As the Melbourne Cup Spring Racing Carnival in Australia gets underway, a look back at the growth of the fashion element associated with the race days via Myer’s famous Fashions On The Field Competition.
Today Fashion On The Field is an integral part of the Melbourne Cup Carnival but in 1960 it was just an idea, first introduced in 1962 as an attempt to “woo more women to the races”. The contest originally formed part of the ‘Fashions, Flowers and Favourites’ celebration and sought to find “the smartest dressed women at the Carnival within economic restraints”. Would-be entrants were enticed with a generous prize pool of goods and cash to the value of almost £7,000.
The concept continued to evolve each year, with new categories and celebrity judges… though not all observers were enamoured with the concept, the racing writer Jack Elliott criticising the VRC in 1965 for the fact that there was “too much nonsense at the Melbourne Cup Carnival this year”, calling for the Club to give “more thought to promoting the HORSE”.
Jack’s admonition didn’t work, with English model Jean Shrimpton putting the event on the international map in 1965 when she wore a one-piece shift four inches above the knee, with no hat, gloves or stockings, causing outrage among fashion traditionalists.
It wasn’t a great period for the Fashions On The Field concept as an adverse economic climate and a lack of sponsors saw the traditional competition become a more ad hoc affair, with individually sponsored fashion contests held during some years. But hey, the 70s was not one of the great periods in fashion, either.
1980 saw the re-instatement of the fully fledged ‘Fashions on the Field’ competition and the decade saw sponsorship of the event increase, as well as the prize pool, media coverage, calibre of judges and umber of contestants.
In 1983 Myer became the major sponsor of the event, the beginning of a long association. Myer held the naming rights to the competition for the next decade, often in conjunction with TAA or Ansett and United Airlines. Celebrity judges and a prize pool of more than $30,000 worth of prizes raised the competition’s profile and in the three years following Myer’s involvement, the number of entrants quadrupled from 50 a day in each of the two categories to more than 200 per day.
Now fully embedded as part of the Flemington race-going experience, the 1990s saw the competition simplified into two sections – Classic Racewear and Classic Hats. Crown became naming rights sponsor from 1994 until 1997 and for the first time the prize pool exceeded $100,000. By the late 90s prizes included a trip for two to Hong Kong, Paris and Tahiti with a $10,000 fashion wardrobe and $5000 in spending money.
By 1999 Myer returned to sponsor Fashions on the Field, and has remained principle sponsor of the competition ever since.
In 2001 the men’s competition is introduced, continuing the evolution of Fashions On The Field as a significant event during the Melbourne Cup Carnival. Publicity for the competition now drew international celebrities and international media coverage, while the introduction of a National Competition brought the excitement of the Melbourne Cup Carnival to the rest of Australia.
In 2005 the Design Award was created, creating an arena for designers to showcase their Cup Day racewear creations.
In 2008, the traditional Women’s Classic Racewear and Men’s Classic Racewear competitions underwent name changes. They continue today to be known simply as Women’s Racewear and Men’s Racewear.
In 2010, Myer Fashions on the Field was hosted in a brand-new two-story enclosure inspired by fashion runways around the world, offering an enhanced contestant and VIP experience and much greater public viewing access, while in 2012 the event marked its 50th anniversary.
Fifty years on and Myer Fashions on the Field at Flemington is not only an undisputed institution of Melbourne Cup Carnival week and a pinnacle event of the Spring Racing Carnival, it has established its place as Australia’s largest and most prestigious outdoor fashion event.
This year’s Myer Fashions On The Field (FOTF) competition as part of the Melbourne Cup Carnival at Flemington will have a new home in a precinct on the hill behind the main Flemington Stand. Known as “The Park”, the new fashion and entertainment precinct is expected to host one of the biggest ever turn-outs for the famous competition.