Race events offer a variety of FOTF categories, Classic and Contemporary Racewear being popular choices.

When deciding on which category to enter, how do you determine if what you are wearing is classic or contemporary? What are the judges looking for?

Image 1: Janelle Burnside classic winner left, contemporary winner right Taranki Cup Feb 2019, 2: Amelia Hardaker, classic winner left, contemporary winner right, 3: Nadia Schmidt contemporary winner left, classic winner right.

Until recently, I hadn’t put much thought into this, but it seems many are struggling with the differences between the two. After all, you don’t want to ruin your chance at a sash by entering yourself into the wrong category.

So, after some lengthy research and a few grey hairs, this is my take on Classic vs Contemporary racewear.

Keep in mind, always check with the race club hosting the event. They might have their own ‘rules’ on each category and you should dress according to these.

Classic (Traditional) Racewear

Here are some examples of how some race clubs have defined their Classic Category:

Classic can be defined as traditional race attire; or what racewear originated as. Think about what women wore to the races in the 1900s, when the dress codes, rules and regulations were strict and conservative.

Shoulders covered, no décolletage on show, appropriate lengths in skirts, a structured silhouette, and accessories like gloves, classic bag and shoe styles.

When thinking of classic racewear, full skirts or pencil skirts, a feminine, elegant and tailored look come to mind.

Image: @wendellt photo of @emscodellaro, @wendellt image of @milanoimai

Image: @lindsay.j.ridings, @wendellt photo of @milanoimai

Contemporary Racewear

Here are some examples of how some race clubs have defined their Contemporary Category:

Simply put, contemporary racewear is modern, on trend and even fashion forward.

Outfits still adhere to some of the more traditional race etiquette, but with a fresh, modern appeal. Fashion is always evolving and changing (we don’t dress how we did in the 1900’s) and it stands to reason that racing fashion would also evolve.

Image: @madamhat, @wendellt photo of @cournteymoore

Image: @madamhat, @crystalkimber

Nowadays, off-shoulder or even bare shoulders are something which have become acceptable in FOTF outfits, along with thinner straps and bare backs.

Some other examples of contemporary trends are:

  • Sheer panels
  • A futuristic silhouette
  • Unique tailoring
  • One-shoulder, no shoulder, interesting strap design
  • Trends in fabrication such as tulle, laser cut leather, sequins, bright bold colours and prints

Pant suits are often favoured in contemporary categories as they are considered fresh, not overdone and they boast a fashion forward appeal.

Meri’s pantsuit is a great example of a contemporary outfit as she has accessorized it with the season’s trending leopard print in her shoes and a unique tortoise shell clutch.

Image: Meri Dimovski, vogue.com.au

Steph’s outfit here is a modern, pants under dress look. She has chosen a bold print and, even though the hat and pumps are classic, I would put this in the contemporary category.

Image: @miss_stephkwong

That’s not to say that pantsuits can’t be entered into a Classic category though…

Contemporary race day outfits also incorporate new trends in accessories. The following bags would be contemporary choices.

It doesn’t mean bags like these can’t be paired with a classic outfit. Some of these bag styles are the hot current trend, but would also work beautifully with a classic outfit.

Past Winners of the Classic and Contemporary Categories

Below are some examples of past winners from Classic and Contemporary Fashions on the Field Categories.

Classic Category Winners

Mollie Coghlan-West winner of Classic Lady at Warrnambool Races 2018


Ureisha Hughes Classic Lady at Burdekin grower race day 2018


Sally Martin Classic Lady at Cootamundra Cup


Sophie Pezzutti Classic Lady winner at Cairns Cup 2017


Tylea Mortensen won Best Dressed Classic Lady at the Bundaberg Races Melbourne Cup Day 2018


Classic Lady Winner Em Scodellaro (right) & Classic Lady Runner Up Allana Burns (left) at Ballarat Cup Day 2018


Sally Martin’s outfit for classic lady in Canberra


Jo Bovell Lady of the day, Bunbury Cup 2019


Trudie Payne Classic Lady Runner Up at Gayndah 150 years anniversary race day


Josie Anderson Dubbo Fashion Series Grand Final Winner 2018


Rachael Murray Classic Lady of the Day

Contemporary Category Winners

Trudie Payne Contemporary Winner


Helen Strong Contemporary Winner at Gympie Turf Club Race Day


Abby Von Duve Contemporary Winner at Warrnambool Races 2017


Anne Belyaeva 2nd Runner-up Contemporary Lady, Warrnambool Cup 2018


Cheryn Ramsay Contemporary Lady Cloncurry Winter Cup 2018


Krystle Doyle Kirk Best Dressed Contemporary


Pauline Pattullo Contemporary Riccarton 2017


Amie Georgina Roma Picnics Contemporary Lady and Amie Georgina Clifton Races Contemporary Lady


Mary Ann Contemporary Winner


Ellie Merritt Contemporary Wagga Wagga Gold Cup


Trudie Payne Contemporary Winner

Outfits that Cross Both Categories

There is a grey area when deciding between classic and contemporary categories. Some outfits may have a classic style, but fabrications or styling give it a modern feel. And vice versa.

In fact, many outfits can fall into either category. Our 2019 interpretation of classic could be an off the shoulder, full skirt dress, but with more traditional styling and accessories. The idea of contemporary to some, on the other hand, might mean something more avant garde, or an outfit so unusual it’s classed as revolutionary.

June’s dress is a classic shape but the water colour fabrication with floral print, covered in sequins is quite contemporary.

Image: June Youngman

In Crystal’s outfit, the shape of the skirt and top can be seen as classic, especially paired with a wide brim hat, but the fabrication of the skirt is a bright bold sequin fabric, making it modern. The additional accessories of the acrylic on-trend bag and clear heel shoes brings this outfit more into the contemporary category.

Image: Crystal Kimber

Sally’s outfit here has a very classic shape, a pencil cut dress with sleeves and panels, paired with a wide brim hat. However, the on-trend animal print in a mix of bold colours, means this outfit would most likely be entered into a contemporary category.

Image: Sally Martin

Katie competed in the classic category in this outfit, but it could also be entered into the contemporary category. The shape of the dress and hat style is classic, but the fabric print, clear shoes and bow under the boater is very current.

Image: Katie McNamara

At one race club, the judges actually placed contestants in the contemporary or classic category themselves, this definitely would eliminate the problem of contestants not knowing which category to enter themselves into!

So, if a contestant is unsure, should she be allowed to enter both categories? I would love to hear your thoughts in the comments below.

In conclusion, outfits can be a combination of classic and contemporary elements, but the overall look and feeling of the outfit should be distinct enough to fit into one of the two categories.


Have you entered in a Classic or Contemporary Category? Post a photo in the comments below and let us know which category you entered.


Leave a Comment...