The dawn of a new race age

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Is the Melbourne Cup finally ready for a more fashion-forward, edgier approach to spring racing fashion? The answer, it seems, is yes. 

In the past, there have been many edgy fashion moments making cameras pop at both Caulfield and Flemington.

Supermodel Coco Rocha wore an intricate gold lace jacket and matching hat to Oaks Day in 2013. That same year, burlesque star Dita Von Teese had orchids cascading down her Aurelio Costarella jacket and Philip Treacy hat. 

In 2011 model Megan Gale started a debate when she made a head-turning entrance at the David Jones marquee in a hot pink Lisa Ho pantsuit and matching hat.

But, despite those stellar examples, race-days are often awash in a sea of racegoers wanting to fit in, rather than stand out, wearing the same types of dresses, from the same designers, accessorised in the same way.

Designer Alex Perry hopes that a new racing age is dawning.

“I have always thought that Melbourne girls had a real handle on edgy fashion, but sometimes they lose it a little bit on the racetrack – they can reference things from the '40s and '50s too heavily, and it looks like they are wearing a costume.”

He has tried to help girls out of the ‘racing uniform’ by creating “things that are simple in beautiful shades, that just push the envelope a bit.”

And now it seems there are more who want to take a risk.

Designer Bianca Spender realised she predicted her spring range entirely incorrectly, in that she presumed the out-there pieces would be ones that were slower to sell.

“I've done the most colourful collection I've ever done, and I did one trench in lilac. I loved it but I thought it would sell the most in black and navy. But lilac has beaten those colours hands down. I found that it's the colours that are getting really embraced,”

To what does she attribute that shift in buyers' mood? 

“I think there's a lot of frustrations and real pressures that people are going through in life,” Spender says, “When people are in that state of mind, they're open to challenging ideals, giving us a change in the way we dress.”

Turning heads: In 2011 model Megan Gale wore a hot pink Lisa Ho pantsuit and matching hat, starting a race wear debate. Photo: Craig Sillitoe

Turning heads: In 2011 model Megan Gale wore a hot pink Lisa Ho pantsuit and matching hat, starting a race wear debate. Photo: Craig Sillitoe

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How will the races look this year?

In the way Jean Shrimpton shocked the world with her mini and no stockings, I have a feeling we're going to see that sort of thing at the races all over again.

And let's be clear about one thing: breaking the fashion rules doesn't mean breaking the dress code, which is only for certain sections of the racetrack, anyway. 

Kara Baker never set out to make clothes specifically for the races, but she's a Melbourne designer who has discovered that lately women have been veering towards her designs – which she calls ‘modesty dressing’. 

She feels that women can be fashion forward at the races, while still adhering to the dress code.

“I'm really into a midi length, finishing about five inches above your ankle bone, so that it's not a maxi dress but it does give you a slightly '70s or '40s look. It's feminine and elegant but it's also covered up – it's the opposite of the sea of stretch lace dresses we saw at the races last year.”

If racegoers start dressing with a keener eye, it will be none too soon for milliner Melissa Jackson, who thinks some women are stuck in a time warp.

“In the Fashion on the Field enclosure, there are still people dressing in a 1950s style, when obviously we're in 2017. People borrow so much from other people's style, and that's when it starts to blend and look the same.”

And, this is the year where it seems that all designers are trying to make sure their offerings are unique. 

Thurley's Helen O'Connor designs outfits that are much-coveted for the races, and this year she has tried to inject them with a twist, “using rivets and studs and chain to embellish my feminine laces, giving them a surprising and masculine edge.”

Stylist Lana Wilkinson, who will be working with celebrities at both this year's Caulfield Cup and Melbourne Cup Carnivals, says she expects to see “a lot of wide brim hats, turbans and headscarves, with designers using shoulder pads, ruffles and nods to the '80s.”

“I feel like fashion is having the most fun it's had in almost a decade.”

WAtoday.com.au

This story The past 50 years in fashion at the Melbourne Cup first appeared on Mandurah Mail.