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The Duchess of Sussex makes her Royal Ascot debut in a Givenchy shirt dress, as her favourite Bardot neckline is banned

Olivia Buxton Smith
The Duchess of Sussex wears a Givenchy shirt dress and Philip Treacy hat at Royal Ascot - AFP

Today marks the first day of Royal Ascot, a five day event characterised not only by the horse racing, but also by the extravagantly dressed parade of guests, from royals to celebrities, each offering their own unique take on the Ascot dress code. 

Said dress code, which has always been a stringent one, has started to relax in recent years, allowing racegoers to experiments with jumpsuits, tailoring and separates, in lieu of a classic dress. But while the repertoire of Royal Ascot attendees is expanding, there are still rules to heed - whatever enclosure you're in

For 2018, Ascot announced it would be banning guests from wearing anything with a Bardot neckline (a style, named after Brigitte Bardot, that leaves the shoulders and décolletage bare), proving that while the 307-year-old event is making movements towards modernisation by acknowledging the ever-evolving world of fashion, there are some trends it deems are still inappropriate.  

Meghan's Ascot ensemble is comparable to that worn by Audrey Hepburn in My Fair Lady Credit: Getty

While your average racegoer might not might not bat an eyelid at the banning of off-the-shoulder necklines, this rule did have the potential to cause a sartorial conundrum for the Duchess of Sussex, who, since marrying into the royal family one month ago today, has demonstrated a penchant for the forbidden style. 

From an off-the-shoulder checked Theory blazer which she wore during a visit to Cardiff, to the blush Carolina Herrera co-ord she wore for the recent Trooping the Colour ceremony and, of course, the Givenchy gown she walked down the aisle in, it's clear that the Duchess has found a neckline that works for her. 

The Duchess of Sussex's most stylish looks

As is usually the case with trends that are started, revived or championed by stylish royals, Meghan's sway towards 'bateau' necklines has had a knock on effect. Global fashion search platform Lyst has reported a 52% increase in searches around the term 'boat neck' over the last two months. 

With bateau necklines off the table as an option, Meghan opted for a shirt dress by Givenchy instead, further cementing her affinity with the French label's creative director Clare Waight Keller, who was behind her wedding dress, as well as the couture dress she wore for her first public engagement carried out alongside The Queen in Chester last week.  

The Duchess of Cambridge in Dolce & Gabanna at Royal Ascot in 2016 Credit: Rex

As far as covering up is concerned, a shirt dress, unlike a Bardot neckline, is a style that offers maximum coverage, demonstrating Meghan's determination to abide by the rules on this occasion, having previously offered subtle - and welcome -rebellions against traditional royal dress customs via trousers suits and bare shoulders. 

The most stylish looks from Royal Ascot 2018

Meghan paired the Givenchy shirt dress, which has a fluid shape and a thin black belt nipping it in at the waist, with black patent pumps and a navy and white sculptural hat courtesy of celebrated milliner Philip Treacy. The new Duchess also, notably, opted to wear nude tights under the dress for the second time since she officially became part of  the Royal family. 

Audrey Hepburn wearing a Cecil Beaton design as Eliza Doolittle in My Fair Lady Credit: Alamy

Meghan's all-white ensemble is reminiscent of the Duchess of Cambridge's past Royal Ascot outfits, all of which have been white, from the lace Temperley midi dress she wore in 2016, to the white (also lace) Alexander McQueen frock she donned last year. Both led to comparisons being drawn with Audrey Hepburn's character in My Fair Lady, Eliza Doolittle, whose white lace dress and enormous black and white hat have gone down in history as one of the most iconic onscreen outfits of all time.

While Meghan might have taken a style note or two from her new sister-in-law, given her special relationship with Givenchy - a label that Audrey Hepburn helped put on the map - her choice is a natural and fitting one.