As Spring Racing 2023 approaches, the world of horse racing and fashion prepares to intersect in the most glamorous way. As the anticipation builds, it’s not just about which horse takes the lead but also about the statements we make, draped in the season’s finest.
As the winter weather fades (ever so slowly), it’s your call to start planning your Spring Racing season attire. Celebrated by Aussies everywhere, some of the most fun we can have with our fashion comes at this time of year. It’s a time to dress boldly, yet comfortably, whilst keeping it elegant and stylish.
From understanding the nuanced dress codes of racing events, to finding and refining your unique style, to giving you the lowdown on this year’s trackside trends, we aim to keep you a step ahead.
Whether you’re an experienced punter, or this year is your maiden start, reading this ultimate guide to Spring Racing style is sure to pay dividends.
- Dress Codes
- Finding Your Style
- Trackside Trends for 2023
- Fashions on the Field
- The Melbourne Cup
- Wrapping Up
Last updated September 2023. Header image via Fabulous Femme
The first thing to do is familiarise yourself with the dress code that applies to spring racing events in general, but also for specific race days.
Spring Racing is a big part of Australian culture, with the first Melbourne Cup being held over 100 years ago. It’s no surprise then that racecourse style is steeped in tradition.
There’s a number of rules to follow, though many have been relaxed over the years. There’s definitely a few that we recommend you stick to.
If you’ve been invited to one of the spring racing events, and it’s all a bit unfamiliar to you, try to find out if you’ll be stationed in a particular section. If you’re in the Members area, you should try to follow the rules a bit more strictly than if you’re in General Admission. You might not be let into the Members area if you deviate from the rules too much!
So firstly, here is a list of faux pas when it comes to trackside fashion:
- Don’t wear denim, of any kind.
- Don’t show your midriff. This has traditionally meant no cut-outs but small ones have snuck in to acceptance recently.
- No clothes with tears or rips.
- No pants that resemble tights or leggings. Pants should be tailored.
- No thongs, sneakers or other types of casual shoes.
The majority of racegoers will wear a dress, though some may opt for a pantsuit, which is perfectly acceptable. When it comes to the dress a few specific rules apply. These aren’t strictly enforced these days, but you should follow them if you want to honour tradition, or if you’re planning to enter the Members area.
The length of the dress should be no higher than the knee. This isn’t the setting to rock a mini. Any length between the knee and ankle is perfect for the track.
Strapless dresses are traditionally not OK, and if you’re going for a dress with straps, they should be on the thick side.
In general, when it comes to choosing a dress, just keep it classy! Don’t show too much skin (none in the midriff area) and dress for what it is – a day event! Wear a day dress, not evening wear.
You’re expected to wear some form of headwear when attending the races. This could be a headpiece/crown, a fascinator or a hat. It’s definitely not a strict rule, but it’s synonymous with spring racing fashion and it’s one of the reasons that makes it so much fun.
Most won’t get a heap of opportunities to wear a headpiece or fascinator throughout the year. The races are your chance! Go all out and complete your outfit with a statement headwear piece.
Specific Raceday Dress Codes/Themes
In addition to the rules and guidelines above, there might be a particular theme or dress code for specific race days. The most important ones are covered below.
The Everest, Randwick – Blue Hues
Attendees of The Everest, labelled “the world’s richest turf race” are encouraged to wear white with a splash of light blue, in keeping with tradition. It’s certainly not one you need to follow though – you won’t look out of place in other colours.
Caulfield Cup Day, Caulfield – Bold Colours
There’s no official theme for Caulfield Cup day, so you can wear anything as long as you stick to the general spring racing rules. In recent times though, the trend has been toward bold colours, strong statement pieces and colour blocking. It’s really a chance to use your imagination and make a statement, without too many guidelines to adhere to, like on some other race days.
Derby Day, Flemington – Monochrome
Derby Day attendees will be wearing just black and white. You can be head to toe in one or the other, but it’s even better if you can mix in a bit of each. The code applies to all parts of your outfit, including shoes and bag.
Melbourne Cup, Flemington/Australia-wide – Bright, Bold, Colourful and Extravagant
This is your chance to really go all out. As the race that stops the nation, you’ll want your outfit to be a show-stopper. Bright colours are popular, as are sparkles and big fascinators. This is one day you definitely want to wear a headpiece for. That applies not just to Flemington, but any of the big Melbourne Cup events that are held across the country!
Oaks Day (Ladies Day), Flemington – Feminine
Traditionally known as Ladies Day, Oaks Day asks you to bring out your feminine side. This day is filled with pink and pastels, florals, prints, lace and dainty headpieces. It’s more chic rather than over-the-top.
