Since the Victoria Racing Club founded Fashions on the Field at Flemington in 1962, the competition has become an iconic fixture of The Melbourne Cup Carnival every year.
Through the introduction of new categories, more diversity and inclusion, Fashions on the Field has evolved to become Australia’s largest and most prestigious outdoor fashion event.
Let’s take a look back and celebrate its history.
Timeline of Fashions on the Field
The 1960s witnessed the evolution of the competition, fuelled by innovation, celebrity judging panels, and the generosity of sponsors that resulted in an opulent prize pool. The arrival of British model Jean Shrimpton in 1965 ignited a new wave of controversy and sent shockwaves through the fashion world.
Dubbed the most iconic fashion spectacle of the Melbourne Cup Carnival, Shrimpton made a bold statement on Derby Day. Dressed in a daring one-piece shift that fell four inches above the knee, and shunning traditional accessories such as hats, gloves, and stockings, she incited outrage among fashion traditionalists. Yet, in the midst of the uproar, Shrimpton's style choice catapulted Flemington into the global fashion spotlight, capturing the world's attention.
Just as Fashions on the Field was finding its niche, the challenging economic climate of the early 70s saw the competition almost fold. As an event so reliant on sponsorship, the final Fashions on the Field contest, as it was known in the 60s, was held in 1971. However, the concept didn’t fizzle entirely. Throughout the 70s, various fashion-related competitions and events were held during Cup Week.
In 1972, Fashions on the Field was replaced by the Race Club’s Fashion Contest, a competition on Final Day for ‘girls who had won contests at race meetings throughout Australia during the year.’ In 1972 and 1975-77, the VRC hosted the ‘Ten Elegant Ladies’ contest while in 1976 TheSun newspaper ran a ‘Pick a Fashion Double’ competition for the most stylish couple. The decade also saw a number of sponsored ‘days’ such as the ‘Polaroid Photo Finish Stakes’, the Bruck Pony Contest (where the prize was a pony or one of 20 pairs of jeans) and in 1979, the Myer Girl of the Day.
1980 saw the return of ‘Fashions on the Field’ to Flemington. Sponsorship increased, the prize pool expanded, media coverage grew and the competition flourished once again.
In 1983, Myer became the major sponsor of the event. Celebrity judges and a prize pool of more than $30,000 followed, with entries increasing to more than 400 per day. The competition continued to evolve and in 1989 the price-based categories that had been part of the competition since inception were discarded in favour of broader categories.
By the 90s, Fashions on the Field had carved a niche for itself in the ritual and pageantry of Australian racing. The competition was simplified to two sections – Classic Racewear and Classic Millinery. Crown became major sponsor from 1994 until 1997 (in association with David Lawrence in 1997) and for the first time the prize pool exceeded $100,000.
By 1999, Myer returned as the major Fashions on the Field sponsor and continued its long association until 2022.
The inclusion of a men’s competition in 2001 added a new element to the iconic event. Local and international celebrities continued to provide further glamour and interest as guest judges, attracting the attention of fashion and social media across the globe.
In 2004, the competition became national with winning finalists from each Australian state flown to Melbourne to compete in the Final on Oaks Day.
The Design Award was added in 2005, and an invitation-only Millinery Award the following year. These awards were established to provide a prestigious platform for designers and milliners to showcase their work alongside their peers.
In 2008, the traditional Classic Racewear categories were simplified to Women’s Racewear and Men’s Racewear.
In 2010, the competition was hosted in a two-storey enclosure inspired by fashion runways around the world, offering an enhanced contestant and VIP experience and greater public viewing access. This impressive structure returned for the 2011 competition with celebrity appearances.
In 2012 the VRC celebrated the 50th Anniversary of the first Fashions on the Field Competition. To mark the occasion a trophy was presented to the National Winner.
In 2016 the Myer Fashions on the Field enclosure was relocated from its longstanding position on the front lawn to Flemington’s new fashion and entertainment precinct The Park.
When the COVID-19 pandemic gripped the world, the competition was forced to pivot. The Fashions on your Front Lawn competition was born, and fashion lovers united virtually, expressing their talent and style online.
In 2022, the VRC revolutionised the Fashions on the Field competition. Best Dressed and Best Suited replaced the categories of Women’s and Men’s Racewear. These new categories are open to all regardless of gender, and offer an opportunity truly express one’s personal style.
This update invigorated the time-honoured competition.