A History of Fashions on the Field
Forty-eight years on and Fashions on the Field at Flemington is not only an undisputed institution of Melbourne Cup week and a pinnacle event of the Spring Racing Carnival, it has established its place as Australia's largest and most prestigious outdoor fashion event.
Style and glamour are the two best words to describe Melbourne Cup fashion. Donning some of the year’s most expensive and unique outfits, men and women alike are drawn to the race day frivolities. With each new race year, the stakes are higher and people are turning up with more original and dazzling outfits, which beat the previous year’s fashion display.
Where it all began…
The VRC's Fashions on the Field was instigated in 1962, following initiatives implemented by a VRC sub-committee set up in 1960 to promote the Centenary Cup. The contest formed part of the 'Fashions, Flowers and Favourites' celebration and was an attempt to 'woo more women to the races'.
The competition was launched with the object of 'finding the smartest dressed women at the Carnival within economic restraints' and would-be entrants were enticed with a generous prize pool of goods and cash to the value of almost £7,000. There were initially two categories for ladies' outfits - one for those that had cost no more than £30, and one for those worth more than £50. First Prize was a return sea trip for two to the UK, valued at £1,400.
Fashions on the Field captured the imagination of the public. It was covered extensively in the press of the day and grew rapidly in popularity. Little did the VRC organising committee realise that its new marketing initiative would change the nature of racing forever.
This marketing initiative of Victorian Racing captured the imagination of the public, beginning with English model Jean Shrimpton. In 1965, her one-piece shift dress four inches above the knee. Without a hat, gloves or stockings, the tiny but beautiful model drew the media to Flemington and the Spring Carnival with her daring outfit. Since then, the Melbourne Cup carnival has been the place to try new fashions and wow the crowd.
All controversies aside, the 60's saw the introduction of Fashions on the Field – an event that would undergo many changes during its 43-year history, yet ultimately would be embraced as the phenomena it was from the outset, in 1962.
During the 1970s, flared pantsuits, long flowing dresses and mini-dresses became popular with younger race-goers, while older members continued to wear more conservative dresses and suits. Some race-goers simply shunned fashion in this era for conspicuous informality, although the Victoria Racing Club maintained dress standards in the members’ reserve. During the 1970s, the ‘Fashions on the Field’ competition was modified several times, partly due to decreasing sponsorship and a weakened economy. Alternative fashion competitions were held on Cup Day throughout the 1970s until the ‘Fashions on the Field’ competition was reinstated in 1981.
In 1983, Myer became the major sponsor of the event, an occurrence that was to herald the start of a long association. By 1986, the media of the day was describing the competition as Melbourne's now famous 'Myer Fashions on the Field' and event organisers were in the envious but difficult position of turning down offers to judge the contest. Celebrity judges and a prize pool of more than $30,000 worth of prizes raised the competition's profile and in the three years following Myer’s involvement, the number of entrants quadrupled from 50 a day in each of the two categories to more than 200 per day.
From its initial beginnings as a promotional activity to attract more women to the races at Flemington, by the 90s Fashions on the Field had carved a niche for itself in the ritual and pageantry of Australian racing. The event attracted immense media attention, celebrity judges including Milliner to the Queen – Freddie Fox and a new wave of contestants and with it a new wave of controversies…as the fashion world, designers and milliners alike, began to turn their attention to this fashion phenomenon each spring.
The 21st century not only saw local and international celebrities as a regular item in the Fashions on the Field enclosure, the event now attracts the attention of the fashion and social media across the globe. In a 'Fashions on the Field' first the VRC introduced a National Competition bringing the excitement of the Melbourne Cup Carnival to the rest of Australia.
The introduction of the Millinery Award and Design Award was part of the VRC's commitment to addressing the instances of designers and milliners entering models into the regular Women's race wear competitions. These awards now provide designers and milliners with a prestigious platform to showcase their exclusive designs amongst their peers while also ensuring the traditional women’s race wear event remains a competition for everyone.
The competition is an opportunity for the fashion industry to showcase its designs and for men and women to indulge in their ‘passion for fashion’. Along with the Millinery Award and the Design Award, the popularity of this event has spread interstate with Brisbane, Sydney, Perth, Adelaide and Tasmania all hosting their own mini-competition.
The finalists from these competitions then come together on Crown Oaks Day for the National Final. Each competitor’s fashion is judged based on the style and originality, appropriateness of outfit for the Melbourne Cup Carnival and the individual, attention to detail with accessories (headwear essential), understanding and interpretation of the current fashion trends, grooming and deportment and suitability of the outfit for the climate.
Country Racing Victoria Fashions...
As well as being a big feature at Flemington, the Fashions on the Field competition has grown to become a huge part of country racing events across the state. Country racing clubs big and small, have several fashion competitions held throughout the entire year - not just Spring, but also at Summer events such as the Burrumbeet Cup, during Autumn at the Warrnambool May Carnival and in the Winter at the Swan Hill Cup Carnival.
Like the Melbourne Cup Carnival, a number of country clubs also have Myer as the major sponsor for their Fashions on the Field events. These include the Cranbourne, Bendigo and Ballarat Cup days. With the countless events during the year across the Country Racing calendar, there is bound to be a Fashions on the Field event somewhere close to you. So, you don't just have to wait for the Spring Carnival in the Country to come around!
Fashions on the Field events at the country races are always open to everyone and guaranteed great fun. Aside from the usual Best Dressed categories, a lot of the country clubs offer several other categories you can enter such as Junior Fashions, Best Couple and Best Head Wear. The clubs all put in a great effort into organising their FOTF events, with impressive prizes up for grabs from their valued sponsors.
For more information on any upcoming country racing events please visit the Country Racing Victoria website. See you soon on the country catwalk!