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Melbourne Cup style guide: From sartorial trailblazers to trends of today

Melbourne Cup Day is a vortex of beauty, drawing in the most glamorous, powerful and relevant people into Victoria from across the globe. It’s a celebration echoed throughout every licensed venue in the country, a cause for celebration unlike any other. Arguably, every office in the nation comes to a halt to watch the day’s most intense moments on the track. The adrenaline released by millions around Australia is palpable – and perhaps enough to power the Cloud Nine hair styling tools used to prepare the locks of the VIP guests pouring into racing clubs that very morning.

The races are where the most major fashion trends of the year come to play, which is why looking through Melbourne Cup archives makes for such a valuable (and sometimes cringe-worthy) educational experience. Before supermodel Jean Shrimpton brought the mini skirt to Australia as part of her earth-shattering Derby Day ensemble in 1965, Melbourne Cup called for a dress or suit falling below the knee, with a hat, stockings and of course, gloves. One year later, Australia had finally accepted mod as mainstream, reflecting sixties style and matching hemlines.

The decades of seventies bohemian flares and maxi-dresses, voluminous eighties silhouettes and structured nineties neons passed per the catwalk trends of the time and all of a sudden it was the noughties. Silken finishes and skin were in and celebrity appearances were trending, reflected by the Hilton sisters’ visit to Melbourne Cup 2003. The duo arrived in nightie-like ensembles with beaded and lace embellishments, causing a stir in what was deemed an inappropriate yet memorable racing theme.

Three years later, Kate Bosworth upped the aesthetic, adapting the fabric finish to a black maxi paired with a black beaded necklace-like piece draped on her cropped blonde bob. The unconventional and widely criticised headpiece turned out to be a fashion forward move by Bosworth, as minimal headpieces are a top trend today. In terms of the timeless, look no further than Princess Diana in a black and white suit by Bruce Oldfield with millinery by Frederick Fox in 1985. Good style, like good music, is always worth a replay.

If you have been paying attention to our stylist sensations on the blog, you will know everyone from Lana Wilkinson to Lauren Dilena has their favourites. The names on every fashionista’s lips seem to be consistent in recent years, as racing style icons Nadia Bartel, Jennifer Hawkins, Jessica Gomes, Elyse Knowles, Rebecca Judd, Megan Gale and Rozalia Russian dominate the cyber-track.

Rebecca Judd wore her most memorable look in 2015, in a sixties-inspired Alex Perry A-line mini-dress with a sleeve silhouette worth wearing even this season. The matching jeweled headband tied the look together as her voluminous ‘do was swept back in true siren style. While her racing gal pal Nadia Bartel is sitting out this season welcoming a new baby, one of her best looks was 2016 in Alex Perry with headwear by Christie Millinery, somewhat reminiscent of this year’s Met Gala theme Heavenly Bodies.

2017 saw Rozalia Russian in a green lace Nicola Finetti gown with a bow by Danica Erard Millinery, while Jennifer Hawkins opted for a full skirted nude and black Alex Perry dress. However, the look last year that had everyone talking was newcomer Elyse Knowles.

Having just won renovating television competition The Block, Elyse was really only ever seen before in overalls, but 2017 was a game changer. Elyse stunned crowds in a vibrant orange custom Cappellazzo Couture dress, Kim Wiebenga Millinery and Aquazzura shoes and her reputation for her enviable looks has only flourished since.

However, not every fashion heavyweight is a household name. The competition we have all at least been tempted to enter (usually after a glass or sparkling or two) brings out the heroes in racing fashion. Myer’s Fashions on the Field first offered a $30,000 prize for their winner in 1986, harnessing the star power drawn to Australian racecourses by showcasing incredibly detailed ensembles often made or designed by the contestants. In 2001, the first official Myer Men’s Fashions on the Field competition was established, recognising the growing popularity of exceptional male race attire. 

Leading up to Spring Carnival, social media is awash with insights. Celebrity profiles are buzzing with racing excitement and stylists are showcasing some of the season’s most impressive trends. With such access to fashion experts, curating an ensemble can come with quite a bit of pressure, but remember to keep the focus on you.

The most certain aspect of creating a winning Melbourne Cup look is to be the most vivid version of yourself. Bright, bold and confident in your individuality. This season presents boundless opportunities for everyone to update their racing wardrobe in a rainbow of colour suited to any skin tone, endless flattering shapes and lengths from mini to midi.

Spring’s colour palette consists of pastels, bright hues and bold tones worn solo or paired together, much like the beloved fusion of pink and red we have seen this year already. This season is all about romance, regardless of the silhouette.

Power-suiting takes on a sensual form in a range of pastels and prints to bring out the boss in every girl. We are currently crushing on Manning Cartell’s turquoise interpretation of the trend; the perfectly tailored pant makes a wonderful way to accentuate your Spring pins.

In dresses, think florals, lace and a focus on sleeves - if your sleeves couldn’t be on the cover of a romance novel, reassess your look. Bec & Bridge brings our bohemian dreams to life with their floating full skirts cinched at the waist for an uber-femme shape. By Johnny delivers the tried and tested figure-hugging shapes we know and love, demonstrating the potential of colour blocking in sunset tones, while Saba’s classic suiting and touch of flounce is brought to life in dusty blossom pinks. Keep your eye out for our favourite pieces from these brands as they become available in store and online over the Spring season.

While most women can identify a great dress, when it comes to racing, it’s the accessories that separate the basic from the brilliant. With boater hats, headbands and scarves pinned as millinery must-haves, take time to personalise your ensemble. If we learnt anything from last year’s Derby Day debacle where Francesca Cumani and Jennifer Hawkins wore the same Jonathan Simkhai dress, it’s that your look is only as unique as the attitude with which you wear it.  

Melbourne Cup was made for defining moments fashion moments and we cannot wait to see yours at Morphettville this Spring. Book your experience here

Feature image via Street Smith.

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