A very reluctant fashionista infiltrates the tough world of raceday competition.
An hour into my (non-negotiable) foray into competitive racewear I was learning it is a very serious business.
As someone who would rather door-knock the Mongrel Mob than stand in front of a room of people judging my appearance, this was my very, very reluctant Fashion in the Field debut.
After a week of trying to reason - and another trying to beg - my way out of the assignment, I had been dressed by designers and pampered at high-end salons to infiltrate Prix de Fashion at New Zealand Derby Day on Saturday.
Only the event organisers knew my identity - to everyone else I was just another contestant in disproportionately large headwear.
My day began with an early-morning Bioline facial by Jasmin at The Langham, before my hair was pulled into a hat-friendly bun by Bex at Toni&Guy.
It was the first time I had worn lipstick, artfully applied by Sammie at Smashbox Cosmetics, and anything as lady-like as the beautiful dress selected from Kate Sylvester.
I had been given a Miriam Haskell necklace with vintage gold and pearl earrings and a bracelet from Love and Object, and held a vintage beaded clutch from Rue de Seine.
By the time I had suffered my first embarrassment of the day - walking from my appointments in Ponsonby Rd to my car around the corner - I already had a blister.
When I arrived at Ellerslie Racecourse and my friend refused to push me down the stairs, I knew there was no turning back and I'd soon have to stand alongside the stunning contestants (many of whom looked suspiciously like professional models).
With $30,000 in prizes, the stakes are high and pulling together the winning ensemble is as strategic as any SAS deployment. From the highest tip of their feathered fascinators to the elegantly rounded toe of their pumps, entrants with a shot at the prize are immaculate.
My preparation involved sending some emails and wearing my tightest waistbands as a constant reminder to stay away from the vending machine.
Event organisers had sneaked me into the third heat and I was given a white plastic paddle with my number - 058. Surprisingly hard clutching both paddle and purse in one hand.
My name was called and I didn't trip, my dress didn't rip and because I was concentrating so hard on keeping it that way, I hardly noticed the room full of eyes.
At the end of each heat all contestants took the stage and the judges announced who will be progressing through to the semifinals.
Dreading having to navigate the journey off the stage again, I nearly missed the announcement that 058 was to be a semifinalist, too. Forty-five minutes later I again found myself sizing up the stairs, but before I had the chance to complete my next ascent, disaster struck.
I had inadvertently committed an unforgivable fashion crime - a chain of miscommunication concerning none other than my hat. I was given the wrong one and the creation atop my head - a parisisal straw and sinamay with handmade silk flowers - was not meant for competing.
The finals started without me and a top five was selected, with Aucklander Olivia Moor scooping the pool and claiming the sash.
It would have been a tough decision for the panel who had a room full of elegant and accessorised ladies and gentlemen to choose from.
The competition was stiff, and I take my hat off to them all.
Facial: Bioline facial at The Langham's Chuan Spa
Dress: Kate Sylvester
Makeup: Smashbox Cosmetics
Accessories: Miriam Haskell necklace with vintage gold and pearl earrings and a bracelet from Love and Object, and held a vintage beaded clutch from Rue de Seine.
To read more about Auckland Cup Week go to tinyurl.com/CupWeek