Sport Racing How stylists took the fun out of the Melbourne Cup
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How stylists took the fun out of the Melbourne Cup

Socialite Lillian Frank (right) and fashion designer Peter Jago at the races in 2000. Photo: AAP
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There was a time that the race that stops a nation was also the race when the nation pulled out all stops – from men in matching horse costumes, to Lillian Frank in white fur and a mega cartwheel hat made from wheat sheaves in 1984.

Now, with the Birdcage as central to festivities as the horses, celebrities and what they wear is a key focus of the Cup.

But the pressure of the spotlight means that instead of pulling together a look they love themselves, A-listers often place their faith and style in the hands of professionals.

That’s a flashing danger sign you can see: beware, too much cookie-cutter good taste ahead.

Everyone looks beautiful and appropriate and classy, from this year’s sharp silhouettes and turbans and boaters (how can they be cool if everyone has one?), to their big earrings.

It’s so tasteful I want to stab myself in the eyes with my own block heels. I miss Geoffrey Edelsten and his flashy suits and flashier women. I want risk, excitement and fabulous disasters.

The death of melbourne cup fashion
Lillian Frank at Flemington in 2006. Photo: Getty

And don’t even start me on men without socks, even though the VRC has given them the nod. Unless you’re a third-generation Italian getting around in Positano, sock up. You look stupid.

“It’s a little bit like what’s happened to the Oscars,” influencer, Myer Fashions on the Field judge and racegoer since 2001, Rachelle Unreich, tells The New Daily.

“You used to see Cher in all her fabulousness and Demi Moore in her bike shorts, and it was so fun to watch the celebrities and their own personal style.

“Now everyone in Hollywood wears the same dress and it’s all a bit boring. It’s the same at Flemington – it’s great when people take a few fashion risks and are true to their own style.”

Racegoers who are renowned for trusting their own taste include Christine Barro, owner of Melbourne retail style haven Christine, milliner Richard Nylon, Brisbane grandmother Deborah Quinn and marketing professional Shiva Singam.

Armchair judges flicking through Flemington best-dressed and worst-dressed galleries may not realise which apparently fashion-forward stars have actually dressed themselves and which have relied on stylists.

Question is, does that make average punters who have pulled together their own outfits – perhaps on a shoestring – for a big day parading trackside more stylish than feted A-listers given freebies and carte blanche by designers?

“Public areas are the best,” says Ms Unreich. “They’re what makes the Cup, and the good thing is there are no dress codes, so people can express themselves.

“The Melbourne Cup is like a good party – you can’t just have one note. You need that wildcard who is going to stay too long and drink the good champagne.

“You need the person who is a stickler for the rules and you need someone is totally instinctive in their choice of outfit. You need that whole pot pourri of madness and fabulousness.”

melbourne cup fashion
Racegoer and fashion blogger Nadia Bartel. Photo: AAP

So, what’s the secret to being a winner in Melbourne Cup style stakes?

For experienced racegoer and fashion blogger Nadia Bartel – fresh from being a 2017 Caulfield Cup Carnival style ambassador – it’s about sticking “to those really beautiful racewear rules”, she told The Weekly Review.

Bartel loves Macgraw, Dion Lee and Thurley for race days, and “I do keep it quite classic, but I still like an interesting print or texture, and play it up with headwear and accessories”.

For Ms Unreich – who is planning to wear a Ginger and Smart bold print dress with Chantelle Ford hat – there are golden rules for the Cup.

  1. Don’t dress like it’s a nightclub. It’s not about cleavage, legs and too much fake tan.
  2. Wear a hat or fascinator.
  3. Hairclips and headbands: no. Headbands are like scrunchies with a jewel on them.
  4. Make sure your outfit is weather-appropriate.
  5. A boot is beautiful if it’s cold, and a closed pump with nice block heel is perfectly acceptable. A metallic or patent brogue is also fine.
  6. No socks for men is a no go.
  7. Have fun and make an effort. Be yourself.

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