They sit at a fancy table, front row to all the glitz and glamour, surrounded by beautiful bouquets of flowers and served with flowing champagne and hors d’oeuvres. The judging panel.
Recently, I was lucky enough to be given the honour of being seated at this table.
Being able to critique and partake in choosing an overall winner, to be sashed as best dressed, was a brand new and immensely enjoyable experience.
Judging is serious business
As a race enthusiast and fellow FOTF competitor, I know just how much thought, effort and time ladies put into their outfits. Months of planning isn’t an exaggeration.
It’s not an easy task
My recent judging experience gave me significant insight into what it’s like to be on the other side. It’s a lot harder than you think.
Now I understand why judges high tail it out of there, retiring quickly and gratefully to their marquees away from the contestants. It might be the decadent food and beverage packages… but another reason could be the aftermath. The judging aftermath that is.
One thing I realized with judging is that you can’t please everyone.
There will always be people who miss out, or who don’t agree with your decisions and that’s because –judging is based solely on opinions.
What a judge likes personally, and what resonates with them is what they choose.
Three judges tell us what they like and don’t like about judging
I recently asked three women who often judge FOTF events to share their favourite and least favourite thing about judging.
Meredith McMaster is a milliner who has been a judge for longer than I’ve been entering FOTF and whose style I love- I bought my very first piece of millinery from her. Meredith is a lover of fabulous fashion and is totally quirky. I love her pink hair!
Meredith: “My favourite thing is appreciating the time and effort the contestants put in to pull together a stunning race wear ‘look’. Least favourite thing is being berated by women who think that they should have won – and yes, it happens!!”
Lauren Holland is also no stranger to FOTF and has won many events, including the QLD State Finals twice, a major accomplishment in itself. She runs her own boutique- Joli Boutique, that sells beautiful international women’s clothing and millinery that her mum, Desley, makes.
Lauren: “My favourite thing is traveling to some great events and meeting wonderful people. My least favourite part is knowing there can be only one winner when I know how much effort all of the entrants have gone to with their outfits. ”
Georgina Murphy is a fashion columnist for the NT News. Georgina has competed in- and won many FOTF. Since becoming the NT columnist, she was asked to be on the judging panel for the Darwin Cup Carnival.
Georgina: “I LOVE going to the races (judging or not), so getting to see what everyone is wearing, and how they style their outfits is great. Least favourite thing is making a decision (sometimes!)”
Now that I’ve judged a few events, here are some of my own thoughts about judging…
How the judging criteria works
Myer and many other Fashions on the Field competitions are judged based on certain criteria. Although there may be small differences between race clubs, the following 5 criteria are generally used.
1) Style and originality
It is, of course, important for a contestant to have their own style. It’s nice to see someone put an outfit together which allows their personality to shine through.
Although there can be entrants dressed in similar outfits, the way an individual has adapted a garment, the choice of millinery and accessories can make them the overall winner.
2) Appropriateness of the outfit for the individual
Dress with your body shape and age in mind. For example, if you are quite short, then wearing a midi length dress can make you look shorter. If you don’t suit the colour green, then don’t wear it.
Choose flattering shapes and silhouettes. Besides, if you wear something that isn’t your style or shape, you will look nervous and uncomfortable on stage and it will show through.
3) Attention to detail with accessories
This is a very important one!! You could have a beautiful dress, but it will appear too simple if you don’t accessorize it properly. I have seen many gorgeous, winning outfits, but if all the elements aren’t there and the look is too basic, it won’t win.
You don’t have to go over the top, if your outfit is a statement enough with your millinery, then it is fine to have simple accessories. If you are wearing a plain dress, accessorize more.
4) Understanding and interpretation of the current fashion trends
Be on trend with what is happening in the fashion world. If you consider that the judges during Spring Carnival in Melbourne are often models, they have firsthand knowledge on new season collections. They are going to be fashion forward judges and will know what’s hot and what’s not.
