There's no higher title in the world of racewear than becoming a National Finalist for the National Fashions on the Field, culminating at the Flemington Spring Carnival every October.
Adelaide local Melissa Barnes held the honour of being the South Australian finalist in 2017, taking her on a whirlwind week of TV and newspaper apperances, luncheons, race days, and a whole lot of racewear.
We caught up with Mel after her time as a National Finalist to see what it's all like!
Hey Mel! What an incredible week you had as the South Australian National Finalist for Myer Fashions on the Field! How would you describe it in a few words?
It was an amazing whirlwind experience that I will never forget!
Tell us about your outfit that won you the spot in the National Final..
Well, it all started with the skirt. I have always loved the label Roksanda and by chance I managed to find a skirt in my size on the Outnet which was heavily discounted. From there I bought all the accessories on sale from online and local stores.
I got together with my friend, and local SA designer, Cristina from Couture + Love + Madness and we chatted about the style of top. She made a perfect top which complimented the skirt, and was modest yet modern. Then I used an old straw hat I had worn before and covered it with leather so it would be ‘season appropriate’ for the Adelaide Cup in autumn.
What were some of your highlights from the week over Spring Carnival? Between photo shoots, luncheons, race days and more, it looked like a manic few days!
It’s really hard to narrow it down to a few things but I really enjoyed being part of the Melbourne Cup Parade, the entire city was buzzing and it was so special waving to all the smiling faces in the crowd.
I’m always so awkward in photo shoots and TV interviews but they were fun too, and we had lots of laughs behind the scenes. My family were excited to see me on Sunrise and in the papers. I also loved meeting all my favourite people I follow on Instagram for the first time. The race days went so quick but now I can tick of the 3 major race day sweep off my bucket list.
Did you feel like you were competing against each other, or did you forget about the National Final?
Personally I forgot about the ‘competition’ because being the SA state finalist was a win enough for me. Of course I would have loved a new car, and the nerves started kicking in the day before Oaks Day, but I was just happy to be up there with such a high calibre of well dressed women.
The girls were all beautiful and each brought their own unique personality to the competition which I think is important, you need to be true to yourself. The FOTF community is actually just a big bunch of friendly girls who all love fashion and dressing up.
You had a string of amazing outfits throughout the week on each of the race days, can you take us through the week of outfits?
Well I had to purchase extra luggage before I left... I had so much stuff to take over!
For Derby Day, I actually changed my mind for this outfit the day or two before. Originally I was going to wear all black but the hat I made was squashed by my son while I was packing, so I started coming up with ideas of what I could pull together in a short amount of time.
I fell in LOVE with one of Cristina’s designs and I was going to wear it to the Oaks Luncheon, but I loved it SO much and wanted to wear it for longer than a couple of hours so I swapped it for my black Derby Day dress. I was inspired by the amazing 3D fabric with gold sequin beading and at the last minute I made a layered halo style headpiece (which took hours to cut each of the leather circles out). I am very traditional when it comes to Derby Day but I knew that I could play around and have fun so I went with the all white and added touches of gold to compliment the dress.
For my Melbourne Cup Day outfit, Cristina also made this amazing skirt and structured top from lilac mesh she bought overseas. I chose to go with a tonal outfit because purple is my favourite colour. Once the skirt was made I started sewing the lace on in Adelaide. The sewing saga continued over in Melbourne and I literally took it with me everywhere (to my Nan’s, to her friend’s house etc) so that I could get it done in time.
The headpiece is a super crazy creation that I was going to replace with a plain gold turban but I decided to just go all out and make a statement. The touches of gold just added a bit of spark to the outfit.
The Government House event and the Oaks Luncheon were fun to dress for because you didn’t have to think too much about the outfit, you could just wear what you like. My yellow dress was by Asilio and the Pink dress is Thurley from Style Hutt Hire (which is where I work). I was so excited to wear one of Ashlee Lauren’s crowns to the luncheon, I have loved her work for a while now and I was so proud to be showcasing another amazing SA designer in Melbourne.
We were floored when you were snapped by Liz Sunshine for Vogue Australia (Liz Sunshine's Street Style Album for Vogue Australia)!
I actually didn’t know who was taking the photos or that it would go on Vogue’s website, it was a really nice surprise when someone sent it to me on Instagram. It was a great photo, I was so glad it captured the whole amazing dress. Again I felt so proud to be wearing, supporting and showcasing amazing SA talent.
What were some of the biggest trends you noticed at this year’s Spring Carnival?
Crowns were everywhere but there were lots of brims up on stage too. I liked seeing a few pant suits around The Park, which were perfect for the cooler weather. Ruffles, asymmetric lines, structured sleeves, off the shoulder and some layering were a few of the things that caught my eye.
You would have spotted celebrities around Flemington – who were your favourite celebrity styles?
I had my photo taken with Kris Smith; he always looks so sharp and is a really friendly bloke. I mentioned to him that the he was rocking ‘no socks’ on Derby Day and he said it’s his look of choice for the races.
There were lots of celeb looks that I loved but to be honest I was so busy watching the Fashions on the Field. I am more inspired by what my fellow competitors wear than celebrities. It’s easy to look good when someone styles you, but I did like some of the things worn by Jodi Gordon, Rachel Finch, Nadia Bartel, Francesca Cumani, Montanna Cox, Nicki Philips, Anna Heinrich, Elyse Knowles and of course Jen Hawkins.
What are your top tips for surviving Spring Carnival?
Preparing for one race day is tough enough, let alone 3 so, if I’ve learnt anything it’s to be prepared and get lots of rest when you can. Little things like trying on an outfit the night before will help you get out the door on time the next day. Make sure you do your public transport research and book accommodation early. Bring a brolly and coat just in case because as we saw, Melbourne weather can be very unpredictable.
What’s next for you in the world of FOTF?
I don’t really want to think about another outfit for a while now, and I am in desperate need of a huge tidy up in my studio! I'm looking forward to Adelaide Cup Day next year, and I'll keep following all the Races SA race days, hopefully I can make a few of them. I’m hoping to explore some more fashion related opportunities and continue helping people with styling ideas on my blog on Racewear Carousel.
You can check out Mel's more of adventures in Melbourne and all of the racewear inspiration on her Instagram.