Stakes Day, Flemington – Relaxed and Fun
Also known as “Family Day”, Stakes Day is more relaxed relative to other race days of the season (but not too relaxed!). Keep things simple with a summer dress, something floaty and fun, with a simple headpiece.
George Main Stakes, Randwick – A dash of red
Golden Eagle, Rosehill – A dash of gold
Selecting Your Style
First Things First
With so many options, how do you choose? Where do you even start? Style icon, Nadia Fairfax-Wayne, recommends beginning with your staple piece – your dress or pantsuit – and building out from there with your headwear, accessories, shoes and jewellery.
One good way to start is to know what suits your body type. Certain silhouettes will instantly be more flattering and comfortable if they are suited to your shape. Check out our guide to dressing for your body type.
We’re obviously biased, but even The Australian Turf Club recommends you rent your Spring Racing dress. Our Spring Racing category has almost 1,400 styles in it. From there you can filter by colour, feature and size to narrow down your choices.
Look at some of your favourite influencers or fashion mags. What are the hottest looks for right now and what are you most drawn to? Make a quick list of celebrities or local influencers whose style you admire to see if they have have anything in common. This can help you decide which trends appeal to you most.
Remember though, that it’s easy to feel drawn to a style that might not suit you or might not be comfortable for you. Think about what you’ve worn in the past and take note of the dress silhouettes you’ve gone back to consistently.
Another source of inspiration is the many “best-dressed” lists from previous Spring Racing carnivals, on sites like Marie Claire. Google is your friend here!
Comfort is Key
A day at the races can be quite long, and you may even want to kick on somewhere afterward. The walk to the course can be lengthy, and even once you’re inside you might be moving about quite a bit. Make sure you choose something you’re comfortable in!
The weather for days like Melbourne Cup Day can be really unpredictable. There’s definitely been some wild and rainy weather in some years. You’ll likely have your outfit sorted a while in advance, but don’t forget to have some ideas up your sleeve to suit the weather of the day. Think about the possibility of a shawl or scarf to suit your outfit – which can either be to keep the sun off your shoulders or to protect you on a chillier day or night.
Choice of shoe is super important, so you might want to invest in a good quality pair of heels if you don’t have any available to you. Accessories such as Stiletto Stoppers could be a life-saver, particularly if the terrain gets a little soft and muddy.
Make it Yours
With fashion such an important part of racing culture in Australia, it can be easy to feel the pressure to wear an outfit that gets you hundreds of compliments. Don’t let this get to you. Put together something that reflects your personality and sense of style.
A day at the races is really a chance to dress up in a different way to almost any other event, but you still need to feel happy and comfortable in it. If fancy and flamboyant just isn’t you, go for something more understated and classic.
Complete your outfit with matching headwear, accessories and jewellery. The hat, fascinator, headpiece or crown can be one of the most important parts of your outfit. You’ll want something unique and interesting that compliments your dress, without taking away from it! Think about how you’ll wear your hair so that the headpiece can suit your hair-style.
Keep in mind that with tens of thousands of punters in attendance, there’s almost certainly going to be other women wearing the same dress as you (unless it’s custom-made). This is totally expected, but what will make you unique will be the way you style and accessorise!
Trackside Trends for 2023
This year, we’re relying on the fashion prowess of the esteemed Donny Galella for his predictions on the upcoming Spring Racing fashion trends. His top picks are featured below, but for the full scoop, check out our exclusive with Donny: Trackside Trends for Spring Racing 2023, with Donny Galella
We also spoke to a couple of our trusted rental partners for their view. They always have their finger on the Australian fashion pulse, with unique insights into the collections being launched by Australia’s favourite designers, ahead of time.
First up, Donny emphasizes the emergence of 2-piece sets, suggesting that a combination of a jacket with a skirt, or blouse with pant or skirt, adorned in bright, bold prints will captivate onlookers.
“This is a huge trend in 2023”, Donny shared, adding “It’s a great option for those who want to break away from the typical races attire”.
Ruffles, Rosettes, Tassels, and Bows
Emphasizing the detail-oriented nature of this trend, Donny mentions, “Ruffles, rosettes, tassels, and bows will be popular details on outfits.” Such subtle touches, though they may seem small, can significantly transform the overall feel of an outfit.
Michelle Taylor from one of our great rental partners, Get Dressed Hire, reiterates, “We love the latest drop from Aje, which features light blue ruffles, and pretty pink florals”. Michelle is putting special focus on shoulders and stylish sleeves, encouraging racegoers to experiment with these elements.
The Colours of 2023
Each year, a fresh set of hues come to the forefront of Spring Racing fashion, capturing the essence of the season. Donny is particularly attuned to these shifting preferences, telling us to “look out for shades of yellow, lime, purple, lilac, and hues of blue”.
