How to Look Good for Less: Dressing for Spring Racing on a Budget

Written for Broadsheet

Spring racing is now acknowledged as a bona fide fashion-retail season in Australia due to the spike in dress, heels, handbag and hat sales from late September through to the first Tuesday in November. Becoming a slave to the season’s trends is an easy trap to fall into when every local label releases an exclusive race edit. You purchase an expensive outfit or accessory, then it gathers dust in your wardrobe after the carnival is over. Remember the highly specific fascinator you splurged on in 2010 because it matched your highly specific polka-dot jumpsuit? How many times did you wear it after Derby Day? Yep, zero.

Former Harper’s Bazaar Australia editor-in-chief Kellie Hush understands this dilemma better than most. She founded The Way, a one-stop shop for affordable, quality accessories, and after attending her fair share of race days knows how to achieve timeless spring-racing dressing without diving into your savings.

If you’re going to buy something new, avoid the trends and invest in versatile pieces that promise multiple wears

It’s easy to get caught up in short-lived trends during the carnival, but Hush urges you to ensure your outfit isn’t a one-hit-wonder. Buy something you’ll get value out of – something you can see using for the next few years, not just the next few days.

“[Find something] that will take you from trackside to the work Christmas party, a spring wedding or romantic dinner,” says Hush. She suggests something like Witchery’s sleeveless button dress in washed sage ($159.95), which she says will outlast the carnival and can be repurposed for corporate affairs, too.

She also likes this strapless dress by Australian label By Johnny ($370).

Wear a dress with a sleeve so you don’t need a jacket

While it’s beginning to warm up, Melbourne weather is as unpredictable as race-day winners. Hush advises, first and foremost, to dress accordingly. A sleeved dress or top will save you from having a meltdown on the morning of the event when you realise you don’t have an appropriate jacket to match your outfit, or better yet, saves you from buying a new one to go with it. Sleeves will protect you from the beaming sun (or howling winds). Country Road’s pink shirt dress ($279) or Australian label Rebecca Vallance’s polka-dot mini dress ($529) will work in mild or more extreme conditions.

Be aware of each race day’s dress code before planning your outfit – you might already own some of the items you’re looking for

If you’re going to Flemington, each event has its own dress code. But you can nail the brief for each race day, Hush says, without spending a bomb.

For example, if you’re in need of a new pair of dressy shoes or want to invest in a classic cocktail dress, use this as an opportunity to kill two birds with one stone – buy to fill existing gaps in your wardrobe, not just your race-day outfit.

By planning ahead, you might also be able to use items you already have in your closet, or be strategic about the new items you decide to buy.

“If your budget doesn’t extend to buying an entire new wardrobe, check what you already have and update with a smaller, less expensive purchase,” Hush says. “Your foundation for racing season is a dress, so pull out all the dresses you love and stocktake what could work. No doubt you have a little black dress in there that you can reinvent with new shoes or hat for Derby Day, or add a dramatic hat for Cup.

“What you wear on your head truly is the statement piece for spring racing,” she continues. “So put together what you already have then start hunting down a headpiece that will update an old dress instantly.”

Derby Day

The traditional black-and-white dress code for the first day on the Flemington spring racing calendar means you can either dress head-to-toe in black or white, or mix up your monochrome.

“[It’s] the perfect event to invest in a dramatic dress,” says Hush, since a little – or long – black dress is a wardrobe staple you will use on repeat.

She suggests making up for the lack of colour with bold silhouettes, textured fabrics or standout detailing: bell sleeves, light feathers and metal fastenings are all welcome. Seed Heritage’s twist-detail dress ($69.95) is a timeless, simple design that will come in handy again and again, Hush says.

She also likes the billowy sleeves on Rebecca Valance’s mini dress ($629), which will make a statement beyond the track.

If you’re wearing a dress or suit you’ve already got in your wardrobe, you might have more cash to invest in statement headwear – a versatile piece you can wear for many race days to come, or something that becomes part of your regular wardrobe outside Flemington. For the former, Hush likes Nerida Winter’sclassic veiled headband ($395) and for the latter, the designer’s boater ($375).

David Jones offers a less-pricey range of headwear, including this simple but versatile veiled headband for $29.

Hush recommends teaming your outfit with The Way’s Naomi clutch ($59.99) or the Sammy triangle clutch ($84.99). Both will look great at the races, or out at dinner with friends the next week.

Finish off your look with a pair of comfortable, adaptable Tony Bianco heels ($219.95) and you’re good to go.

Melbourne Cup Day

“Cup Day is the day to turn up the volume on ultra-feminine style,” Hush says. “Pinks, purples, reds and ruffles – you have permission to be more playful with colour.”

“I always like to wear a dramatic colour on Cup Day and tone down my headwear a little,” she says. “I also love to have fun with my accessories.”

Hush’s Cup picks are The Way’s Kaia and Holly cross-body bags (both $69.99). Look to Billini at The Iconic for some fun (and affordable) heels ($89.95). And as for your eyes: Shevoke’s safari print cat-eye sunglasses ($99) will see you through summer too.

Oaks Day

While “Ladies Day” might sound old fashioned, it’s the day to let loose with prints and florals, says Hush. She likes Seed Heritage’s animal print wrap dress (for $199.99), and We Are Kindred’s off-the-shoulder midi dress ($249) as an elegant, streamlined option. If you can spend more, Zimmermann’s tie-dress in the label’s autumn-rose print ($595) is classic but playful.

Hush also loves Country Road’s zebra print maxi ($159) and suggests breaking up the busy fabric by styling it with her Sadie cross-body handbag in pink ($49) or her Molly round clutch in duck-egg blue ($69.99). Add some statement drop earrings ($29.99) and soft, neutral heels via The Alba ($189).

If you’re buying a new outfit, think about one that matches with shoes you already own

Save yourself money – and your feet from blisters – by wearing a pair of shoes you already have that you know you can stand in all day, Hush says. “We’ve all seen the shots of women leaving Flemington with their shoes in their hands. It’s not a good look, so if you have a pair of favourite heels then wear them.”

Chat to your local florist about headwear

Spring is in full bloom during the race calendar so it’s worth making use of the fresh flowers around us, says Hush. For those who want to avoid synthetic and plastic headwear, call up your local florist to have a fresh wreath made up to elevate your look. If your local florist can’t help, Hush recommends ordering a wreath online at Daily Blooms ($85).

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