“Hi Milano, I attended a comp recently and I’m a little upset at the judge’s decision. I had lots of ladies saying to me they thought I should have won…”
Since starting this blog over 2 years ago, my reader base has grown steadily and I now receive upwards of 30 messages a week. And I love receiving them! They help me understand what women are struggling with, the thoughts and feelings of the racing fashion community.
Usually these messages are from women asking for outfit advice, or questions about the races, but every now and then I do receive the odd message from someone who was disappointed with a judge’s decision.
Sometimes I agree with them. Other times I think the judges got it right or that either outfit could have won. Most times I have to remind myself that the choice is subjective, based on personal opinion and taste.
In recent weeks, I’ve been getting a whole lot more of these types of messages from disappointed race goers, which makes me think there’s probably a lot of women out there who feel the same way.
So today, I want to openly talk about the topic in more detail, and of course, I’d love for you to share your opinions in the comments below.
Was Your Outfit Actually Better?
It is so disappointing to spend months on an outfit, only to be overlooked (especially if you don’t even make the heats). To make matters worse, you might see the sash awarded to someone who doesn’t even remotely resemble your idea of a winning look.
You feel robbed. Upset. ‘The injustice of it all‘, you think.
Friends and strangers at the track say they think you should have placed. You receive messages on Instagram from ladies saying they thought you looked the best.
You start to feel frustrated, and then sorry for yourself.
You start wondering whether the race club and judges have some kind of grudge against you. Why don’t they like me?
Ever felt this way? I know I certainly have… more times than I care to admit.
While it can be a little hard to accept, in times like this, it’s important to acknowledge a few things:
First, no matter how objective you think you are, of course you’re going to be a little bit biased. How can you not be? Only you know how much effort and attention to detail has gone into your outfit.
Second, your friends won’t always tell you their true feelings because the truth can hurt. Sometimes it’s easier to tell a little white lie, tell your friend they should have placed, make them feel better.
Quick side note: As a race friend I think it’s good to be aware that telling a white lie can often fuel the fire. If you think the judges made the right call you could say, ‘you did look amazing, but I also loved the way the winner was styled’ or ‘maybe so and so won because [this detail in their outfit or millinery tied in so well etc.]’.
And third, just because the winner’s outfit didn’t resemble your idea of a winning look, doesn’t mean it shouldn’t have won. Everyone has different styles and tastes, and on this particular day, the winner’s style won over the judges.
Now, having said all this, I think there will be times when your disappointment will be fully justified. Times when the judges… got it wrong.
Can Judges make a Wrong Decision when Fashion is Inherently Subjective?
Fashions on the Field winners are based on what the judge sees and interprets as racing fashion and they are there to judge solely on their opinion.
Therefore, it’s hard to say the judge’s decision is wrong.
Let’s say I’m a judge and I love the brand Self Portrait because that brand suited my style. If an entrant is wearing a Self Portrait dress, I may be more inclined to choose them as the winner over another outfit. But that doesn’t mean they are the best dressed. I just liked their outfit. Just me.
This is why there needs to be a judging panel of 5 (or so), a variety of opinions and tastes.
You also need a judging panel that is open minded to fashion, that can appreciate everyone’s styling and outfit choices from a racing fashion perspective.
Spring Carnival was a perfect example. It was a widely shared opinion that many stunning outfits were definitely preliminary finals worthy, but they didn’t even make it past the heats. Other, more controversial pieces, were scoring places.
Here’s a few of my favourites that didn’t make it past the first heat…
The judging panel at Flemington is often made up of just 3 judges to judge all the heats, so you would want to make sure they know about racing fashion.
Another flaw is they only put 3 or 4 ladies from each heat through to the next round. They should be able to select as many strong entrants as they want, regardless of their heat. And in a weaker heat, they might choose just one.
What Makes Someone Qualified to be a Judge?
For me, racing fashion is different to other kinds of fashion.
There is a certain vibe about it, one you would only understand from being involved in the racing fashion world, whether it be as a spectator, entrant, milliner or racewear designer.
A lot of judges these days are invited because they are a sponsor, celebrity or designer (in not necessarily racewear). Obviously, without sponsors, there are no prizes, but are these judges really qualified to make informed decisions? Do they understand proper millinery and race day etiquette?
