Written on the 14 August 2012 by Rachel Quilty, Co-contributor Kimberley Cole
Bright, sunny spring days lend themselves to getting dressed up and heading to the races and the spring racing schedule covers some of the nation’s biggest races. Race days however, can have traditional dress etiquette rules and knowing what to wear can make all the difference when trying to make a good impression trackside.
Firstly, dress for the day you are attending. The Victorian Spring Carnival includes Derby Day, Melbourne Cup Day, Oaks Day (otherwise known as Ladies’ Day) and Stakes Day and knowing what dress is expected on these days can inform your outfit choices. Of these days, Derby Day has the strictest dress code. Traditionally, Derby Day sees women wear black and white attire while men traditionally wear a grey suit with a white shirt, teamed with a black tie, top hat and blue cornflower. Such a strict dress code does not mean you cannot add your own touches to your outfit however, and a good place to search for inspiration for your outfit is the previous year’s Fashions on the Field. If you’re heading overseas and plan to attend race days like Royal Ascot or the Kentucky Derby remember, these events have their own, often very strict, dress codes. In fact, the organisers of this year’s Royal Ascot even released a video dictating what was and was not acceptable race wear, which can be seen here: http://bcove.me/2a2bjavk.
Secondly, just because a day does not have a specific dress code does not mean anything goes. The day can still inform your choices. Melbourne Cup Day for example, is home to ‘the race that stops a nation’ so bright and bold is acceptable, though not necessary. Oaks Day, on the other hand, is also known as Ladies’ Day therefore, aiming for more feminine choices like pastel colours, lace and floral prints can help you to narrow down your outfit choices. Pretty, summer dresses, if dressed up appropriately, can be worn on Stakes Day which is generally, a more relaxed, family affair than the other days. Men have it slightly easier than the ladies as a suit is acceptable on any day of the racing carnival. Instead of wearing a simply plain suit with a white shirt and black tie however, try to mix it up. Try different coloured suits, perhaps a navy or grey, or add a white jacket instead of black if you’re feeling adventurous. Tails, a statement tie or bowtie or a hat can also spice up an otherwise dull outfit. The key rule with suits of any kind though is to make sure they are properly fitted so, find a reputable tailor and get your suit altered properly as it makes a world of difference to your final outfit. As for men’s shoes make sure they are polished and, if wearing belt, that it matches the colour of the shoes. Team a suit with a nice watch, cufflinks and a pocket handkerchief to finish off the look. Looking to photo shoots of race wear, particularly that of David Jones and Myer who often sponsor Fashions on the Field competitions, and previous year’s photos can provide both inspiration for outfits and an idea of what is and is not acceptable attire. For example, these are outfits from Flemington’s Spring Fashion Lunch: http://stylemelbourne.com/2011/10/flemingtons-spring-fashion-lunch/.
Thirdly, for the ladies, headwear is a necessity and must be worn correctly as well. The season will inform your millinery choices for example, straw and fabric hats are to be worn in spring and summer. Felt hats should be left for winter. Lightweight fascinators constructed from feathers or flowers lend themselves well to spring fashion so these are always a safe option. Those on the shorter side should opt for headwear that gives the illusion of height, so avoid ‘lampshade’ styles which can cause you to look shorter than necessary. Hats should be worn at an angle with the back placed at the base of the skull. Headpieces and fascinators on the other hand should sit to the right hand side of the face. For men, hats are not a necessity but can add a touch of sophistication and individuality to a suit so consider adding a one to your outfit. .
Fourthly, ladies, when choosing dresses, keep in mind that the races are about class. Leave the shiny, tight, sequined numbers at home and opt for dresses with hemlines that fall to the knee or below and have at least one inch think straps. Dresses with spaghetti straps or strapless dresses should be avoided. Also, make the most of the colours and textures of spring fashion and opt for summery colours and light materials. Gloves can be worn if they work well with the outfit however, given the temperatures or the Australian spring, they should probably be saved for winter race days. Classiness should extend to shoes as well. Comfortable shoes are the way to go and, if you cannot handle standing in stilettos all day, choose a smaller heel or a wedge. It is also worth remembering that you will likely be standing on grass all day so choosing a shoe that will not sink in the turf is recommended.
Lastly, and perhaps most importantly, act classily. We’ve all seen the images of people stumbling home after race day after a few too many. Aim for one drink per race and drink water in between. Check the weather beforehand so you know whether to bring a umbrella and, if you do, try to incorporate it into your outfit.
Adhering to these guidelines will ensure you do not commit any race day faux pas and will go a long way to making sure you make the right impression trackside.
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