachts racing on the Solent there are bars and bandstands on the shoreline and air and fireworks displays for the guests. During the day the uniform is firmly shorts, deck shoes, designer sunglasses and a Musto fleece. For the yacht club parties men should don a smart pair of trousers, crisp shirt and blazer, while for ladies it is summer dresses or jeans with cashmere jumpers and a jacket thrown over shoulders.