Men's Style Guide: Dressing for the Track

Melbourne prides itself as Australia’s style capital and for the city’s male population, the influence of the Spring Racing Carnival on their fashion choices has never been more apparent. Over the past five years, an international rise in men’s fashion sales and an ever increasing online audience for street style imagery from menswear events such as Pitti Uomo has translated into a greater interest in style for the average Aussie bloke. 

With attendance at Flemington reaching up to 120,000 people per day over the four-day event, it’s no surprise that buying a suit for the races has become a rite of passage for many Melbourne men. Over 15,000 new suits were purchased to wear during the 2014 Cup Carnival season and this year’s Spring Racing event promises to up the ante even further.

Fashions on the Field gets underway 2014

Fashions on the Field gets underway 2014

From his initial entry into the men’s Fashions on the Field event in 2012, Peter Tran caused a sensation by winning sockless - a popular look internationally, but one that seemingly shook the foundations of Flemington. The ensuing brouhaha caused a rewriting of the rules to make sure such a move away from tradition would never be repeated.

Peter won Fashions on the Field again in 2014 – “an unexpected outcome” he states, especially with the number of male entries jumping from 50 men in 2012 to 150 in 2014. In those few short years, the average age of entrants had plummeted as well, with the traditional older peacocks now competing alongside younger competitors with a newly developed passion for dapper dressing.

Peter Tran wins Fashions on the Field 2014

Peter Tran wins Fashions on the Field 2014

Tran sees a direct correlation between the Spring Racing Carnival and an improvement in the everyday style of Melbourne men. “I was in a menswear store recently and all the staff and customers were talking about was what to wear to the races.” As the made to measure specialist for Giorgio Armani, he is also frequently quizzed for style tips, especially, he says, after customers and acquaintances find out about his past Fashions on the Field success.

This year’s Derby Day will see Peter move in the role of Fashions on the Field judge - the only day of the four day carnival when the focus turns to menswear. Tran sees Derby Day as the pick of the Carnival for fashion; with its bold black and white theme offering up an easy entry point for men to make a strong fashion statement. Derby Day is also the only opportunity for men at Flemington to go all out and wear a Morning Suit.

Morning dress evolved during the late 18th century when riding coats were split in the back for comfort. By the mid 19th century, the morning coat had become de rigor for casual day dress and for decades, the morning coat combined with matching trousers remained the style choice for most gentlemen. Today the Morning Suit, which includes the signature single-breasted cutaway jacket, waistcoat and striped trousers, is only worn at very formal daytime weddings or by a certain class of racegoer including those attending the royal enclosure at Royal Ascot.

Morning Suits Sydney 1937

Morning suits at the races, Sydney 1937

Of course, most males attending the Spring Racing Carnival at Flemington tend to dress in a more contemporary style. “The guys really passionate about menswear will look at events like Pitti for inspiration” says Peter Tran “while others will look at the trends promoted by the major department stores”. For Peter though, keeping abreast of what’s happening at menswear events like Pitti Uomo is useful for colour and fabric ideas rather than inspiration for an overall look. “The men at Pitti, especially the Italians, dress ‘sprezzatura’– a relaxed way of putting pieces together that signifies a deceptively nonchalant approach.” he says. For Peter, like most Melbourne men, a classic structured suit is both more flattering and practical.

For fashions on the field contenders, a major factor to keep in mind is that the judges will look for originality within the parameters of the race day theme. Fashion competitions aside, this rule also applies to any man planning on attending one of the four distinct race days.

Eduardo Xavier Melbourne Cup 2012

Stylist Eduardo Xavier at the Melbourne Cup

Derby day’s black and white theme offers up an opportunity for bold dressing, though black can appear quite corporate without forethought. Grey is always a safe option and, if you’re sartorially adventurous, dressing in a neutral suit offers up the opportunity to make a statement with your accessories. The official flower of Derby Day is the Cornflower, so a rich, dark blue for your socks, tie and pocket square is an easy option. Tran’s winning 2014 Fashions on the Field ensemble was a three piece grey tweed suit with a subtle yellow and brown windowpane check, made to measure for Peter by Melbourne’s Oscar Hunt tailors. The subtle brown detail running through the suit fabric inspired his choice of accessories in shades of brown and rust including his tie, fedora, Rubinacci pocket square and Armani leather gloves, shoes and sunglasses. 

Melbourne Cup day is about going all out (though avoiding anything Geoffrey Edelsten would find in good taste is a good motto to live by). With crowd numbers at their peak, standing out from the pack is still easily achievable. Wearing a black suit during the day can make you look like a Groom or an undertaker, so opting for grey or navy is a safer option. Go for classic, well made footwear in a dark brown, chestnut or tan. Oxfords or brogues with a Goodyear welted construction may cost a little more, but the quality difference will see you through years of wear. At all costs, shoes with pointed or chisel toes should be avoided.

The classic rule for socks – a must in any area of Flemington outside of General Admission - is to match the colour to your trousers, not your shoes. For those not too confident about dressing up, this is a safe rule to live by, though for a relaxed day at the races, perhaps a little too safe. A navy suit can be matched with a navy sock, but one with a pattern will offer up a point of difference and the opportunity to work more colours into your tie, hat or pocket square choice. The official flower Melbourne Cup day is the yellow rose – yet another accessory option to keep in your arsenal.

Flemington racecourse Melbourne

Oaks day is ladies day and pastel colours are a good option. This is easily achieved by simply swapping out your white shirt for a blush pink. Stakes day is family day, the most relaxed of the racing carnival with its “Garden Party” vibe and the most appropriate day to dress your suit down.

Since the first Melbourne Cup in 1861, Australian men have been turning out in their finery to celebrate the “race that stops a nation”. Fast forward to 2015 and for a growing number of the sartorially resplendent men you’ll see at the track, the event will be the jumping off point towards their dressing better the other 364 days of the year.

See you at the track.