Melbourne Racing Club had recently announced several major changes to the beloved tradition of Fashions on the Field. Not surprisingly, the decision was met with severe disappointment, especially from FOTF’s long-time regulars.
Instead of the usual catwalk, Fashions on the Field will now be a photo-based competition. The prize money will also be drastically cut, going down from $60,000 to $10,000. This makes the expense of putting together outfits harder to justify, as they commonly run upwards of $5,000.
Our founder Nina O’Brien echoes this sentiment: “Taking the competition to a digital age in this manner is insane. Fashions on the Field is exactly what it’s named to be, not fashions in a photo booth.What upsets me is that there are keen fashion goers who make an effort and compete in FOTF. They have cut their prize money and instead pay thousands of dollars to Nadia Bartel (a footballer’s wife) to be the Caulfield Cup Style Ambassador.”
Long-time competitor Emma Scodellaro, who has been in over 80 FOTF events, has cancelled her MRC membership because of it. Here, she tells us about her thoughts on the tradition’s declines and how it affects not just competitors, but also racegoers, milliners, and everyone else involved.
How My Love for Fashions on the Field Began
I began competing in Fashions on the Field in 2009, and my first event was at Caulfield Cup. I had a lovely dress that I had purchased on an overseas holiday and a friend was just starting out in millinery, so she made a me a piece to match.
People had always joked that if I went to the races I would probably win the Fashions on the Field competition as I was always so into putting outfits together for events such as weddings, so it seemed natural that I enter.
Although I didn’t make it through the first round, it was such a fun experience and the people I met so lively and encouraging, I was then drawn to attend further race meets & enter further FOTF competitions, quickly learning the ins and outs.
My favourite things about Fashions on the Field are the friendships, the social aspect and the opportunity to put together a new look, either by purchasing a new dress, or with a designer and milliner on a new outfit, or recycling pieces to mix and match. There are not opportunities for ladies and gents to get beautifully dressed up these days, so the races and FOTF is the perfect opportunity.
“Fashions on the Field is so important to me. It is about the friendships I have made and maintained at the track.”
I do enjoy the horse racing and enjoy placing a bet on the odd opportunity. Unfortunately, this doesn’t happen as often as I would like on days where there is a FOTF event, but I do try to at least watch a few races.
(Editor’s note: you know the joke that says a lot of people who come to races don’t really come for the races? This is where it’s from.)
Why Fashions on the Field is Important to Me
Fashions on the Field is so important to me. It is about the friendships I have made and maintained at the track. It is the networking I have done via social media and meeting new people who have a common interest, not just locally but interstate and also internationally.
Fashions on the Field gives me the opportunity to put together beautiful outfits and display them to the public, and on the rare occasion where I have the opportunity to make a final, place or win, that is a bonus. For me it is about looking and feeling your very best and the self confidence that comes with that.
I always particularly enjoy seeing what outfits other ladies and gents have put together & appreciating their own unique sense of style. FOTF also keeps me in touch with current fashion and I try to work with my designer & milliner to create my own interpretation of the current fashion looks.
My best memories are the friendships I have created and the people I now call friends. I have also been lucky enough to have travelled interstate to participate in FOTF several times which is such a fun experience and gives you further opportunity to meet new people and enjoy new fashion.
As far as winning goes, my FOTF highlights were definitely the first time I made the Top 10 on Melbourne Cup Day at Flemington in 2013, winning the Longines award for Elegance on Derby Day in 2014 and the surprise I felt when winning the Blue Diamond Stakes FOTF at Caulfield in 2014.
The Decline of Fashions on the Field Over the Years
When I heard about the changes the Melbourne Racing Club were making to the structure of FOTF, I wasn’t shocked as they have been downscaling the competition in regards to prize money and the number of events held for several years. I believe this has directly lead to the reduced number of entrants participating.
When I heard that they would instead hold a digital competition, my heart sank as the beauty of the stage competition would be lost, not only to the participants but the many hundreds of race goers who make it a priority to watch the event each major race day.
I have seen digital competitions fail in many other environments, such as when the Moonee Valley Racing Club tried to run such a comp the year after they cancelled their own FOTF competition and never ran it again.
When Moonee Valley RC changed their competition, people were shocked and upset. The Fashions on the Field community was large but hadn’t grown to the size it is now and social media was not the force it is now, so although there was discontent about the decision, though the forums were not as available as they are today to discuss the issue in a safe, public environment. From what I saw, the participation in this format was not large and it was canned after its first instance.
The cancellation of the Over 40 category for the ladies has also devastated some more mature entrants, who look forward to one of the only opportunities to be judged amongst their peers and not the younger set each year.
Although the Melbourne Racing Club say that they will not base the competition on age, size etc, some of the more mature entrants have confided in me that they just don’t have the confidence to participate against girls 20, 30 or 40 years their junior.
“I have seen digital competitions fail in many other environments, such as when the Moonee Valley Racing Club tried to run such a comp the year after they cancelled their own FOTF competition and never ran it again.”
The lack of opportunities to be recognised is also disappointing, as during the standard FOTF competition, people would be recognised by making it through heats, daily finals and grand finals. Multiple people would be recognised & not just one. In the past, Caulfield would present prizes to people who made in through each round, whereas with this competition, only 1 person would be recognised.
The cancelling of the competition will affect the amount of attendees at Caulfield Cup & Guineas days. Not only the participants, but their partners or friends who also attend to watch. I have heard directly from several interstate competitors & one internationally who will no longer attend to participate in a digital competition where there is one prize & they aren’t involved in a cat walk parade.
Milliners & fashion designers will now be disadvantaged as many people will no longer put together an outfit to compete at this event. I know I personally would have had a new outfit purchased or designed & hat made for each day that a FOTF competition would be held at a big event such as Caulfield. FOTF is a major source of income for most milliners, as the everyday racegoer will not invest hundreds of dollars in a unique piece of millinery. If ladies no longer have traditional FOTF competition, they will no longer invest as much into their raceday fashion.
The reactions I have received through the Facebook group I administer, ‘It’s All About the Sash,’ have been 99% against the changes. Perhaps one person has mentioned that they will give it a chance whereas everyone else is very upset about the changes being made, in particular, the change to digital. The public and personal messages the group and I have received personally would run into the hundreds.
I think the MRC has changed its mind due to a change of personnel, a change of sponsorship & no longer valuing the place of FOTF at the races as it once did. FOTF competitions were once created to draw women to the racetrack and to improve the fashion standards of the everyday racegoer, but that seems to now not be what is on the agenda, with a push towards ‘relaxed racing’ and a more casual approach. It is sad to see an emphasis on great fashion decline.
Emma Scodellaro runs “It’s All About the Sash,” a Facebook group for the Fashions on the Field community.
Track Mode is a horse racing and fashion site founded and curated by Nina O’Brien. Treat yourself to our Ultimate Guide to Spring Racing Carnival 2016, or skip straight to What to Wear to the Races for inspiration. You can also subscribe to our bi-weekly newsletter to get exclusive race day fashion edits straight to your inbox, and be friends with us on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and Google+.