Fashions in the field | State Library of New South Wales

Fashions in the field

To a nation of sport lovers, a day at the races means excitement and glamour. Reporting on the Subscriber's Ball, organised in conjunction with the first Sydney Race meeting in October 1810, The Sydney Gazette noted the attendance of 'all the Beauty & Fashion of the Colony'. Two hundred years later, nothing has changed. Race fashions continue to draw the attention of the Australian press.

Melbourne Cup Day, Flemington

Melbourne Cup Day, Flemington, 1990, by David Moore
Colour transparency © Estate of David Moore    Slides 84/ 1/ 757

In the international social calendar, Spring and Autumn racing carnivals in both hemispheres have long held unassailable positions. As a place to see and be seen, the races are unsurpassed and dressing in special clothes plays an integral part in the preparations and enjoyment of the day.

The race track is one of the few places where high society and the lower classes rub shoulders. During the 19th and early 20th century, attendance at large spectator sporting events, such as the races, was transformed into a type of urban fashion parade. People became just as interested in the contest of fashions on the lawn as they were in the contest of the horses on the turf. While the wealthy dressed in their finery and rode in carriages out to the racecourse, ordinary working people (including milliners, dressmakers, tailors and bootmakers) made the expedition on foot to see their handiwork on display.

The race track has continued its function as generator of unrivalled crowds into the 21st century. Sam Hood and David Moore were two leading documentary photographers of 20th century Australian life who understood the importance of recording race-going as both a spectator sport and a fashion parade.

Faced with waning crowd attendances in the 1960s, the VRC Committee held the first Fashions on the Field competition at Flemington in 1962, in an effort to woo female racegoers to back the races. Now a national competition, state finalists from heats staged around the country during the Spring Racing season are flown to Melbourne, where the Victorian finalist is selected during the Melbourne Cup Carnival. The National Final then takes place on Crown Oakes Day.

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