Put down the fascinator. Racewear has run its course

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The race that stops the nation was once a fashion winner, but has become Halloween with hats.

Laying the blame of racewear’s downfall on the slaves to social media dressed for nights on the town in the extravagant Birdcage marquees is too easy. Look at PE Nation designer Pip Edwards at Derby Day in granny pants, a sheer skirt and baseball cap and Kate Waterhouse at last year’s Melbourne Cup in a pink Gucci gown and tiara.

Derby Day: PE Nation designer Pip Edwards wearing Lillian Khallouf; model Jessica Gomes in Jordan Dalah; reporter Holly Stearnes.Credit: Instagram/@lexusaustralia, Justin McManus

The outfits are incongruous with galloping horses, verdant lawns and daylight, but the Birdcage has become a giant nightclub, complete with DJ decks, champagne bars and suspiciously long bathroom lines.

Dressed in pink Valentino sneakers, an open-necked silk shirt and Bottega Veneta cargo pants, I stand with Edwards and Waterhouse – even though those items are banned for men in members enclosures by the Victoria Racing Club.

The focus on rules, which the VRC has been valiantly updating – the pantless trend picked by Edwards escaped their notice – complicates issues, rather than providing guidance.

Dated dress codes encourage an idea of racewear that no longer exists. Take a hat off most women at the Cup, and they’re just dressed to the nines at 11am, many with makeup that a drag queen would hesitate to wear in daylight.

Contestants in the Fashions on the Field competition on Derby Day at Flemington racecourse.Credit: Getty

The disconnect between the racewear cosplay at Flemington racecourse and truly stylish outfits that create an air of tension by artistically testing taste levels has turned the international event into a circus (the kind that still has animals).

If people dressed to express themselves, rather than meet an ambiguous dress code that should have vanished when British supermodel Jean Shrimpton’s breezy style shocked a frumpy crowd in 1965, we might see more inspiring examples of personal style.

‘Dated dress codes encourage an idea of racewear that no longer exists.’

Tear up the rule book because fashion anarchy has to look better than the onslaught of attention – grabbing cleavage and oversized stunt hats, which block views of the racetrack for anyone still interested in looking at horses.

Along with the rule book, it’s time to assess the relevance of the long-running Fashions on the Field competition. While the Birdcage has the whiff of a nightclub when the lights come on, Fashions on the Field reeks of antiseptic and mothballs. Serial entrants dominate the competition, adhering to dated presentations of feminity, aided by an excess of accessories and fabric.

What happens at Flemington trickles down to racecourses around the country. Best-dressed entrants looking stylish in simple dresses at country races are regularly dismissed in favour of women in startlingly shiny gloves, stiff dresses and strange hats because of dress etiquette tips that once sat beside fondue recipes in magazines from the ‘70s.

Most male winners look as though they’ve raided accessories racks for fedoras, braces, shirt sleeve garters, tie pins and lurid pocket handkerchiefs. Bonus points for adding a cane.

Fashions on the Field today has had as great an impact on what people wear to the races as the Miss Universe pageant has on achieving world peace.

By clinging to an idea of racewear, like Kate Winslet in the final scenes of Titanic, the spring carnival’s style credibility is sinking faster than Leonardo DiCaprio.

Other sporting events, such as the Australian Open, Grand Prix and polo are developing stronger fashion reputations because they carry less cultural baggage, apart from Andre Agassi’s on-court outfits and Julia Roberts in Pretty Woman.

It’s time to take off the blinkers and let racegoers run free.

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