The spring racing season isn’t just about horse and, well, racing. It’s also about spring racing fashion!
Earlier this month I entered a guest blog competition at SportsBet for a chance to win two tickets to the Melbourne Cup, the three-and-a-half-minute horse race that stops the nation. And I won!
Thank you very much, dear readers, friends, and family for putting up with my spam-like requests to Like my entry and for making me the winner. And of course, big thanks to SportsBet for the opportunity and generous prize. That’s one hurdle over. Now the important stuff; what do I wear?
I imagine that the excitement surrounding the Spring Racing Carnival, more specifically the Melbourne Cup, is something like that around the Kentucky Derby. Being from Miami, I have no context for major horse racing or for hats. So, colour me excited about this whole new experience of spring racing fashion.
To briefly recap, the Melbourne Spring Racing Carnival is made up of 114 races between late September and mid-November. Off the track, there are lunches, cocktail parties, dinners, balls, and fashion parades. Ladies and gentlemen put away their winter coats and beanies and don bright spring dresses, dapper suits, and elegant hats. In fact, fashion and style are a really big deal. The Carnival almost single-handedly keeps Melbourne’s milliners in business. Myer Fashions on the Field has emerged as one of the largest and most prestigious outdoor fashion events in Australia. The book Fashion & Flemington celebrates 50 years of fashions on the field and explores the unique and long-established link between the Melbourne Cup Carnival and style. Even the National Sports Museum showcases the history of fashion at Flemington.
The Melbourne Cup Carnival is comprised of four unique race days each with their own fashion rules.
Day one is AAMI Victoria Derby Day. It sets the pace for the week and calls for classic elegance. Monochrome color schemes dominate. Ladies go for structured dresses and dramatic prints. Gents stick to traditional morning suits.
Day two is the Emirates Melbourne Cup Day. This is the race that stops the nation and the day for show-stopping style. Spring is in full bloom and fashion is bright and bold. Millinery is worn throughout the Carnival, but it’s a must on Cup Day. Ladies wear hats and fascinators, a fanciful decoration attached to the hair by a comb, headband, or clip. For gents, dark suits are acceptable as is wearing a tie that matches their partners’ dresses or honours a favourite racehorse.
Day three is Crown Oaks Day. Known as Ladies Day, it is considered the most glamorous race day. Ladies embrace ultra-feminine styles such as romantic pastels, florals, lace, soft ruffles, and delicate frills. Men keep it light in linen and soft grey suits.
And day four is Emirates Stakes Day. This is family day at Flemington and fashion is a little more relaxed with a garden-party atmosphere, but its no less chic. Spring and summer dresses are still traditional. Kids, teens, and families compete in the final day of Myer Fashions on the Field.
The Victoria Racing Club has dress regulations and offers a style guide. Beyond these basic social rules of style, the Carnival is a millinery minefield of fashion etiquette ranging from colour codes to where hemlines should fall (below the knee). But it’s clear that people break the rules and have fun with the fashions.
Looking good at the Carnival doesn’t have to cost an arm and a leg. Designer headwear can cost thousands and while department stores Myer and David Jones are big retailers for the events, they do offer affordable options. I saw fascinators in both stores for as little as $40 (and as much as $1100). Even stores such as Target can help you put together a great look. It’s also not unusual to make your own hats and fascinators.
Some outfits may look fabulous, but feel terrible. These are all-day, on-your-feet, outdoor events so comfort is important. Wear something you can stand to be in for hours. Stiletto heels may be beautiful, but a thick heel, elegant flats, or wedges are not only more comfortable, but will keep you from sinking into the ground. It’s easy to overdo it with a hat or fascinator. Avoid flimsy pieces and go for something elegant and structured. It is apparently acceptable to bring non-alcoholic drinks and snacks to avoid the long queues at the overpriced food bars. And, of course, plan for Melbourne’s temperamental weather.
I chose a black and ivory dress with floral embroidery on the bodice and low open-toed heels. As much I love big hats, I don’t feel I can pull it off. At least, not yet; maybe next time. Instead I chose a black fascinator resembles a small hat with tulle and feathers.
The dress is lovely and a good choice for black and white Derby Day, but I realised I wasn’t getting into the full spirit of the Melbourne Cup with safe neutrals. I decided to return the outfit in favour of a colourful spring dress, a coral-hued fascinator, a patent yellow clutch, and a pair of sensible flats that I haven’t bought yet.
About my first outfit: Polly Peplum Dress, Citi Chic $139.95. Gregory Ladner Jasmine Fascinator in Black, Myer $129.00. Easy Steps Adore Black Silk Pump, Myer $129.95. I had planned to add a short jacket, the Satin Bolero Jacket, Citi Chic $69.95.