The Classicist: The Henley Royal Regatta
Earlier this month we reported on the Royal Ascot races, one of the highlights of the English social season. This week ushers in another classic British sporting event-cum-society pageant, the Henley Royal Regatta. The five-day Regatta, held on the River Thames by the town of Henley-on-Thames, takes place over the first weekend of every July and runs from Wednesday the 2nd through Sunday the 6th this year.
International crews compete in various races at the Regatta, which has been held every year since 1839 except during the two World Wars, the main event being the Grand Challenge Cup for Men's Eights. Prince Albert, Queen Victoria's consort, became the Regatta's first Royal Patron in 1851, a tradition carried on by the reigning monarch ever since, though unlike Royal Ascot they don't always deign to attend.
Even more so than at Ascot, Henley provides an opportunity for aristocrats from the sporting and social sets to dress in that distinctively British style which has inspired so many fashion designers over the decades. The commercialization of Henley, unlike Ascot, Wimbledon and cricket at Lord's, has been slower to take hold, and as Godfrey Smith writes in The English Season, it is something of "an Edwardian time warp."
Gallery: Henley Royal Regatta
Prizegiving takes place here at the Regatta's conclusion, and there is a strict dress code: suits, blazer and flannels or evening dress, and of course neckties, are required for gentlemen while women must wear dresses or skirts that cover the knees. The waiting list for the Stewards' Enclosure, tactfully referred to as "a haven from the general bustle of the Regatta," is several years long. Many gallons of Pimm's and champagne are consumed there.
Another such stylish oasis is the Leander Club founded in 1818, situated just down from the Stewards' Enclosure. The largest, most historic and prestigious rowing club in the world, its members wear bright pink in sometimes surprising combinations. See the gallery for images of this classic event.