I’m sure there have been lots of events where judges have been brought in without a clue about racing fashion.
I’ve had organisers ask me for guidelines on what is appropriate racing fashion, so the information can be passed on to their judging panel. At least they are taking the steps to educate them.
Exploring Some of the ‘Grey’ Areas of the Competition
Is it Okay to Hire/Purchase a Complete Outfit?
FOTF is meant to be a showcase of your own personal style, creativity and work.
I think it is perfectly fine to hire or buy parts of an outfit to piece together to create your own look, but buying an entire outfit and millinery together means all the styling is done for you.
This also paves the way for designers to enter models into competitions, which is against the rules. A designer could ‘hire out’ an outfit for as little as $1 to a model, which would mean they were no longer entered by a designer. We have seen a few examples of this and it is very hard to police.
Can Milliners enter FOTF Competitions?
If you are a milliner should that stop you from entering FOTF competitions? I personally think it is fine as you are still creating your own look by designing the headwear to piece together with the outfit you’ve come up with.
What’s the difference between designing and making your own hat and someone getting their friend to make/style their entire outfit?
And then what is the difference in paying a designer and leaving it up to them to come up with a bespoke piece without any of your own input? Isn’t that just the designer doing the styling for you?
It is all very complicated.
Judging when there is a Conflict of Interest
Conflicts of interest often arise on the judging panel. A milliner may have to judge an entrant who is wearing a hat they made. A local boutique owner might judge an entrant wearing a dress they sold. A stylist might judge an entrant they provided style advice to.
In these situations, I strongly believe judges should disclose the conflict of interest and sit out for that round. Even if you think you can be objective, if it can be perceived by others to be a conflict of interest, it’s just best not to put yourself in that position.
For transparency, I think it could also be useful for the MC to announce that a particular judge is sitting out of a particular round.
Not too long ago, I was going to lend one of my hats on Millinery Market to a lady in Brisbane. When I found out she was going to wear it to Ekka Race Day, which I was going to judge, I decided to decline her offer to avoid any potential conflict of interest.
Keeping FOTF Alive
It is all very well to say how things should be run and expect to turn up and just enjoy the competition, but it’s important to recognise that race clubs are putting on this event for us.
It takes a lot of planning, time and money to organise a FOTF competition. They need to make a schedule, arrange a stage, seating area and judging table. They need to organise sponsors, judges, an MC, sashes, gift bags and advertising for the event and all of this costs money.
So what can we do to help give back to race courses who host our most favourite events and support our hobby?
Donate Time or Prizes
Do you, or someone you know, own a business that could donate prizes for the competition?
Prizes aren’t everything, but after spending $500 on a hat and sometimes even more on the rest of your outfit, it’s disheartening to open your prize pack only to find a $100 voucher to a local store that will cost you money to use.
You could volunteer at your local race club to help organise an event or two.
At my local race club, Brisbane Racing Club, they have a ‘fashion committee’ made up of around 7 women and men who have an interest in racing fashion. They volunteer to help host, judge and run the events, as well as do promotions and social media posts.
Volunteer to be a Judge
Are you knowledgeable in FOTF and think you know enough to judge a competition? Call up and offer your services.
Just try not to judge at a competition where a lot of your close friends will be entering. If your best friend wins and your other friends take out second and third place, even if they are best dressed, other ladies will feel like you’ve been biased.
Notify Clubs if Something isn’t Right
If you suspect wrong doings or something unfair has happened, don’t talk about it in a negative way on social media. Channel your passion in a proactive way such as writing a letter to alert the race club, as often they won’t be aware of the incident.
If a designer is entering models (and you know this for sure) then tell someone. It’s all about keeping things professional and going about things the right way.
Race clubs and their sponsors don’t want to be associated with negative publicity, so you’d be surprised how seriously they may take your matter.
Help Increase Attendance
Support your local race course by becoming a member. Attend more race days than just the big FOTF days. Drag your friends along for a random fun day at the races.
Help promote race days by posting on your Facebook and Instagram about the days you will attend and ask who wants to come with you.
Sometimes I link up with my local race club to promote race days by holding a competition to give away some free tickets 😀
So, have you ever disagreed with a judge’s decision? Is it possible for them to sometimes get it wrong? What do you think qualifies someone to be a judge? What are some other grey areas? I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments below.
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