Every racing season, the competition is fiercer. The entrants? Sleek thoroughbreds determined to come first, whatever it takes. There is a ruthless, winner-takes-all vibe in the air, with audiences clapping and cheering on their favourites. And the prizes become ever more valuable.

The horse racing is exciting, too.

Marketing ploy

Fashion on the Field competitions began in the 1960s, when Australian race organisers were looking to attract women to the races. Today, the fashion parades are big events in their own right. Winners are feted in the newspapers, featured on television, and awarded big prizes. So lucrative are these competitions, that there is a coterie of women who jet from race to race, elbowing out the locals.

Some of the biggest competitions happen this month, because it’s Spring Carnival racing season. If you enjoy dressing up, consider entering. All you have to do is register on the day, usually by mid morning and the first hundred entrants usually receive some sort of gift, such as a shopping voucher. It’s also fun, so it’s worth entering, even if you don’t win.

But let’s say you’re keen to win. What do you need to know?

It’s not about expense

The first, and most reassuring, piece of information is that your outfit doesn’t need to cost the earth. Last year, a 25-year-old named Jaydee Paino won $100,000 in prizes at the Oaks Day at Flemington competition, wearing a dress she bought online from the US for just $18.00. The retro dress featured cap sleeves and circle skirt, and the celebrity judges loved it.

Will the retro style work again this year? According to Judy Coomber, group general manager of merchandise at Myer department store – which sponsors the major Fashion on the Field competitions – “there will always be a place for vintage, although it is all about updating your outfit and mixing new pieces with the vintage finds.” She adds that: “classically tailored pieces with bespoke millinery will always have their place at the races.”

Coomber says the major spring trends are Colour Clash, Desert Bloom and Safari Society. Colour clash is “all about brights this season – think tangerine, yellow, red, burnt orange, melon,” she reveals. “It’s all about eye-popping hues and bursting tropical brights.” So play with bright and bold colours. “For those who like it even louder, mix it up with mega-prints.”

If you’re comfortable with floral prints, there’s “no need to be a wall flower – try bold blossoms in hot ink and citrus shades and work petal power and prints in tropical tones,” she says. If the bright and the bold won’t work on you, then go “for a neutral approach, a play on rich earthy tones” and team with animal print accessories. If neither neutrals nor bold colours appeal, don’t worry – there will always be a place for the classic black and white racing outfit.

The hat matters

Spend some time looking for the right hat. “Millinery collections have stayed true to form, showing whimsical femininity to eye-catching, yet wearable pieces,” says Coomber. “Key items include the quirky pillbox ‘cocktail’ hat, supported by the ever-popular ‘big flower’ fascinator statement.”

Of course, it’s not enough to have a stunning dress, or an outstanding hat – it’s how you pull it together that counts. While the fashionistas will always say there are no rules when it comes to the races, it turns out that’s not true.

Rule number one: dress appropriately for the weather. Wear spring clothes in springtime and leave summer dresses at home in the winter. Also put hair up, rather than leaving it loose.

“I would suggest to participants that they focus on some of the more simple steps that may enhance their success,” advises Coomber. “Simple tips like being aware of the racing club’s dress regulations.” If you want to win, make elegance and sophistication your priority. “Ensure your millinery complements your outfit and is in proportion; if it is over the top or oversized it can distract from your outfit.”

And as anybody who has been to the races knows, be prepared for changeable weather, especially if you plan to go to the Melbourne Cup. Wear shoes you’re comfortable in, as you’ll be spending a lot of the day on your feet.

The final touch

But perhaps the last word on what’s appropriate should go to Kelli Odell, who has scooped prize after prize in both Australia and New Zealand in the last couple of years. “You need a ‘wow’ factor,” she told the Herald Sun, after claiming yet another major prize. She advises entrants not to try and match the different elements of their outfits and to make sure they have a big statement hat perched on their heads. “And don’t show too much flesh!”

Whether you’re in it to win it or not, there’s one more thing you need for a really great day out at the races – a glass of Champagne, from which you elegantly sip. It’s guaranteed to make you look and feel like a race day winner.

Felicity Carter


Australian fashion designers

Nicola Finetti; Jayson Brunsdon; Anthony Capon; Wayne Cooper; Leona Edmiston; Jane Lamerton; Manning Cartell; Toni Maticesvki; Aurelio Costarella; Sass and Bide

Australian and international milliners

Peter Bettely; Jane Lambert; Fiona Powell; Phillip Rhodes; Philip Treacy; Liza Stedman


This article first appeared in Where magazine.


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