My Fair Lady

By Penny Hunt

Similar to Royal Ascot in the UK, Melbourne's Spring Racing Carnival is undergoing a mini makeover in an attempt to keep the races respectable.

Feathers flew at the Melbourne Spring Carnival this year following the Racing Association’s decision to crack down on the dress code. If not appropriately dressed organisers had the right to refuse entry. Similar to Royal Ascot in the UK, Melbourne is undergoing a mini makeover in an attempt to keep the races respectable.

Traditionally known as a day-out for the money-types and upper class, in the recent years Royal Ascot has been embraced by a wider demographic happy to enjoy a fun day at the races. With many race-goers baring tattoos, flesh and little in the way of attire the Queen requested in 2008 the introduction of dress code. To what extent will the Southern Hemisphere follow suit?

At Royal Ascot ladies must wear a hat or fascinator, miniskirts and off-the-shoulder dresses are a no-no, as are dresses with straps less than one-inch wide (do they stand at the gates with measuring tapes?). Midriffs must be covered and trouser suits must be full length and of matching material and colour. Having fun yet?

The races may be an event at which drinks are served, but it’s not a nightclub so one’s attire should to be more ladylike than dancing queen. I have been observing track attire for many years, witnessing a stream of mini cocktail numbers in ruffled satin or chiffon and clip in fascinators in an array of tutti-fruitti colours topped off with large amounts of make-up and jewellery. Let us be clear: the races are not an excuse for home arts and crafts, so put the glue gun down.

So let me offer a few suggestions for the spring / summer racing season. Always adhere to the correct colours for big race days.  For example, in Melbourne Derby day is black and white, Melbourne Cup is the outrageous fashion day full of colour and Oaks Day is considered ladies day. Finally Stakes Day is more of a family day so colour or print is welcome.

This season Collette Dinnigan has produced stunning broderie anglaise that complement strong feminine silhouettes, and Alex Perry, the master of lace, has channelled influences from Spain to Russia – sexy, simple and chic.

Another tip is that you don’t have to always choose a dress, skirts and tops/blouse are an option (check out Lisa Ho’s short sleeved jacket and rouched skirt) and even a sexy pantsuit can be refreshing change (Ralph Lauren or Farage).

You can experiment with shape but nothing too short, and keep your shoulders under wraps. This season’s shapes from the catwalk reveal fuller skirts (Ginger & Smart), pencil skirts with a split and even feathered skirts (Lisa Ho and Willow). If you are enticed by the latter keep feathers off your head. 1960s style frocks with belts are also prominent (think Mad Men), but if you prefer a more figure hugging structure to the knee than Herve Leger from Xile or Christensen Copenhagen have great examples pieces this season.

And finally we come to the headpiece or hat. Although it can be pricey, making a visit to a milliner is the way to go, there’s nothing like a bespoke piece to make one feel glamorous. For a less expensive option try pursuing vintage clothing stores. There’s nothing more traditional than vintage purchases! But be realistic about what you will be comfortable wearing all day while having some fun. It’s a rarity you get to wear a hat so why not live a little?


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