Putting together a race day ensemble without having to re-finance the house can be challenging. Sometimes just thinking about the perfect hat can send you into debt.

But, although thousand-plus dollar designer outfits look beautiful floating down the FOTF catwalks, they don’t necessarily mean you will win.

In fact, many savvy sewers and crafters have DIY’d their way into the winning sash.

And some of the lucky ladies who do have the coin to shop designer, admit their biggest wins have come from their cheapest outfits.

I asked the ladies in the Field Fashion Community Facebook Group recently, what they thought a budget outfit would cost.

Replies flooded in with stories and examples of women who have won in outfits that cost as little as $26, to $300, one even winning a State Final in a budget outfit.

cheap race day outfit tips

Thanks for sharing your tips everyone. Here’s how you can do it…

Tip 1) Your New Friends: eBay / DFO / Op Shops

Thrift shops, eBay and Etsy are a great place to buy vintage, on the cheap.

Your purchases will probably need a little remodelling, but with a bit of love, they can turn out fabulously. Vintage dresses can be remodelled into a skirt, or tailored to fit you perfectly.

Find an old hat and use the base to refashion it into something new, and add embellishments.

In 2010, Jaydee Paino took out the Myer National FOTF competition, in what must have been the cheapest dress to ever win FOTF.

She wore an $18 vintage dress purchased online. Jaydee had the dress re-modelled in Cairns by her designer friend Nigel Vogler so that it had cap sleeves, a fitted bodice and a full skirt.

2010 Myer Fashions on the field competition winner

Image credit: The Cairns Post

Try a Facebook group that sells a specific brand. Say one of your favourite race wear brands was ‘Asilio’, type ‘Asilio’ into your Facebook browser and often there will be a page called ‘Asilio Buy, Swap, Sell’. Here you might be able to pick up second hand pieces for a reasonable price.

second hand brand clothing FB groups

Abby purchased this hat from an Op shop for $10. Originally it was a dirty white colour. She painted the brim gold and cut a hole out of the front, then added her own flower embellishments.

Remodel cheap second hand millinery hat

Image credit: @abbyvonduve

A couple of years ago I purchased a gold pencil skirt and matching top from an Op shop for $7. I plan to tailor the skirt and wear it with a contrasting top to an upcoming Autumn race.

saving money budget outfit

Tip 2) Make Time to Prepare and Shop

The earlier you start planning for a race day, the more time you have to find bargains and pieces that you love.

Head to end of season sales at big department stores. A lot of their designer brands will have an additional 40% to 70% off already marked down prices.

I can’t tell you how many designer pieces I’ve purchased at a fraction of the original cost!

maticevski store sale bargain skirt top

Would you guys believe I bought this Maticevski skirt and top for $180? The original price was well over $1000!!

If you’re looking for something specific the day before the race, forget it. You won’t find it.

Instead, plan early and give yourself time to find each piece, or you’ll end up totally blowing the budget in a mad panic last minute rush.

Tip 3) Look for Sales and Great Finds

When you’re out shopping, keep an eye out for sales and great finds.

You may not have a race day planned, but it’s always a smart idea to buy bargain items as you find them. I bought dresses a few years back, and have only just worn them recently.

I love a good shoe sale, keep an eye out for cheap winter closed shoes or fun spring shoes that you can consider painting later on.

I tend to buy cheap shoes but if I can buy designer shoes at super cheap prices, I’ll always go for that as shoe comfort is paramount!!

bargain hunting store end of season sales

The same goes for accessories. My local costume jewelry store regularly has epic sales (I’m talking super reduced to begin with, and then a further 30% off that).

Necklaces that were originally $50, I’ve bought for $10-15!! I stock up every time I go in and find something I like.

earrings necklace bargain discount jewellery

Tip 4) Daggy Stores are Cool Too

Don’t totally dismiss daggy stores. Sometimes they use cool fabrics and colours and you can get dresses for under $50 that can then be remodelled into a race dress.

For example, you could buy a pencil dress for $50, tailor it to make it fit perfectly, add some fabric, turn the skirt into a fishtail, or even remove the sleeves and add flared feature sleeves. There are a lot of possibilities here!!

saving money on racewear

cheap budget low cost racewear accessories

Ok so Portmans isn’t necessarily a daggy store- but it’s not my first choice when looking for racewear.

I found a few pieces in there that with a bit of altering or adding to could make great race outfits! They even had some cool accessories.

Tip 5) Learn to DIY

Learning some basic sewing skills is invaluable. Even just knowing how to add darts to an outfit to make it fit you better, or learning how to add a panel to lengthen a too-short skirt.

Take a few classes or watch YouTube videos and do a few practice runs.

DIY skills sewing craft youtube

And if that’s too hard, befriend someone’s retired seamstress grandmother.

You could swap a baked lasagne for some basic sewing alterations (if you can cook that is, which I can’t, I trade in store-bought donuts). But you get the idea.

This is a teal dress that I’d had in my cupboard for a few years. It’s a bit short for FOTF so with some basic sewing skills (cutting out a pattern and then straight stitching it together), I was able to make a longer black pencil skirt to sit over the top.

custom homemade race skirt save money

The dodgy job I did on the waist band is nicely hidden by my big belt :D

Buy cheap shoes and clutches on sale and paint them the desired colour. You don’t have to spend $200 on the ONLY pair of shoes you manage to find in Emerald Green.

Tip 6) Remodel or Hire Millinery

Millinery is the biggest budget killer here. Agreed?

Generally, you cannot buy a new hat for less than $250. The craftsmanship that goes into each hat makes that damn near impossible.

Luckily, there are a few options here.

Recently, I created a new platform to buy, sell and hire new and used millinery. Millinery Market allows you to find hats in your local area- for fast pick up options, or anywhere else within Australia. You can hire a hat for as little as $30 or sell your old hats to fund the purchase of a new one. I have already hired out 5 of my old hats and with the money earned am looking forward to having a new bespoke piece made.

I also love the Millinery and Racewear for Sale Facebook Group. You can find many second hand hats on there, although they can still cost upwards of $100.

second hand pre-loved racewear millinery

With 7,515 items currently for sale, surely there are some gems in there!!

pre-owned millinery hats

You can even post a call out to hire millinery. Either post what you are looking for, or if you see something you like, contact the seller and simply ask if they’d be willing to hire it out to you.

The next option is to re-work something you already own or get crafty and make something yourself.

An old millinery piece can be updated by covering it in a new material, painting it, adding quills, feathers, bows, pretty much anything. I won’t even judge if you use a hot glue gun.

reuse revamp rewear recycle hats
Have a read of this blog post to see how I changed up my hat five different times.

Real Women in Budget Outfits

Still having doubts as to whether it can be done? Here are some fab outfits that ladies have put together for under $300. Really.

Laura Keetz – Outfit Total $198