What to wear for Melbourne Cup – and what not to wear.

Melbourne Cup fashion tips on dresses and hats: what to wear and what NOT to wear


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With Melbourne Cup just days away, The Land asks the experts for their fashion tips this racing season. We want to know what you will be wearing on the day and where you watching the race that stops the nation.

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Fiona Schofield from Fiona Schofield Millinery along with Bec Hammond and Kimberley Belmonte from Belle Armoire teamed up for a Melbourne Cup race day fashion photo shoot collaboration in Orange NSW with model Emma Curtin. Photos by Belle Armoire.

Fiona Schofield from Fiona Schofield Millinery along with Bec Hammond and Kimberley Belmonte from Belle Armoire teamed up for a Melbourne Cup race day fashion photo shoot collaboration in Orange NSW with model Emma Curtin. Photos by Belle Armoire.

Each year, the excitement builds for the ‘race that stops the nation’ – the Melbourne Cup. And yes, whilst the focus is the horse race, the real fun is in watching the fashion. 

Race Days – especially country ones -  have gained momentum as an opportunity to dress up for a great day out with friends, often being the major community gathering for the season. And with so many fashion styles on offer, navigating what to wear can be difficult territory. 

Racing Fashion is like no other. It’s not a wedding, it’s not a cocktail party and its definitely not workwear. Our workroom swells to a chaotic, creative mess of flowers, silks, straws and fabulous clients looking to pull their look together. 

Here are a few of our key tips for looking your best on the day:

Fashion: what’s HOT (source Belle Armoire Orange NSW)

  • Statement Sleeve or off the shoulder 
  • Statement Jewellery 
  • Floral or otherwise edgy with touches of metallics 
  • Pastels 
  • Mid length hemline 
  • Lazer cut detail on lace 
  • Comfortable heels 
  • Stand out headpiece  

Fashion: what’s NOT 

  • Full length 
  • Avoid dark, felt headwear 
  • More fabric than skin (keep it traditional and conservative)
  • Uncomfortable footwear (stilettos that sink on the turf) 
From the Belle Armoire Race Day series featuring Fiona Schofield headwear.

From the Belle Armoire Race Day series featuring Fiona Schofield headwear.

Choose the best quality that you can afford. Investing in a headpiece that can work across a few outfits and seasons. Silk and leather pieces are great as they can work for Spring and Autumn events and means you can be race day ready at short notice. 

From the Belle Armoire Race Day series featuring Fiona Schofield headwear.

From the Belle Armoire Race Day series featuring Fiona Schofield headwear.

Make sure you are following the dress code. The four main days of the Spring Carnival come with a recommended dress code, and whilst the rules are made for breaking, it’s a good idea to know what the rules are in the first place. 

Derby Day is classic black and white. This is an elegant day and the past couple of seasons has seen some pops of colour creeping in. I have to admit, I am a traditionalist and love to follow the theme. To really stand out on this day – go for an all white ensemble for a clean, crisp look

From the Belle Armoire Race Day series featuring Fiona Schofield headwear.

From the Belle Armoire Race Day series featuring Fiona Schofield headwear.

Melbourne Cup is the peak day and colour is the key. This is the day to pull out all stops. Choose a colourful combination and some knockout accessories and make sure your headwear makes a statement.

Oaks Day is otherwise known as Ladies Day. Get out your prettiest pieces and look at pretty floral accessories - save your flower crowns for this day.

Stakes Day is the last of the four, and is your chance to let your hair down. It’s probably the most informal of the four days and an opportunity to relax your look

A great dress is always a winning look, paired with a great headpiece for a complete statement. 

Felt is for Autumn. There is a lot of cross over these days, but this is probably the one poor choice that I see the most of lately. Choose a lightweight straw hat over your heavy felt one – it will match your Spring dress so much better.

Make sure your race day look is a reflection of you. The best fashion is often on those who have chosen a look that works for them  -  and so they wear it really well. Don’t let the look wear you.

Careful you don’t look like a showgirl. Bigger is not always better – especially if you don’t have the confidence to pull the look off. My preference is for elegant, understated style than an ensemble that includes every seasonal trend and the kitchen sink! 

How to choose your headwear and what is all the terminology?

Fiona Schofield from Fiona Schofield Millinery along with Bec Hammond and Kimberley Belmonte from Belle Armoire teamed up for a Melbourne Cup race day fashion photo shoot collaboration in Orange NSW with model Emma Curtin.

Fiona Schofield from Fiona Schofield Millinery along with Bec Hammond and Kimberley Belmonte from Belle Armoire teamed up for a Melbourne Cup race day fashion photo shoot collaboration in Orange NSW with model Emma Curtin.

The term ‘fascinator’ has become synonymous with race day fashion and I have to admit, it is a real pet hat of mine. For me, it brings up a mental image of primary colours in cheap fabrics and fluffy feathers and its assembly has likely involved the use of a hot glue gun. 

A lack of confidence around how to wear a hat or headpiece can often mean getting a bit giggly and silly when trying things on and making a choice, as it’s not an everyday accessory like shoes or bags. Take the same approach you use when choosing your hair and makeup for the day – you wouldn’t choose a ridiculous look for either of these and the same approach applies to your hat.

Keep the following points in mind when looking for a headpiece or hat for your race day look:

  • Choose a hat or headpiece that compliments you and your outfit. A total look is important, but that doesn’t mean it should be too matchy matchy!
  • Size and shape are important to pulling off your look. If you’re going over the top – make sure you can pull it off.
  • Buy the best quality you can afford. Invest in a piece that works with a couple of looks in your wardrobe so you can get maximum wear. A classic timeless look is also key.
  • Fresh flowers are a lovely addition or choice as an alternative to a hat. Just make sure you keep them looking fresh during the day and you don’t look like a displaced member of a bridal party.
  • Dress for the weather. If it is going to be a scorcher, choose a brimmed hat over a headpiece for a (literally) cooler look. 

This seasons key looks include crowns in silk, leather, jewels or feathers, broad brim hats with slick simple trims, and big beautiful handmade flowers – either in a crown or on a hat. Whatever your selection, keep yourself nice (keep your hat on your head, your shoes on your feet) and do your best to back a winner on the day. 

  • Fiona Schofield has worked in and around the fashion and millinery industry for over 25 years, with 13 of them under her own label - Fiona Schofield Millinery, which is based in Orange NSW. You can take a look at her story via her instagram page @fiona_schofield_millinery
  • Belle Armoire, which is owned by Bec Hammond and Kimberley Belmonte, is located at 187 Lords Place Orange @belle_armoire
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