An expert’s guide to using recycled racing fashion to look like a winner
Forget 20-year-old influencers and celebrities who rely on stylists: if anyone knows how to dress for the races, it’s French installation artist Carolyn Cardinet.
And her fashion secrets – laid out for The New Daily for every day of the Melbourne Cup carnival – are all about using imagination and what’s either already in your wardrobe or around the corner at an op shop.
Carolyn’s love affair with racing fashion was kickstarted on her first date with now-husband James O’Brien. They went to the 1991 Caulfield Cup and weeks later, the young couple headed to a Cup champagne breakfast, with Carolyn “wearing an outrageous pantsuit with flashy psychedelic hot pink, yellow and orange colours”, she remembers.
Nearly three decades on, horse racing is a huge part of the married couple’s relationship.
James is president of Thoroughbred Breeders Victoria and manager of his family’s Lauriston Thoroughbred Farm. Carolyn is an expert at dressing for the track and racing events.
She’s frocked up for the Cup for the past 27 years, including one when her best accessory was five-day-old daughter Babette, now 23 and studying her master’s in architecture in Paris.
“Babette came with me in a pouch on the train. She was just out of hospital and we had to stop at a hotel in the city to have afternoon tea on the way home,” said Carolyn (the couple’s youngest daughter, Marilou, is 21).
“We have seen all kinds of weather: Rain, hail and sunshine, trembling with cold and burning in hot sun. One year we all wore gumboots.”
A lot of Carolyn’s looks are recycled, in line with her passion for the environment. For 10 years, her artistic “mission” has been to create awareness about plastic consumerism, as displayed in her two current shows, a solo one at Yering Station until November 17, and in the Acheron Sculpture Prize at the Ballarat Biennale until November 6.
Carolyn’s tips to get you on track
– Use what’s in your wardrobe. Don’t be fooled into thinking you have to buy something new for the races. Everyone has a favourite day dress or pantsuit they can pull out and style. Remember, it’s not an evening occasion.
– Use what suits your body shape, not what is in fashion.
– It’s all in the accessories, so have fun with them. They are more important than the clothes and you can really dress up a simple outfit. The best ones are from op shops.
– Simplicity and classiness is best for these events.
– Comfort as well is key, or make sure there are chairs available. Always have two outfits ready, especially if you are going to spend the day outside. Decide that morning, when the weather forecast has been updated, what’s appropriate for the day.
– Go with your own instincts rather than what’s fashionable.
Inside Carolyn’s 2018 racing looks
Horse of the Year, October 4
Navy dress (not seen): Laura Ashley and red patent belt with bow
Printed coat: Red Lantern
Gold shoes: Diana Ferrari
Caulfield Cup, October 20
Striped navy and cream dress: David Lawrence
Cream jacket: Bianca Spender by Carla Zampatti
Shoes: Alex & Alex
Fascinator (not shown): cream straw
Derby Day, November 3
Strapless top: Bardot from an op shop
Stretch long skirt with embroidery at the bottom: Seed
Leather clutch with silver horse bridle detail: Oran
Fascinator: I made it years ago with black and white feathers and white roses inside. Lots of wear out of it still
Melbourne Cup, November 6
Red strapless dress with white stitched ribbons: Imaginations
Fascinator altered with plastic and felt
Shoes: Micam by Joanne Mercer (lower heel)
Bag: Lancel (as before)
Oaks Day, November 8
Dress: Japanese label.
Shoes: Nine West mustard and beige high heel espadrille sandal
Beige bag: Lamarthe
Feathered fascinator: Made years ago and still awesome.
Stakes Day, November 10
Coat: RSVP Perri Cutten
Strapless dress: Review
Hat: Caulfield Cup fascinator stitched onto cream hat
Bag: Lamarthe (same as Oaks)
Pearl choker necklace
The last word from Carolyn
“The dresses, shoes and jackets are from op shops and collected throughout the year. Some are labels, some are not – the shape or colour take precedent,” she said.
“Fall in love with what you buy first and build your outfit around it. It could be the same colour, or choose a complementary colour to work the outfit with.”