Myth #2: I’ll get noticed if I spend more money on my outfit

True and false. True, because if you dress top-to-toe in the outfit from the latest Miu Miu campaign, the judges will be sure to notice and recognise the look. However, it’s also very likely they may not look at your outfit favourably. Now I am a huge label lover, but I would never dress in a designer outfit that’s currently in the pages of every leading fashion magazine for two reasons: 1) a dress or outfit that looks that good requires very little of your own styling, thus the skill level involved in putting together your outfit is minimal, and 2) some judges (not myself) may believe that if you have that much money to spend on an outfit, you’re not really going to want a prize of shopping vouchers from a department store.

I remember a particular occasion when one entrant (who shall not be named) wore three absolutely stunning designer outfits during a Melbourne Cup Carnival, and by the third day the host had cottoned onto the fact she was constantly wearing expensive pieces. Rather unfairly, I thought, he singled her out and spoke about what her outfit must have cost her. Needless to say, she did not make it past the second round despite looking polished and gorgeous.

Be crafty and get creative…

Spending more money on an outfit also doesn’t mean it will be better – you’ve still got to have a good eye to pick what will be and won’t be race appropriate. My most successful FOTF outfits have always been the cheapest, as this collage shows…

Clockwise from top left: 2nd at the 2007 Melbourne Cup; winning Style on the Downs at Epsom, 2009; Best Dressed at Sandown Park, 2011; and winning the What Best to Wear competition at Epsom, 2012.

Clockwise from top left: 2nd at the 2007 Melbourne Cup; winning Style on the Downs at Epsom, 2009; Best Dressed at Sandown Park, 2011; and winning the What Best to Wear competition at Epsom, 2012.

  • On Melbourne Cup day in 2007, I was beaten into second place in the daily final by the eventual national winner. The fabric was all from Spotlight and cost around AU$50, my hat was a straw beret I bought at Myer and covered with spare fabric the night before, while my shoes were purchased at 60% off. My Mimco clutch purse was the only part of the outfit I had paid full price for.
  • I won the 2009 competition at Epsom Downs purely because I wore a cost-effective outfit. The recession had hit the UK, and the judges were instantly impressed when I told them I made my dress for about AU$50 and my hat was from Zara. There were other entrants who looked faultless in beautiful designer dresses with natural Carribbean tans, but choosing them would look ignorant in that socio-economic climate.
  • At Sandown Park in 2011, I recycled another Spring Carnival outfit in which I also made the Melbourne Cup Day final. The hat I had made while interning, using scrap pieces of sinamay I found in the workroom. The dress fabric cost decidedly more than the previous outfits, but nevertheless it would have cost a lot less than buying a dress in-store.
  • My second winning Epsom outfit was my most expensive successful outfit to date, and the only part I made of it was the hat, which was part of my SS12 collection. However, each garment was from the high street (that’s “chain stores” for the Aussies) – the blazer from Jaeger, the blouse from French Connection, and the skirt from Alannah Hill. (Ok, the shoes were Chanel, but if I gave you their price in a cost-per-wear ratio, you’d be impressed!)

So the lesson is: if you can sew, definitely make your outfit yourself. It will be much more original than any designer dress you could buy and will ensure you don’t bump into your double on raceday (it’s happened to me before, and in a designer dress). It will also allow you to give your interpretation on current trends and make them appropriate for the track.

From left: Laura Gleich (2005), Sarah Schofield (2006), and Angela Menz (2011), all won the national Myer Fashions on the Field competition in outfits they designed and made (Laura's with help from her mum). Photos from VRC.

From left: Laura Gleich (2005), Sarah Schofield (2006), and Angela Menz (2011), all won the national Myer Fashions on the Field competition in outfits they designed and made (Laura’s with help from her mum). Photos from VRC.

If you can’t sew but you have some great ideas on what to wear, don’t be afraid to visit a dressmaker. They will be able to help you choose the right fabrics and get the right fit for your body (something which we’ll be discussing in the next guide). Sure, it may cost more than buying off-the-rack, but if you design something that you will wear again – perhaps to a party, or even to work – it will be worth it.

If you can’t sew and designing is just not in your genes, my suggestion is to mix and match pieces from the high street. This is the best way to show your creative flair in the most cost-effective way. Don’t head straight for the dresses, either – it’s easy to pick a really nice dress and match it with a hat, but it definitely takes more skill to put together a top/skirt/jacket ensemble, and the likelihood of you wearing the pieces again with other clothes in your wardrobe is going to be pretty high. If you’re worried about others turning up in the same garments, make sure you choose them all from different stores – don’t just head to Zara and grab a look off a mannequin, that’s asking for it!

But if you’re really set on wearing designer labels, choose something that’s not an easily recognisable design. I’ve noticed Peter Pilotto is getting a good run in the fashion stakes of late, and I’m assuming one of the reasons is because Myer is a PP stockist and a sponsor of Fashions on the Field (something else which we’ll touch upon in a later guide). But the issue with wearing a PP dress is that it’s so obvious it’s his design, and his prints have so much going on that it takes very little styling to make it look good. I’m not saying don’t wear PP (I really am a big fan of his work), but opt for his separates and combine them with pieces from other designers or the high street to show your styling skills and make your outfit different.

Kate Waterhouse in Peter Pilotto at the 2013 Magic Millions raceday. Photo from zimbio.com.

Kate Waterhouse in Peter Pilotto at the 2013 Magic Millions raceday. Photo from zimbio.com.

Of course, the other way you can wear labels is to incorporate designer accessories into your look instead. Bags and shoes are the obvious and most cost-effective way to go, especially if you choose classic styles that you can wear over and over again.

Be smart when buying designer goods, and don’t get caught in the trap of spending whatever it takes in order to win the competition. Spending more does not guarantee you a win, it just guarantees you an empty wallet.

Photo credits: heraldsun.com.au, Epsom Downs Racecourse, Sandown Park Racecourse and zimbio.com.

By Lisa Tan