Chelsea Flower Show etiquette guide
Is there a dress code?
Held at the end of May in the grounds of the Royal Hospital Chelsea, the Chelsea Flower Show marks the start of the English Summer. Although Chelsea Flower Show isn’t as formal as other events in the social calendar, it is the most prestigious horticultural exhibit in Britain. The Queen attends every year, along with celebrities, the media, gardening enthusiasts and other members of the Royal Family, all of whom are impeccably dressed. You won’t find a dress code for the show on the Royal Horticultural Society website because, strictly speaking, there isn’t one. But it’s a good idea to observe a few things.
What to wear to Chelsea Flower Show?
Your outfit must be weather-appropriate and easy to wear as you will be on your feet for most of the day, though you can pitstop in the show’s many restaurants and tearooms. Day dresses and skirts are popular choices, but trouser suits also tick the style and comfort boxes.
Pay homage to the occasion by opting for floral prints and botanical designs in light and ethereal fabrics. We do recommend leaving your floor-length dresses at home, if they are too long, they will collect dust as they trail along the ground. Steer clear of anything overly short.
Wear whatever shade you like. You will be surrounded by colourful blooms from dawn (well, 8 am) to dusk, and may want your outfit to be just as bright.
Why not complete your look with a floral fragrance? Choose something light and fresh that could be infused with blooms picked straight from the award-winning gardens. You can also accessorise your look with statement jewellery, watches and scarves.
Dress for the weather
The Great British weather can be unpredictable to say the least, especially in May, so we advise packing layers, sunglasses and something waterproof just in case. A classic trench or well-cut leather jacket would be a welcome addition to your Summer Season wardrobe; they can be slung over your shoulder or stored in a bag should you feel hot. Make the most of the cloakroom where you can leave coats and bags to save carrying them all day.
What type of shoes should you wear to the Chelsea Flower Show?
If it’s been raining, the ground will be soft and uneven underfoot, therefore shoes should be sensible to avoid any blisters or stiletto-stuck-in-the-mud-type situations. Trust us, even the most fashionably dressed celebrities will be embracing the sandal, the wedge and the smart flat.
Are hats appropriate?
If the sun is shining, bring a hat. Now, size does matter: you should select a modestly proportioned one because larger brimmed styles obstruct other visitor’s view of the gardens. Fascinators are slightly too formal and best saved for Royal Ascot and Goodwood. After all, the gardens are the real stars of the show.
What do men wear to the Chelsea Flower Show?
Men should also dress for the occasion and wear relaxed pieces such as polo-shirts and chinos. We also recommend jackets, blazers and collared shirts. For footwear, pick styles that are both practical and stylish, like smart boots, brogues or boat shoes. Ties and pocket-squares add a necessary pop of colour. If you’re worried about sunburn, elevate your look with a trilby.
It’s perfectly acceptable to drink at the Chelsea Flower Show. You can’t bring your own alcohol (bag searches are conducted on the way into the event, so leave your wine cooler at home) but there are several marquees serving refreshments, including a Champagne bar.
If you feel like unwinding after the show, head to the King’s Road or Sloane Square, located a ten-minute walk away and home to an impressive selection of cocktail bars and pubs. Aptly-named ‘ The Botanist’ and speakeasy ‘Barts’ deserve honourable mentions. Even if you’d rather forgo post-show drinks, it’s worth exploring the area: nearby stores decorate their shop fronts with glorious floral arrangements in celebration of the occasion.
How to dress for the Gala Preview evening?
The Chelsea Charity Gala is an exclusive event, so exclusive, in fact, that members of the public can only obtain tickets each year by entering a ballot. The official dress code is ‘lounge suit’, which is a cocktail dress or suit with an optional tie.
Last but not least
Meandering along the many walkways, you’ll encounter the latest plant trends and be awed by stunning floral displays; don’t forget your camera and notebook to record anything that sparks inspiration.
Watch television coverage of the show before visiting, this provides insight into the exhibiting designers and what to look out for on the day.
Read our full guide to the Chelsea Flower Show here.