Fashion trends are constantly changing, and racewear is no different. Gone are the days of umbrella-toting women wearing elbow-length silk gloves; we’re seeing an increase in handmade ensembles, striking accessories and finer embellishments trackside. Now it’s time to travel back through the ages and explore the decades of Fashions on the Field that won our hearts.
After World War II, women opted for knee‐length hemlines with gloves, hats and umbrellas for their Fashions on the Field elegance. Matching outfits soon became the norm, with coordinated stockings, gloves and hats making their mark on racewear fashion in the ’50s.
The war may have been over but women were still dressing quite conservatively. So when English supermodel Jean Shrimpton turned up to Melbourne Cup wearing a short white shift dress, it sparked a major controversy. Audiences were shocked by the above-the-knee length and exposed shoulders, and that Jean refused to wear a hat, gloves or stockings.
This controversial attire inspired women to start showing off their legs the following year; suddenly, shift dresses were a trackside favourite and knee-length hemlines got the boot.
Hippie love made its way to the Melbourne Cup in the 1970s, with ladies opting for flowing maxis and floor‐sweeping pantsuits. Large, wide‐brimmed hats accompanied these styles, adding to the bohemian look. The pantsuit also became more common for women, and this gave way to a much more tailored and sophisticated look.
The next decade ushered in shoulder pads, oversized earrings, puffy sleeves and bold colours. These signature ’80s trends slipped into Melbourne Cup’s Fashions on the Field, making fashion experimental, individual and fun for the first time.
Even Princess Diana opted for a non-traditional touch to her outfit in 1985; she appeared at the Melbourne Cup wearing a chic black and white skirt suit, but it was her choice of stockings that turned heads. The stockings featured a fine black line down the back of her legs, with a bow motif printed just above the ankle.
The following decades called for all things bigger, tighter and bolder. Whether you wore a fitted skirt suit or a bold, printed outfit, you topped it off with wacky accessories, oddly-shaped hats and peculiar jewellery for a ’90s racewear look.
Tight suits were traded for finer detailed in the Noughties. Waists were accentuated with bows and belts while a neutral colour palette (consisting mostly of beige, black and white) made big waves.
These days, women are straying from designer labels and heading down the aisle of DIY according to Laura Churchill, a fashion stylist and the head of Brisbane Racing Club’s Fashion Committee.
“It’s quite popular for Fashions on the Field entrants to create their own looks, especially their own millinery, which I think is great,” she says.
Homemade racewear has proved to be a great option for fashionistas: in recent years, most Fashions on the Field winners have worn dresses either made by themselves or a relative.
Laura says she has seen some interesting designs over the years. “Really innovative designs [are] coming through, using everything from traditional felt, feathers and silks to creative and artful use of non-traditional materials including wood and Perspex. Lace has made a big comeback as well,” she says.
Laura has seen everything from repurposed placemats to “trigger-happy hot glue gun users”; not all homemade racewear wins Fashions on the Field. “Even then, whatever gets people excited about dressing up and going out for a day at the races is to be encouraged in my book!”
Millinery is seeing a revival, with many girls opting to create their own pieces.
“The trend for headwear in general has moved towards smaller headpieces, perches and even crowns, but I think the broad-brimmed hat will make a comeback soon,” Laura predicts. “The fact more people are making their own headpieces has also brought about some stunning and creative looks because girls are able to match their headpieces perfectly to their dresses using the same fabrics and materials.
“These new racing fashion enthusiasts are putting incredible effort into their raceday looks,” Laura adds. “They’re creating really fashion‐ focused and innovative designs. It’s a fantastic way to showcase your talent as a designer.”
As the chairperson for Brisbane Racing Club’s fashion committee, Laura is an expert when it comes to picking Fashions on the Field standouts.
“Colour is always a hit, as well as florals; racewear on Melbourne Cup Cay is usually very feminine,” she says. “A well-put-together head-to-toe look always stands out. It’s the little details that make for a great outfit. I think it’s important to uphold the etiquette such as following the dress code of elegant daywear, ideally opting for a hemline on or below the knee,” she says.
Off-the-shoulder and statement sleeve trends are expected to translate to the track this season, while lace will make a reappearance
“I think this is the most exciting time for racing fashion,” says Laura. “It really is an opportunity unlike any other to put every effort into creating a flawless look.”