Poor Paris Jackson seemed to get a hard time from the media last week when she visited the Myer Marquee and the Melbourne Cup for the first time.
The beautiful, blue-eyed daughter of Michael Jackson appears to be a free spirit, who says what she thinks, and wears what she wants, which is immensely annoying to a lot of less interesting people.
Apparently she ditched the custom-made Alex Perry dress she was expected to wear, choosing instead a more boho sienna-coloured lace/tulle dress by the wonderful Australian label Morrison, which she wore with short leather boots, and a pretty fabulous headband of giant quartz crystals custom made by Ann Shoebridge.
She has tattoos and layers of hippy jewellery and amulets, and seems like a lovely, polite, open 19-year-old girl, who sounded genuinely happy to be in Australia, despite having a microphone constantly shoved in her face by a bunch of overdressed muppets.
All the tut-tutting at her ‘alternative’ choice of race wear reminded me of that famous photo of model Jean Shrimpton appearing at Flemington in the mini dress and no hat in 1965, with all the matrons looking on horrified.
Don’t go changing Australia. We have invented some odd and intractable codes for race wear and what is considered to be appropriate.
When I first started attending the races, in the 90s, there was vast difference in the dress codes; the member’s enclosure was full of conservative dresses and coats and the women had to wear stockings (in fact the no-sock look for men has only just been allowed this year).
Outside, women in taffeta evening dresses and fascinators were throwing up into hedges, while there were more than a few tanked men dressed like horses wearing Oakley sunglasses.
When I was editor of Vogue, we decided to tackle the sartorial question about what to wear to the races by producing a Spring Racing Guide, and it took about five years merely to get the message through that one is supposed to wear black and white to Derby.
There is no question that the general dress sense at the races has improved, and the men by and large look fantastic, now that most of them know how to buy a suit that actually fits.
But it has become so over the top in terms of women’s wear. Everyone looks like they are hoping to hop on stage to collect their Golden Globe.
All those elaborate wasp-waisted gowns that look as comfortable as wearing cardboard, the huge picture hats (Nicole Kidman in her inexplicable My Fair Lady outfit), the towering stilettos.
It’s a horse race, not a ball. I think the idea of cowboy boots and a pretty, easy-to-wear, free-flowing dress is cool. George Bush’s niece, Lauren Bush, turned up one year wearing a floral print cotton sundress and her well-worn cowboy boots and looked fresh and pretty. It made sense –she was Texan, and she knew her way around horses and high society.
So well done, Paris Jackson. You were a breath of fresh air.