The spring racing carnival in Melbourne can be a hazardous experience for a frock-wearer.

The spring racing carnival in Melbourne can be a hazardous experience for a frock-wearer. Photo: Angela Wylie

It's Melbourne Cup time and I have to be honest, the whole nags, fashion and etiquette business confuses me. I've been to a few race meets over the years and no matter how much I try, I just can't seem to catch spring racing fever. I catch horse flu.

I had a last-minute invite to the Cox Plate last weekend. Great, but the closest thing I have to a hat is my Richmond footy club beanie from 1982.

Hats look great on others but I feel stupid in them and they look stupid on me. We have nothing in common.

The compromise was a hair band decorated with what looked like peacock-coloured chook feathers. My intention was old world glamour. The result? More like dead pigeon stapled to a tiara.

My shoes were also wrong. I ended up walking barefoot with them in hand before I had even entered the track. And I hadn't even had a drink. Not a good start in my attempt to behave appropriately at the races.

Melbourne weather also makes things tough. The day called for a summer dress, but the last part of it was spent holding said dress down so the wind didn't blow my skirt up to expose the industrial strength underwear I had worn in order to get away with the dress in the first place.

The reality is, some of us who try so hard to get it right end up just looking like we just tried too hard. We take a bet each way and end up on the nose.

Commentators are always banging on about what's acceptable race behaviour and attire. I love tradition, but rules make me feel a bit like being back in high school. Back then I didn't like being told how long my school uniform should be and I don't like it now.

So when I'm at the races I feel like if I'm caught out doing the wrong thing, that I'll be given bin duty at lunchtime.

In England, dress standards at the races are now enforced. Our racing carnival has similar aspirations. Yet one of the main celebrity drawcards in the Birdcage this year is Motley Crue drummer Tommy Lee, a man who met his now ex-wife Pamela Anderson by licking her face.

Tommy's not known for style and restraint. He's known for hard partying and surrounding himself with ladies with tandoori tans and bazoombas that are, frankly, cantastic! Does anyone else get mixed messages here?

Sex And The City's wardrobe designer Patricia Field copped flak last year for wearing a strange hooded outfit to race day. But what did anyone really expect? This is the woman that tried to tell us that lead character Carrie's Y-front undies were a good look.

It is not the people who blend in who make an event memorable, but those who don't. Be honest, who doesn't look at the photos of those who forget the rules the minute the starting gate opens? The couple caught doing a bit more than pashing in the crowds. The women channelling Maria Venuti. The lady who couldn't wait for the ladies' loo and instead chose to use the men's urinal. C'mon, you've all seen her.

For all those who get it right, so many more get it wrong. That's what I told myself at the end of my day at the races, as I hobbled up the road sans shoes, shivering, waving my hand and yelling out to already occupied taxis. I was a walking races ''don't'' cliche.

In light of that - blokes, feel free to slip on a Gazman suit. And ladies, slop on too much fake tan, and a revealing spaghetti-strap nightclub frock. Because without you, the whole thing wouldn't be half as much fun.

I'll join you. At home. For some reason I haven't received my invite to the Melbourne Cup this year …

Myf Warhurst's column appears in The Age's MelbourneLife section each Friday. http://twitter.com/MyfWarhurst