It was two weeks out from the Myer NSW state final FOTF competition. My outfit planning was well underway. And I was nervous.
Here’s what was running through my head at the time…
The Dilemma Diary
The first dilemma is my dress. It’s stunning. When I saw it, I knew it was the one, but it’s a full tulle dress. A tulle dress, to the races? I know what you’re thinking… I’m scared too.
I (once again) enlist the amazing talent of Belinda from Peacock Millinery to make my bespoke piece. I have a style in mind; a Dior inspired mushroom hat.
Belinda’s initial sketch is the complete opposite of my idea. I try to avoid voicing my opinions and just trust her. She seems set on this particular style.
Her design idea is beautiful, but is the overall concept too risky? I decide to let her do what she thinks best, she is in my eyes, the design master after all.
Then I wait, anxiously, to see the final product.
One week later my phone goes off; a message from Belinda. A photo!
I take a breath and open it, not knowing how I will feel or what I will see- it’s either going to be a total break down, or a hallelujah moment.
It’s PERFECT. Absolutely stunning. Way better than I could have imagined!! I really love it. Sigh of relief.
The hat will balance out my tulle dress perfectly. I have butterflies, can barely sleep from excitement. When I do fall asleep, there are dreams about the races and FOTF (totally lame I know).
The next day I show my mum.
Mum: It’s a bit… out there… don’t you think?
Me: Umm well yeah… Belinda’s a bloody visionary and has made a masterpiece!
Mum: That’ll never win Melbourne Cup. You need a more ‘millinery style’.
Me: (shocked and annoyed) This could win a millinery award!
Mum: Yes. But not the fashion award. It’s too different.
Pushing the Fashion Envelope
Annoyed and frustrated, I start thinking about what she said.
Who decides what is right and wrong in the world of racing fashion? Is FOTF evolving enough to allow new styles and looks to win? Or do you have to stick to traditional FOTF attire?
If innovative styles never win, then we won’t evolve with fashion or move forward, experimenting with new ideas. We don’t want to get stuck in shoulder pad past do we?
Maybe a percher, halo, boater or crown is the choice of traditional racegoers- also favourites of mine, but at what stage do we get to try something new and different?
And maybe my hat isn’t “traditional millinery”, but the same amount of time and craftsmanship has gone into it.
The Gate Keepers of Acceptable Racewear
I come to the conclusion, that what it comes down to, is one specific competition and the judges.
For the judging panel to applaud the fact you stepped outside the box sets the path to new trends, an evolving FOTF, and women taking fashion risks in their outfits. Innovative freedom.
There is no doubt that the Myer FOTF competition is the most prestigious FOTF competition in Australia. It’s the authority on what is race wear. If you become the National Winner, then you have won the ultimate award. I would compare it to winning a golden globe.
Past Examples of Evolving Racewear Styles
In 2015, we saw Myer accept and celebrate the Self Portrait brand. Self Portrait was worn by 2 state finalists and secured numerous top 10 places in FOTF competitions around the country.
All three winners plus two judges were wearing Self Portrait for the NSW FOTF competition.
Before that, ladies didn’t wear anything like a lace dress, featuring the midi length with a shorter underlay. It was different, but it was received well and started a new movement.
The following year, lace dresses were seen everywhere. It not only became acceptable, but was the must-have look. Myer embraced them, choosing them as FOTF winners.
When it’s Time for a Change
I’ve heard a bit of talk recently, people asking the questions ‘is it just me or is everyone starting to look the same?’ and ‘Why do you all want to look the same?’.
And I agree.
The same Thurley dress won at least 5 FOTF competitions. Other similar lace styles thrashed the catwalks of most FOTF.
I understand why. There aren’t a whole lot of reasonable priced, easily accessible brands with race worthy garments. These favourites end up being worn by many women.
But the feeling of ‘ho hum’ is a sentiment shared by a few of us.
So, is it time to dare to be different?
Every year, the quality of entrants reaches goes a step further. It’s becoming very hard these days to stand out in a crowd of immaculately dressed women.
Not to mention, style is so readily available now days, with social media like Pinterest, Instagram, fashion websites and the like. Every day we are bombarded by influences, style icons and online shopping, making it possible to buy pretty much anything and everything.
A More Modern Look
Fashions on the Field competitions- especially ones hosted by Myer, have become more modern.
When you look at style icons like Lana Wilkinson, Nikki Phillips, Gigi Connolly, Jennifer Hawkins and Stephanie Claire Smith you won’t find them in traditional racewear.
So, is there a new movement towards modern and relaxed racewear? They bare their shoulders, show midriff, go strapless, aren’t afraid of high splits and tend to favour small crowns and millinery.
I can tell you now, if the judging panel during Spring Carnival decides that spaghetti straps are now acceptable race wear, then the amount of women choosing to wear the spaghetti strap next year would double.
And considering Myer’s ambassadors, often models, dress in the newest designs, then we could find that a more modern look is favoured over traditional styles.
The Vintage Vs Modern Look
There are two prominent groups of styles that women dress in for the races.
One is the more traditional/vintage look- holding onto what racing fashion traditionally was, and where it started. The alternative is for fashion forward women who seek newer styles… oh, and then there’s a third- the costume look.
Personally I like the new modern style.
What’s to Come?
So where does racing fashion go from here? What changes are about to happen in the racing fashion world?
Will skirts slowly start to rise from the must-have midi length? Will they soon be just below the knee again?
Will strapless numbers become more acceptable? What about thin straps and cut outs?
Will girls wearing crowns triumph over proper millinery?
I think there is movement in the air. Ladies are getting itchy feet to step away from the pack and try something new, to stand out and be noticed.
As for my own full tulle dress and non-traditional headwear, I ended up coming second place in the NSW FOTF state final! So it just goes to show, sometimes it pays to take a risk and push the boundaries of what is considered ‘acceptable’ racewear.
Dare to be different. I can’t wait to see some fresh new looks at this year’s Spring Carnival.
Are you looking for a hat to rent or buy for Spring Carnival? Check out Millinery Market, an online marketplace where you can browse hundreds of hat listings from milliners & race enthusiasts across Australia.