If there is anything that can rival the action on the track for attention during the Spring Racing Carnival, it’s the fashion of the hundreds of thousands of attendees each and every year. Of course, this culture has developed over the years and it’s safe to say was fairly different back in the mid-19th century when spring racing began in earnest down under, so let’s take a look at how it’s changed over the past 150 years.

In the beginning…

That the Spring Racing Carnival fashion culture was different when it all began isn’t to say that it was less notable – the races have long been an event at which fashion has played a significant role. It’s simply that, unsurprisingly, the fashion itself bore minimal resemblance to what it is today.

The first ever Melbourne Cup took place back in 1861, and it was what’s recognized as Australian colonial fashion which dominated Flemington. The men wore black suits, while women wore long skirts, corsets, and petticoats. Later in the century, the unique hats and fascinators still so prominent today began to emerge, with Caulfield Cup racegoers seeming to be particularly fond of them.

Skirts come under the spotlight

Probably the most notable difference from the aforementioned 19th-century fashion as compared to the day is the length of women’s skirts, something which began to change around the midpoint of the 20th century. In 1949, reports suggest that they began snaking their way up the calf, with some – if you can believe it – even approaching the knee. 

This followed a movement from 15 years prior which saw the dresses and coats of many ladies inching further and further up the arm. The Victorian Racing Club, seemingly abhorred by this development, promptly gave the women a proverbial slap on the uncovered wrist by introducing a rule demanding that the length of gloves be extended in order to cover it up. 

Fashions on the field

With fashion becoming an increasingly important part of the Spring Racing Carnival, the VRC decided in 1962 to establish Fashions on the Field, a competition that still exists to this day. The competition was created on the back of a similar one which ran at Flemington a couple of years earlier, and when first created, consisting of two different versions – one for those wearing an outfit which cost less than $30 and another for those who had spent at least $50 on theirs. What exactly those who spent in between those two amounts did remains unclear. 

Fashions on the field were initially the domain exclusively of women and would remain that way for close to 40 years. It wasn’t until 2001 that men joined the party, and 20 years later the competition remains an integral part of the racing season. 

Where we are today

These days, fashion at the Spring Racing Carnival wears many different hats, so to speak. Individual days throughout the season have different unwritten rules – some follow the more traditional route, while others veer in a more ostentatious direction. One thing, however, remains true throughout the entire Spring Racing Carnival, and has done so for over 150 years; for many, the fashion which defines it is every bit as important as what’s happening on the track.