He also mentioned the continued popularity of pink, which has dominated our Insta feed since the release of the Barbie movie.
Donny points out that the tracks will be glittering not just with excitement, but also with the sheen of metallics, stating “sequins and shiny fabrics will be a popular sight trackside”.
He suggests an ensemble for those looking to dive into this trend: “A metallic skirt paired with a blazer or cute blouse could be a great way to rock this look.”
The Return to Traditional Millinery
Belinda Birt, from our rental partner Your Secret Closet, brings our attention back to headwear. “Millinery is revisiting its roots with bigger, more traditional pieces this year.”
With Spring Racing events being synonymous with beautiful fascinators and headpieces, the move towards grander pieces will surely define the style narrative for many.
Stripes are a recurring favourite each season, but Donny draws attention to them being “thicker and bolder” this season.
Sharing his personal preference, he adds, “I’m particularly fond of a vertical stripe print blouse paired with a matching pant.”
Breathe Easy with Light Fabrics
Michelle Taylor throws in a practical tip in light of predictions that this Spring will be especially warm. “Opt for light, breathable fabrics like linen, cotton, or silk,” she advises. “Pastels and bright hues are in” says Michelle, again referring to Aje‘s recent collection, which beautifully amalgamates these colours with breathable fabric choices.
In speaking to Donny, we picked up some other gems that are too valuable to overlook, providing some extra tips to stay on trend at the track.
He expects “lace detailing and lazer cut details” to be a feature, adding that touch of intricate elegance.
He also brought to light the rising popularity of feminine frothy and feathery aesthetics, explaining, “Expect to see soft layered tulle, feather details, and trims making quite the impression.”
He didn’t stop there, reminding us, “Florals are back and bigger than ever. This season, the bolder and brighter, the better.”
Fashions on The Field
Want to really put your fashion credentials to the test? We couldn’t write an article on Spring Racing Fashion without talking about the various “Fashions on the Field” competitions which happen across the events.
These have been taking place across the Spring Carnival season since the 60’s, with the contests attracting a lot of media attention and celebrity judges.
If you’re interested, look at the races you’re attending and think of categories you’d like to compete in. Some contests will be aligned with a particular theme. Sophistication, current trend interpretation, creativity, individual style and head-to-toe attention to detail are some of the main judging criteria, and hallmarks of past winners.
It’s not all about the outfit though – many will list grooming and “deportment” as criteria, which is a fancy way of saying how you stand, walk, the confidence you exude and your etiquette.
The way to enter the contest can vary depending on the racecourse and raceday, but a lot of the time you can just register at the event itself. Some of the bigger events might require you to register in advance. Check out the website of the turf club which runs the particular race day, or get in touch with them in advance for more information, if you’re serious about entering.
The Melbourne Cup
As by far the biggest event of the Spring Racing Carnival, we had to dedicate a section just to this event. For the first time in 3 years, Flemington will be back to full capacity, after limited numbers were allowed in 2021 and none of the public allowed in 2020, due to COVID restrictions. There’s even more excitement than usual about the incredible glamour that’s sure to be on show!
It’s an event that’s celebrated at Flemington race course, but also concurrently at race tracks in other states, as well as the many big off-track events celebrating the occasion. Big luncheons and day parties are hosted by hotels and venues across the country. Our guide to the biggest and best off-track Melbourne Cup events around Australia for 2023 is coming soon.
Just because they’re not at the race course, doesn’t mean the fashion is any different! It’s normal to see women walking through the city in fashion suited for Flemington on this particular day.
Melbourne Cup Day is the day to really have fun with your outfit. Choose bold and bright colours. Be adventurous and fashion-forward, whilst still paying tribute to racing tradition and elegance.
Dresses from designers like Aje, Elliatt, Talulah, Leo & Lin, Acler and Nicola Finetti will suit the occasion perfectly, and are known for some of the incredible Melbourne Cup day looks of years gone by.
We could write a whole article just about Melbourne Cup Day style, so that’s what we’re planning to do! Our Style Guide just for The Melbourne Cup 2023 will be out before the end of September, so keep an eye out.
With our guide to racing style etiquette, themes, tips and trends, you should be well-equipped to pick a winner!
We know there’s been a lot to take in, but there’s no need to make finding an outfit for the races a stressful situation. It’s about having fun exploring your unique sense of style and enjoying the process of trying out different looks. True style is wearing an outfit that feels like you.
At the end of it, a day at the races is about having a fantastic time with friends or loved ones. Enjoy the return of some warm weather, have a few drinks and don’t let the fashion entirely dominate your day. Fashion, friends & fun might just be the ultimate trifecta!