There will be no royal carriage procession at Royal Ascot this week, but the Queen is expected to attend

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Queen Elizabeth II Royal Ascot
Queen Elizabeth at Royal Ascot in 2019
| Credit: PA Images/Sipa

Hold on to your hats, Royal Ascot is back! But expect some major changes this year due to the pandemic.

Royal Ascot, the most prestigious event in the U.K race calendar, returns on Tuesday in Berkshire for five days of back-to-back horse racing. Queen Elizabeth and other royals are expected to attend, but it's not quite the big comeback that organizers had hoped for.

Instead of expecting over 300,000 people to pass through the gates over the course of the week (as in years past), only 12,000 will attend each day. Included in that quota will likely be the Queen, who has such a keen interest in horses, she has attended every single Royal Ascot for the last seven decades and often has her own horses competing (this year she is believed to have four top-notch horses entered).

Royal Ascot
Queen Elizabeth and Prince Philip at Royal Ascot
| Credit: PA Images via Getty

The only exception was last year when the famous event was held behind closed doors for the first time in history amid the COVID-19 pandemic. This year the event is being used as a test as part of the U.K Government's Events Research Programme, which means that while face masks are not mandatory, all attendees must take a COVID-19 rapid lateral flow test before or on the day of the event and another one post-event. 

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One major part of the pomp and ceremony that won't be happening is the horse-drawn carriage royal procession, which typically marks the start of every race day. The Queen and her guests (she invites different family members and friends each day) often wave to the crowds as the open-topped Ascot Landau starts a procession down the Straight Mile of Ascot Racecourse.

Queen Elizabeth II and David Armstrong-Jones,
Queen Elizabeth and her nephew David Armstrong-Jones in 2018
| Credit: Kirstin Sinclair/Getty

COVID-19 rules aside, for 2021, the organizers are putting an emphasis on sustainability, encouraging all racegoers to shop from their own closets or buy something second-hand. But there are still strict rules in place when it comes to what to wear, especially if you are lucky enough to be invited inside the Royal Enclosure.

HRH Queen Elizabeth II And Prince Phillip arrive at Royal Ascot by Royal Carriage, Prince William And Catherine Duchess Of Cambridge also seen
Kate Middleton at Royal Ascot
| Credit: Splash News

Dresses and skirts must be of "modest length" falling just above the knee or longer and straps on tops or dresses must be at least one-inch wide. Strapless, halter neck, spaghetti straps and sheer sleeves are not permitted.

Changes to the dress code recently included jumpsuits being allowed for the first time in 2017 (Sophie, Countess of Wessex led the way by wearing one to the races in 2018 and 2019), while back in 2012, fascinators were banned, with the newly published style guide stating that all hats had to have a fixed base of at least four inches, a rule that is still in place today.

Sophie, Countess of Wessex
Sophie, Countess of Wessex at Royal Ascot 2019
| Credit: Karwai Tang/WireImage

This year, for the first time in the history of the event, men will be allowed to wear navy morning suits (rather than the traditional grey or black) in addition to "playful" ties and waistcoats in the royal enclosure, although "novelty waistcoats and ties are not permitted."