It was 1962, a hundred years after the running of the first Melbourne Cup, when the first Fashions on the Field contest was held. Its aim: to find the most smartly dressed woman at the races. Hats, gloves and stockings were compulsory.
Only three years later English model Jean Shrimpton totally upset the apple cart by forgoing all three, and topped it off by showing her knees. Her mini-dress was the first Spring Racing Fashion Scandal, and the start of a fabulous tradition of next-level primping, calculated provocation and ridiculous headgear.
Spring Racing fashion is normal fashion writ large – the good, the bad and the ugly of the day’s current styles are lavishly exaggerated in a kind of drag show with horses, betting, and stiletto-challenging turf. It’s a welcome sideshow to the slightly uncomfortable spectacle of horseracing – and some would say, a far more thrilling one.
Absurd headwear has long been a Spring Racing stalwart.
The turbulent 1960s
After demure beginnings, the 60s soon spun out of control. The year after the appearance of the outrageous mini-dress, almost every Melbourne Cup knee was bared. The Age reported: “Last year's controversial Miss Shrimpton would have passed unnoticed in the crowd this year. Anyone with hemlines below the knee looked very ‘old hat’.”
The gloved, hatted and (presumably) stockinged winner of the inaugural Fashions on the Field in 1962.
Picture: Cameron Laird. Source: MelbourneHub.
‘That’ mini-dress – nothing would ever be the same again.
The 1970s – anything goes
The 1970s was a no-rules fashion decade that saw everything from cowboy hats to flowing hippy maxi-dresses, crocheted trouser twinsets to leopard skin hotpants.
Almost as scandalous to traditionalists as the great mini-dress scandal of ’65 was the advent of the pantsuit.
Image: Fairfax Photographics
Melbourne fashionistas Zandra Rhodes and Lillian Frank demonstrate just how crazy and anything-goes 1970s fashion was. Something had to give.
The corporate 1980s
The 80s corporate vibe infiltrated the style scene – shoulder pads, chunky earrings, puffy sleeves and perms were in; 70s-style craziness was out. It says much about this conservative decade that its biggest Spring Racing Carnival fashion ‘moment’ were the seams down the back of Princess Diana’s tights with a bow design at the ankle. Whoopee.
Nautical stripes, big earrings, bigger shoulders – 80s on-field fashion included what looked like everyday work gear topped with a silly hat.
Diana’s demure 1985 Derby Day outfit sums up the unadventurous 80s.
The 1990s – best forgotten
The 1990s: the decade style forgot. The minimalist, anti-conformist styles of the decade of grunge didn’t transfer well to the glitz and glamour of racing. The 80s influence lived on, with coordinated jacket-and-skirt ensembles, often in bright colours. The decade’s key Spring Racing Fashion moment: Fleur Olssen won Fashions on the Field wearing a bright yellow dress that her mother had worn back in 1972. Says it all, really.
Neon colours: another 1990s trend we’d rather forget. Ridiculous hats continue to be a theme.
The fascinating 00s
Who knew what a fascinator was before the 2000s? The versatile hat replacement revolutionised Spring Carnival headwear, with feathers, flowers, ruffles and countless unidentifiable objects cunningly attached to the heads of 100% of female racegoers.
The 2000s is when the fly-in celebrity trend really ramped up, and Racing Carnival fashion took a celebrity-led leap for the stars. Since then, each year big-name celebs like Sarah Jessica Parker, Eva Longoria, Geri Halliwell and Nicole Kidman fly in, primp up and pose for a billion photos. Giddy-up!
Paris and Nicky Hilton won Shrimpton-level disapproval when they swaggered into the 2003 Cup in their nighties, without achieving the enduring effect of the iconic white mini-dress.
Tara Moss took the fascinator to new extremes at Derby Day, 2008.
Mother-and-daughter act Georgia May Jagger and Jerry Hall were a classy celebrity double act in 2010.
Nicole Kidman nailed the Derby Day black-and-white dress code in 2012, modeled after Audrey Hepburn’s Ascot races costume from My Fair Lady.
Main image: Huntsmansavilerow