A Look Back at Melbourne Cup Fashions

It’s that time of year again – Spring Racing season has arrived.

As jewellery designers, we couldn’t be more thrilled at the evolution of headwear from traditional hats to fascinators to modern tiaras right through to the latest trend for highly sculptural and original accents. This year, get set to see reinterpretations of Alice headbands, hair brooches, turbans, crowns, jewelled pins and everything in between.

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Now for a quick history lesson. The first Melbourne Cup race was held in 1861, although that event barely resembled the carnival of today.

By the 1940s and 1950s, race-going women would never have bee seen without stockings, gloves, a head-covering hat and a chic handbag swinging demurely from the wrist.

While etiquette may have loosened with the years, Flemington still lists strict dress regulations for members and guests attending the Members’ Enclosure. This code is as much a part of the tradition of the day as the race itself.

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Rules include a sports jacket or blazer plus tailored slacks for the gents, with a tie and dress shoes a must. And for women, a “suitable standard in keeping with the dignity of the Member’s Enclosure”. Whatever that means.

Perhaps even more influential than the fashion rulebook is the competitive element. In 1962 we saw the first “Fashions on the Field” competition designed to encourage more women to attend the Melbourne Cup. This wonderful ABC archive footage gives a fitting snapshot of fashions at the time. Note the requisite gloves, stockings, handbags and importantly hem lengths and you’ll go a little way to understanding why the now-legendary appearance of model Jean Shrimpton at the Melbourne Cup just three years later was so controversial.

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The use of high-profile international celebrities like Shrimpton to bring style cred to an event is all too standard today. But back in 1965, her above-knee shift, paired with a lack of stockings, gloves and even a hat, caused the kind of buzz that Kim Kardashian might only dream about.

Ironically, the infamous ensemble that inadvertently earned Shrimpton her legendary place in Cup history is one of the few race day outfits to remain timeless and chic throughout every decade since.

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It’s something to consider if you’re headed to the races this season. Underplay the stuffy formality with a choice that’s a little left-of-field but still timeless. Take your cue from the breezy summer style of NAJO’s La Isla SS18 collection

Bibliography: https://stylemagazines.com.au/fashion/melbourne-cup-day-2017/