Kirstie Clements: Younger crowd rewrites racewear’s staid rules

A glamorous crowd, dressed to the nines – and packed to the rafters – at Randwick last Saturday.

A glamorous crowd, dressed to the nines – and packed to the rafters – at Randwick last Saturday. Photo: Getty

Spring racing season is upon us and I had my first glimpse of what people are wearing to the races last week at the Everest Raceday at Randwick, in Sydney.

I thought that many people had been put off horse racing, with its issues around animal cruelty and gambling in general, but not so.

The racecourse was packed on a beautiful, balmy Sydney Saturday, full of very young and glamorous men and women, all dressed to the nines.

Racing has long been aligned with fashion, marketed as an exciting social venue and chance to dress up, look fabulous and potentially meet someone in real time. That messaging clearly worked.

When I was a magazine editor I spent many, many race days judging fashion winners, either for Fashions On the Field at Flemington or for various best-dressed competitions across Australia. It was a highly polarising challenge, and rather more often “Dear God, what were they thinking?” than “that person looks fantastic”.

To be fair, it’s hard to get racewear right. Even the most fashion forward person has to understand balance, silhouette and proportion, knowing what hat and which shoe compliments what outfit.

Interestingly, the younger crowd has thrown away the rule book when it comes to old idea of “race-appropriate” dressing. Most of the young women at Randwick were wearing ankle-length, body-conscious dresses, either slip dresses or strapless, in solid colours and with high-heeled summer sandals.

Out with the old rules

What was most noticeable was the complete lack of millinery and headwear, with most of them wearing their hair long, straight and shiny.

It was the same styling for those who chose to wear short dresses, just beautiful natural hair and lots of tanned, glowing skin. It feels like they might be choosing to re-wear their school formal dresses for the racing season, which makes a great deal of sense.

The guys in general, looked brilliant, with many choosing not to even wear a jacket, just a great pair of skinny-tailored suit pants and a white shirt, with great sunglasses and more than a few designer mullets. Blue was the couleur du jour in suiting, no question.

I was seated with the style editor of the Sydney Morning Herald, Damien Woolnough, and he and I discussed how refreshing it is to see the new generation of race-goers eschew the traditional rules and dress the way they feel most comfortable.


No headwear and form-fitting frocks – the new-look racing crowd. Photo: Getty

It’s much more stylish when people dress as they want, rather than forcing a look. That’s where the trouble starts – and then you get tizzy cocktail dresses and ugly hats and suits that don’t fit.

Racing royalty Kate Waterhouse was also at our table, and she looked sublime as usual, in a silk, striped mini dress with a veiled fascinator in pale blue. It’s an art to wear racewear as well as Kate does, but largely, the game has been upped by the under-25s.

Damien and I did clock a couple of fashion no-noes: If you’ve just had a cupping session and your back is covered in red welts, it’s probably best not to wear a strappy, backless dress. And maybe don’t get fall-down drunk in broad daylight, no matter how nice your outfit.

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