“Nowhere in the world have I encountered a festival of people that has such a magnificent appeal to the whole nation,” declared American writer Mark Twain on his visit to Melbourne in 1895. “The Cup astonishes me.”
More than 100 years later, the Melbourne Cup – and indeed the whole spring racing carnival – commands the same attention. But it’s not just about what happens on the track. With racing style garnering nearly as much attention as the race itself, choosing what to wear takes some serious consideration. And some serious style nous: each race day has its own traditions, etiquette and dress code. With this in mind, here is your guide to doing racewear right, on three of the carnival’s most well-attended days.
The oldest classic race on the Victorian racing calendar, the Victoria Derby was first run in 1855, six years before the Melbourne Cup. With an air steeped in prestige and tradition, the dress code is observed as keenly as the race itself – in fact, it was at Derby Day that British model Jean Shrimpton caused a scandal in 1965 by attending the race in a white mini-dress cut 10cm above the knee and opting not to wear a hat.
Even now, Derby Day has perhaps the strictest dress code of the whole carnival. With a pared back palette of black and white, the focus shifts to the line of a dress – so make sure you pick something sharp, like our Logan Dress. Your headwear should be striking, and similarly monochromatic.
Gentlemen, this is your opportunity to showcase a really fine suit, our Marcella Suit – smart tailoring and impeccable fabrications will earn you the right kind of attention.
A tie is mandatory – although there is no regulation colour – and the official corsage is the cornflower.
First run in 1861, the Melbourne Cup was initially held on a Thursday – it wasn’t until the carnival of 1875 that it was switched to a Tuesday. Known as “the race that stops the nation,” the Melbourne Cup has the honour of being the only sporting event in Australia that gets its own public holiday – at least for those living in Victoria.
Look to the Melbourne Cup as your opportunity to showcase a sophisticated, modern look – a sleek bustier dress in a standout colour, is a sure bet, as is a dress with a refined pattern, like our Mosaic dress. Distinguish yourself on the field with your choice of headwear: it should be chosen to balance, not overwhelm your look. If you’re not a fan of hats, a silk scarf tied into a chic turban serves as a daring alternative.
For the gentlemen, Melbourne Cup offers the chance to express a little more personality than the strict traditionalism of Derby Day. Choose a well-tailored suit in a dark colour, a lightly coloured shirt, a tie or bow-tie in a bold hue or striking pattern, and perhaps a pocket square to add flourish. Keep in mind that the official corsage of the Melbourne Cup is a yellow rose – a flower that will look superb next to navy, or indeed any iteration of blue.
Commonly known as Ladies Day, Crown Oaks Day has developed into a celebration not only of horse racing but also of women in the horse racing industry. Crown Oaks Day sees the judging of the Fashions on the Field competition – so expect the standard of dress to be high.
With that in mind, opt for pastel shades and feminine shapes: try ladylike hues of soft pink or lilac, or maintain a sense of occasion with an elegant dress. As with all race days, your headwear should match the mood: try something with a touch of fun, like a vintage-inspired boater, or play up the femininity with a floral headpiece.
Although it’s known as Ladies Day, that’s no excuse for men to fall behind in the style stakes. The look should be relaxed, urbane but still switched on: try separates rather than a full suit for a more contemporary take, and don’t shy away from lighter colours. Complement your date’s outfit with touches of pastel or pattern, and finish your look with a pink rose, the official corsage.