THOU SHALT TEST THY SHOES: Ladies, and a few gentlemen: Cup Eve is not the time to be adding a new pair of teetering stilettos to your cart. The races involve a lot of standing around, walking on bitumen and then doing it all in reverse at the end of the day. A kitten or block heel or wedge is ideal for the ladies and, for the gentlemen, a sockette at a minimum will guard against blisters. By all means, throw a pair of ballet flats in the bag for the trip home but do not, under any circumstances, hold your shoes and walk barefoot. There’s a good chance you will end up in a meme.
THOU SHALT RESPECT TRADITION: This deserves an essay on its own but for brevity, there are reasons traditions are central to the races: they create a sense of decorum, elegance and occasion that is missing from much of our everyday lives. If you want to wear activewear, stay home. Ditto shorts (I don’t care if they are Chanel), splits to the hip or navel, midriffs and non-existent millinery (see next paragraph).
THOU SHALT WEAR MILLINERY: At Royal Ascot, in the United Kingdom, there are rules governing the minimum diameter of ladies’ hats. Blessedly, Flemington has no such requirements but for the love of sinamay, please wear more than a lazy Lady Jane pin. Don’t like hats? Fine, there are plenty of options. If money is the deterrent, rent or go vintage, or buy one great hat and share amongst your friends. And gentlemen, kudos if you wish to wear a hat, just make sure it fits your head.
THOU SHALT DRESS FOR THE WEATHER: Someone was having a laugh when they scheduled the Melbourne Cup for the most fickle weather week of the year but it’s staying where it is (Sorry, Racing NSW). Every outfit needs a wet-weather modification, and every day deserves a plan B. Goosebumps are not sexy, so consider a stylish trench. Make it see-through if you must (just please don’t discard that plastic after one use).
THOU SHALT EMBRACE COLOUR: With the exception of Derby Day, which has a longstanding monochromatic dress code, the rest of the carnival is about colour. Cup Day is about bold brights, Oaks Day brings out a feminine palette of softer hues and prints, and Stakes Day is about a slightly more relaxed take on racing attire. And while it’s true that green is considered bad luck among equine enthusiasts, punters have a free pass.
THOU SHALT REMEMBER THY MANNERS: This includes: saying hello to the people on the gates, who often have to stand out in the elements; not taking all the mints/samples/canapes at once; not stalking a photographer or walking directly through a shot; not hogging the mirror in the bathrooms; applauding the Fashions on the Field contestants; and asking a celebrity before planting yourself on them for a selfie.
THOU SHALT THINK SUSTAINABLY: When dressing for the races, don’t just think whether the outfit will last until the final race but whether you can wear it again, either to a wedding, summer party or to the races another year. Anything that’s too on trend will likely date, so better to opt for a classic silhouette in your favourite colour and switch up the accessories. For Cup Day, primary colours will always pop, while it’s worth finding the shade of pink, purple or nude that works best for you and rocking it for Oaks.
THOU SHALT NOT WEAR AFTER FIVE: The races are not a nightclub, nor are they a family wedding, so leave the skin-tight dresses, the full-length sheaths and the spaghetti straps at home. A little day sequin action is fine for drama but remember, there is a fine line between standing out and sticking out.
THOU SHALT HAVE FUN: The Melbourne Cup Carnival is a golden opportunity from a fashion perspective to find where your everyday meets your fantasy. A full ball-skirt in the daytime? Why not. Equally, feel free to play a character (ladylike, spy, prim, sophisticate are just a few options), while staying on the right side of fancy dress. This isn’t the Met Museum annual costume gala.
Melissa Singer is National Fashion Editor of The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age.