From Jean Shrimpton in a white minidress to Brynne Edelsten dressed as a showgirl, racing fashion attracts just as many headlines as the horses.
To celebrate 50 years of fashion at the Spring Racing Carnival, the National Sports Museum is presenting Racing Style: 50 Years of Fashions on the Field, an exhibition that curates a selection of the best and most controversial prize-winning outfits.
Fashions on the Field was created in 1962 as a marketing tool to attract more women to the track. Now it’s one of Australia’s most prestigious fashion events with more than 4000 entrants in 2011.
“The exhibition showcases the changes in society as much as it does the changes in fashion”, says Helen Walpole, Curator of the National Sports Museum. “In the 1960s and 70s, racing attire was very high street – a little more ‘anything goes’ - but by the 80s you see a reversion to very classic race wear – gloves, stockings, dropped hemlines – there was strict adherence to dress code”.
An 18-year-old Margaret Wood was the very first winner. “I had just started a modelling career and couldn’t afford an expensive outfit. So I borrowed a hat and borrowed money for the dress”, she recalls. “I won a brand new Falcon Futura! When I got home Dad was mowing the lawn, I ran down the driveway yelling, 'I’ve just won a brand new car!' It was beyond anything he could imagine. There was only one problem though - I couldn’t afford to put the petrol in it”.
When Fleur Olssen won in 1990, wearing a bright yellow dress with matching coat, no-one was more excited than her mother, Dale Olssen, who had won wearing exactly the same outfit in 1972.
“I bought the outfit for my daughter Fleur’s christening. I had a matching black fox fur hat made and wore it to Fashions On The Field later that year and won”, said Dale. “18 years later, we dug it out of storage and added a leopard print hat and bag – she won a trip to Bangkok which we took together. Now I have two grand-daughters - so the story of the yellow coat may not be over yet”.
Prizes for Fashion on the Field are lucrative and some women spend thousands in the quest for the title.
Three-time winner Anne Freeman prefers a different approach, favouring op-shop and vintage finds.
“I won in 1999 when I didn’t know or really care about the dress code. I made myself a dark charcoal suit with a huge cherry red hat just like Audrey Hepburn’s in My Fair Lady. There was a lot of controversy surrounding my win because I wore open toe shoes and no stockings.
"So, in 2000 [when she won again] I didn’t take any chances and wore vintage gloves, panty hose, closed toe shoes and an umbrella – I made the whole outfit.
"My favourite outfit, though, was the dress I wore in 2001. I made it out of a curtain that I found at Vinnies for one dollar - it was very Von Trapp family”.
For ticket enquiries to Racing Style: 50 Years of Fashions on the Field, visit www.nsm.org.au.
View gallery: Spring Racing: 50 yrs of Fashions on the Field
Picture: Fleur Olssen, wearing - and winning in - her mother's canary yellow jacket in 1990, alongside her mother posing next to the jacket in 2012. SDP Media.