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Melbourne Spring Racing Fashion Etiquette – It’s a matter of opinion By Matthew St Clair-Wilson

What is so wrong with the fashions at Melbourne’s spring races! The 5 do’s and don’ts for the etiquette challenged for appropriate race day attire.


There are times when it’s perfectly acceptable to wear a pair of R.M.Williams, a Driza-Bone and an Akubra… and that’s when you’re rounding up cattle or, if one must, to a trendy café on Degraves. Slapping on some #instamakeup and a floral dress or donning a blazer and chinos you bought on sale from The Iconic does not make wearing the above over the top appropriate for what is meant to be Melbourne’s most refined fashion event of the year.

Race Day Perfection

The history of The Melbourne Cup is a long and glamorous one. To this day, the bets and the race it’s self come second and third to the frocks and head-pieces. It was a time of year for the famous, wealthy and fabulous to show off their good taste in their better than Sunday best with the latest designs and textiles. Slowly, perhaps over the last ten to twenty years, the standards of refinement have been stealthily saturated with everyday fashions, so much so that it has become nothing more than a ready-to-wear runway for run-of-the-mill clothing.

Derby Day Inspiration

Whilst even I consider myself to be old-fashioned and prefer style over what is fashionable (having never owned a puffer jacket and wouldn’t be caught any state wearing loafers with denim), I am all for change and variation, self-expression, individualism and that there are times when rules can be bent or broken with spectacularly genius results. There are, however, times and occasions where the status-quo should be upheld at all cost to maintain standards of glamour, style and tradition. Melbourne’s spring races is one of those times, along with Royal Ascot, a command performance or meeting your mother-in-law. All times to be dressed appropriately and manners at their absolute best.

Kate Middleton – Duchess of Cambridge

If you are unsure of what is and what is not Melbourne Cup appropriate (not to be confused with what fashions people inappropriately wear), this is an easy-to-follow guide on how to exude style and elegant glamour and avoid looking like a lifestyle blogger pretending they don’t know their own personal photographer is taking their picture and what their wearing isn’t totally contrived.

Do’s and don’ts for the ladies.

  • This is an occasion for attire made from textiles royal; silk, satin, chiffon and velvet if you can handle the heat. If it’s a material you’d wear it to a summer picnic, it’s not on. Prints, patterns and embroidery are lovely.
Lady Kitty Spencer – racewear perfection
  • Nothing above the knee. Not even on or just above; this is no cocktail party.
Not above the knee
  • Flats are fine if you must, but if it would look weird with a heal, it’s a definite no no.
  • Even the hardest of abdominals have no place here! Midriffs were and still are inappropriate in high school and are so at this grand event. Also, tan lines, enough said.
  • We’ve all had to endure the sight of a less than attractive and slender back fully exposed on a delusional party-goer. Out of fairness for all types of backs, no ones should be exposed beyond what could be seen from the shoulder blades up in a high-cut off-the-shoulder dress.
Keep the back covered save this for the Polo
  • A wide headband with suff on does not a fascinator make. I would agree with anyone who states that buying a unique and glamorous headpiece or fascinator for and event that happens once a year, you’d never wear to any other type of event and you’d hate to be caught wearing more than once, is a complete waste of money. So rent, borrow or buy and sell-on if you need to. And nothing obnoxiously large or ‘unique’ (see Princess Beatrice of York – royal wedding 2011). Or wear a hat. An appropriate hat! Search “Royal Ascot“ for inspiration. Scrunchies are an absolutely bloody not, even if it is made from velvet!

Do’s and don’ts for the gentlemen.

Gent’s have a somewhat easier time when it comes to dressing appropriately for Melbourne Cup. It’s more of a gentleman’s uniform than anything else and there is very little that should go wrong. Though it is unfortunate that these days, there are more men getting it wrong than women. We all know the adage “every man looks good in a tux” and that is because it is timeless and sexy and there is little room for variation. That does not mean, however, you need to all look like a waddle of penguin waiters!

  • A beautiful tailored full suit in cotton or wool blend is key to a successful Melbourne Cup outfit. Have some fun with a coloured suit if you like but keep the cut completely classic. Plain or a fine pinstripe is fine. This is no place for a bright, over-the-top blazers, jazzy jackets or embroidered bombers. Chinos are not part of a suit gentlemen.
Leave the chino for another occasion
  • Shirts in white or near white colours. A brightly coloured, paisley printed, shirt with a ruffled placket and cutaway collar with metal tips will have eyes turning for all the wrong reasons.
  • Keep ties and pocket-squares simple. If patterned, keep to muted colours. There is no place for comedy or joke ties on the field thank you very much!
  • And for the feet: Black or brown Oxfords, Derbys or brogues. Loafers, boat shoes, boots, chukkas, trainers, sneakers and even the fanciest of espadrille are out (Yes, espadrilles have been spotted at the races). Yes, you must wear socks. Bare ankles are perfectly fine between a loafer and chinos but not at the M.C. Not garishly bright socks. Yes, patterned is perfectly fine but keep it classic; subtle stripes or polkadots, ducks, horses, gold clubs, her majesty…

And so it goes, another racing season is upon us and, one hopes, a return to the classic, refined, glamorous and good. May the street fashions stay on the street, the fads stay far away and the ignominious stay inside. Ask yourself “Would Cate Blanchett wear it? Would Tom Ford wear it? Would Prince Carl Philip, Duke of Värmland wear it?”. If you don’t know who this royal hunk is ladies, Google him!

Remember, style not fashion.

Here’s to a racing season full of beauty and refinement.

And they’re off!

By Matthew St Clair-Wilson

UK published author

Curated by Todd Anthony

Creative Director

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