I asked Lauren, Georgina and Meredith their thoughts on how important following current fashion trends are and if it impacts their judging decisions:
Lauren: “Yes, it’s really important to incorporate current fashion trends into your look, weather that be colour, shape or standout accessories.”
Georgina: “Yes, and yes! I always enjoy watching how racegoers have interpreted current fashion trends to create a look suitable for the track.”
Meredith: “Personally, I am drawn to a look which ticks all of the boxes in terms of whatever season it is, but I think it is boring when everyone is conforming to the particular ‘trends’ – why be a sheep? But – that’s just me.”
If you’re not sure about the 2017 trends, have a read of my 2017 Spring Racing Fashion Trends Report.
5) Grooming and deportment. Suitability of the outfit for the raceday.
Grooming is a big one for me. I know getting your hair done can be expensive, but if it is for a big competition like Spring Carnival, it’s important for your hair to complement and accentuate your millinery.
You can learn how to do an elegant up style yourself– for years I did my own hair in a bun using a foam donut. Nowadays, I like to have my hair styled with volume and in a way that complements my millinery.
Think of your hair as an extension of your millinery. If your hat is quite big, it will look a little out of place if your hair is flat and small.
One time I was told by a judge at a Myer competition that the reason why I missed out on the winning sash was because my hair was ‘too messy’. I had attempted a messy bun! Badly, I suppose. From then on, I have been very particular about my hair.
As for suitability of the outfit for the race day, dress with the weather in mind. If it’s the middle of summer, but going to be a cold rainy day, then you might consider wearing a long sleeve top or a cape over your outfit.
Something to think about when lining up for your heat
Finding your position in a heat requires skill. Some FOTF events rule that judges have a maximum number of entrants they can select to go through to the next round. So you need to avoid ending up in a heat with 10 amazing outfits.
A tip is to space yourselves out between heats. If you know that one heat is going to have 10 incredible outfits… then move to another one that is more even. And try to avoid standing next to ladies with a similar colour scheme or style outfit.
Once you get into the next round- don’t position yourself too far towards the end, as sometimes from this round, judges have a certain number of places to fill (say 50) and if they’ve filled them up already- then you’ll risk missing out.
How important is stage presence?
Fab stage presence is important. Walk the catwalk with confidence, make eye contact and smile at all the judges.
Some go on stage looking uncomfortable or disinterested, forget to smile or walk so quickly the judges miss the detail in their beautiful outfit. Your on-stage time is key to gaining and holding the attention of the judging panel.
I asked the others how important stage presence is:
Lauren says: “It’s so important. But it also has to look natural and not fake!!”
Meredith: “Having confidence and just being true to who they are is super important. I like to see someone just having fun with it… anything too contrived in terms of the way they walk or present themselves doesn’t do it for me.”
Click here to learn some basic poses for the stage. Here’s a 1 minute video showing the Magic Millions top 10 finalists strutting the catwalk…
Does knowing a judge help you?
Racing fashion enthusiasts have a tight knit community, and it’s getting even tighter these days with Facebook Groups like the Field Fashion Community that allow women to connect with other passionate race goers.
It’s not uncommon to know the majority of entrants in your local area. And with this brings its own awkward dilemma.
I always judge fairly whether I know someone or not. Being friends or acquaintances would never hinder my decision on who I think looks the best and deserves to win on the day.
It’s awkward when you’re sitting in front of the catwalk and are confronted by entrants you have been talking to at previous race events making eye contact with you.
You’re thinking ‘I hope they don’t think I’m going to choose them just because I know them,’ or ‘I hope they don’t get mad or upset if they don’t win.’
As for messaging a judge for outfit advice? Not a great idea. It puts the judge in a difficult position. Imagine if you won, only for it to leak that you and a judge had been discussing your outfit prior to the event. Like I said, not a great idea.
Judging events that have a theme
These are hard to judge. When a FOTF event is given a theme, I think it should be respected by the entrants.
Women spend a lot of time planning an outfit, even more so when there is a theme to adhere to, so when someone doesn’t follow the theme criteria, well, it undermines the whole point of having a theme. Especially if they win!
