Take inspiration from the English upper classes and dress like a lady for the biggest outdoor fashion event of the year, writes Sonya Bateson

The key to the right raceday outfit is to keep it classic and elegant and dress like a lady.
This advice comes from Ooby Ryn designer Robyn Brooks, who is well known for her stunning raceday outfits and dresses people around the country for racing events.

"The races are a traditional event, you should dress lady-like - not like you're going to the nightclub. Dresses should finish at the knee or a bit below and a classic silhouette is important, as is headwear.

"Hats are bigger this season, rather than fascinators. You pick the right hat to fit in with your outfit and colours. Accessorising is about paying attention to detail, with gloves and perhaps stockings if they work in with your outfit, matching bag, shoes and belt."

Claire Hahn
Claire Hahn

Brooks says hatinators are still big, but "out there" hats with feathers or other trimmings were more popular now.


"If your outfit is really busy, then it's best to go with a more simple style of hat. If your outfit is quite simple, you can make your hat the main focus."

Fresh colours and floral prints are big, as are pastels, depending on the wearer's colouring, Brooks says.

Attention to detail is also needed with hair and makeup. "Make sure your outfit is cohesive and elegant."

Shoe styles are not as chunky as they have been in previous seasons.

"They're maybe a bit more strappy with a thinner heel and even a pointy toe is coming back."

The classic pearls are still popular in raceday jewellery, but jewels can be a bit more colourful and "funky" in some categories such as high fashion.

Brooks also has advice on what not to wear on raceday.

"No strapless, no cleavage, no minis, no party dresses."


Dressing for the races is all about co-ordination, Augustine designer Kelly Coe says.

"You've got to have the right fascinator for the dress and co-ordinate the fascinator with the clutch and shoes. It's so important that you plan your outfit and get it right."

Coe is also firm on what not to do.

"Some people get it mixed up with what you would wear to a nightclub. Young girls especially get it wrong with a really short skirt and a little fascinator.

"If you're entering the Fashion in the Field, definitely don't enter it with a really short skirt."

A handbag is another no-no. Women should always carry a clutch to the races.

Racegoers can feel free to wear whatever colour appeals to them, but Coe reiterates the key is to co-ordinate.

Claire Hahn
Claire Hahn

"Fascinators, clutches, shoes don't have to necessarily match in colour but they have to work well together."

At the last Melbourne Cup, women were wearing smaller metallic headbands and chains instead of the usual fascinators but Coe is not a fan, especially of the cat's ears some women were seen wearing.

"Hopefully that doesn't catch on here.

"Sometimes people get a bit scared and go small, but the bigger the better in headpieces. It doesn't necessarily have to be a fascinator, but you need to have something for your head. There's definitely some smaller pieces out there, but you must have something on your head."

Choosing the right jewellery can make an outfit.

"If your dress is embellished, you don't need to use much jewellery. A big statement necklace can be quite cool, but you don't want too much and to draw away from your outfit."

Millinery designer Claire Hahn says monochrome is a huge trend at the moment and it translates well to racing, but with the recent Derby Day in Auckland, it was time to add some colour.

"Racing fashion is about taking current trends and putting a racing spin on them."

The peplum is out this season. Hahn has also seen a lot of floral prints recently and says it is important to offer something new and different.

"A lot of women tend to play it safe but safe can be boring. It's about expressing your own personal style with a racewear spin."

As for headwear, Hahn says current trends are for pieces worn further forward on the head.

Judges Olivia Moore, left, and Claire Hahn. Fashion in the Fields
Judges Olivia Moore, left, and Claire Hahn. Fashion in the Fields

"Anything that sits on your head with a comb is no longer in vogue. It's something higher and a bit more structured but, in saying that, your headpiece needs to work with the overall outfit."

A hat should not be an afterthought and racegoers should not just reuse a previous hat that did not fit with the whole outfit, she said.

Wendy's Boutique buyer and designer Sally Fannin says short boots look fantastic with dresses, especially going into autumn.

Keeping it simple and understated is on trend when it came to accessories,
Fannin adds.

"If you're going to wear more of a statement pair of earrings, forgo wearing a necklace and maybe just have a simple bangle."

Metallic detailing is big this season, such as metallic trim, prints or footwear. Fannin's advice is to stay away from short skirts and make sure your outfit is balanced.

"Balance is very important. If you're going to wear a shorter style skirt, you need to balance that with the right height footwear."