Recently I was torn between two outfits and in the end I had to choose the one that fit the specific theme of the day the best. I knew there would be some backlash, but you have to stick by your decisions and not select something just because you don’t want to upset anyone.
What’s the optimal number of judges on a panel?
I think there needs to be a judging panel of 3 or more- you need a variety of opinions and different tastes on the panel in order to come to a fair conclusion.
I also think judging panels should be made up of knowledgeable people in racing fashion. There is no point getting the local florist to come along and judge when she has no idea what to look for.
I once heard a male on the judging panel say he was looking for ‘the hottest chick’ because he knew nothing about racewear. So I gave him a little lecture (on racing fashion of course).
Filling the panel with race enthusiasts, bloggers, milliners and race wear designers (who don’t have their own garments entering) or other people generally in the know about racing fashion ensures the entrants efforts are not wasted.
A good idea is to get judges from out of town- avoids any personal bias that might present.
Something else to consider, would be getting last year’s winner back to judge. It’s a bit of fun for them, and provides fresh eyes on the panel.
Organisers should allow sufficient time to decide on the winner
Judging is only easy when there is a stand out winner. Unfortunately, that rarely happens and any one of the top 10 are usually deserving of a place.
There has to be enough time to properly observe and discuss entrants’ outfits, without feeling rushed, as it can be very close between first and second.
After it’s down to the top 10 I recommend organisers allow 5 to 10 minutes in the program schedule for the judges to make a final decision.
How the judging score sheet works
Each race event has a different way of judging. Some events have a score sheet where you write your 1st, 2nd and 3rd places and each place gets a different amount of points.
Others you score out of 10 for a number of different categories such as- millinery, appropriateness for season, style, grooming & deportment etc.
Some you choose your top picks from the heats and then discuss amongst yourselves, deciding on the winners all judges can agree on.
My favourite way to judge is where everyone selects their favourites from each heat, which then get narrowed down during group discussion once things proceed to the prelims and finals.
Here’s what the other ladies said about overcoming a tough judging decision:
Meredith: “It’s better to have either three or five judges as it simply comes down to the ‘majority rules’ solution.”
Lauren: “The best way to overcome this issue is to talk about why each judge liked their favourite competitor and if all else fails, the winner should be the person who nailed the judging criteria.”
Georgina: “Typically, I would chat through with my fellow judges why (and why not) we’ve chosen what we’ve chosen. I find during this discussion – and also counting up points allocated, if we’re using a point system on that particular day – we unearth some consistency and we find our winners.”
When the judges don’t pick you
Please don’t think that if your outfit didn’t win, it wasn’t beautiful, or that you didn’t look fabulous.
It just means that amongst the judging panel on that day, your look wasn’t in line with their specific taste or what they were looking for.
Even experienced race goers lose far more competitions than they win. There have been plenty of competitions where I haven’t made it past the first heats. I’ve even ‘lost’ so much I wrote an entire blog post on it!
Try not to feel dejected. If you love your outfit and think it deserves a sash, then wear it again somewhere else.
I have told the story where I spent MONTHS on my outfit for Derby Day one year, I planned and planned, I got it made, I did at least 50 hours of work on it myself, I got a hat custom made, I painted my shoes, I sourced my bag online and I didn’t make it past the first heat!
I didn’t hang up my heels vowing to never enter again. Instead, I simply wore it again to another event a month later and the second time around I placed and scored myself a sash.
So, next time you’re faced with a row of judges faces, spare a thought for what they have to do. Judging is a hard task and they can’t please everyone.
What do you think are the key elements to good judging at Fashions on the Field competitions? Do you have any advice you’d like to give judges who may be reading this post? Let us know in the comments below.
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Spring Trends Report
The 2018 Spring / Summer Racing Fashion Trends Report. A 39 page comprehensive guide to what's trending this race season. Plus, you'll receive exclusive weekly fashion tips to help you stand out at your next race event.