Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Fashions on the Field.

It’s Melbourne Cup Day today, so I thought I’d share my observations of fashion and particularly formal fashion.

What you tend to see around this time of year in Melbourne are what I like to call “louts in snobs’ clothing”. Put a bogan* in a suit and tie, and he still sticks out as a bogan. Not everyone who goes to the races is one, of course, and they all get dressed up in suits and dresses, but you can still spot who’s in his nice clothes and who’s in costume. I’ll mostly describe men’s clothing here, because I know more about it.

Type 1: Gangster chic.
Will this be formalwear in 100 years?
Historically, there are only two kinds of people who wear expensive clothes badly: gangsters and servants. Servants used to wear formal clothes in improper combinations as a reminder of their lower status. Valets and footmen still stick to the old combinations. Prohibition-era gangsters wore zoot suits with dark shirts and lurid ties as a means of conspicuous consumption that set them apart from old (or legitimate new) money. (It’s the same with gangsters these days, only rather than booze they push hard drugs, and rather than exaggerated suits they now tend to wear exaggerated sports clothes and deliberately tasteless jewellery, this being an even less “conventional” form of conspicuous consumption.) Still today, wearing a dark shirt with a brightly-coloured tie makes you look like a gangster. It’s certainly retro, but it’s also certainly informal. It’s not an outfit, it’s a costume.

You want to wear what, sir?
Type 2: Mix-&-match/servant costume. Same goes for people who figure you can slap together a tailcoat, a frilly shirt, a long tweedy waistcoat and a skinny tie and, because the elements are more fancy than normal clothes, decide that you’re dressed formally. No, no, no, no, no. Tails shouldn’t be seen at the races at all — they’re evening wear, like the tuxedo, and for the same good reason: when worn properly, they create a high-contrast look, which is fine indoors under lights, but looks garish in the daylight.

Which part would you rather look?
The only person who wears evening tails during the day is a butler. Similarly, if you wear a pale jacket and a bow tie before six, you’ll look like a waiter. Tweed? It’s for the country, and is even less formal than an ordinary suit. The only character I know of who wears a wing-collar shirt with a long tie is Jeeves. If you’re going with the wing collar, go with an ascot tie or a bow tie. Mismatched waistcoat? Fine, it might be cheaper than a three-piece suit, but unless you’ve gone all the way and are wearing a morning coat and striped pants, it’s also less formal.

Type 3: the Rule Abiding Rebel. The sort who looks like he was ordered to dress up by his mother, or his headmaster, but expressed his resentment by putting on a poorly-fitting or frayed suit, untucking his shirt, loosening his tie, and not bothering to shave or brush his hair. It doesn’t make you look rebellious or cool. It makes you look washed-up, hung-over and half-baked.

Type 4: Obviously Rented Clothes. This is more a problem at weddings than the races, but I have seen it crop up. You know the type. Their satin waistcoat, tie, fancily-folded pocket square, and maybe even their hatband are all the exact same shade of pastel purple. Their polyester suit has been drycleaned and ironed to within an inch of its life. They don’t look at home in the outfit at all. Again, they’re wearing a costume. They’d have done much better spending a quarter as much on a nice second-hand suit and maybe a tie at their local op shop. Unless you’re unusually small or large, there will probably be something to suit you at the Salvos, or St Vinnie’s, or Savers.

When it comes to women I have less to say, partly because looking boganish is more a matter of behaviour than of the specifics of what you wear. The main rule is that you can have quite a low-cut neckline, or you can show a lot of leg, and still look very classy, but if you show both, class is essentially impossible. If your legs are your preferred asset, know how to pick things up. Your mates might appreciate the view, but you have knees for a reason.

*bogan, n. redneck, yobbo, chav, seljak, bumpkin. Doesn’t exactly match any of these words, but you get the idea. 


  1. Yes, please do NOT wear a zoot suit to the races!!! ;)


    And I have a very long list of race-wear rants for women should you ever need to :p

  2. Here are my notes I made after the Geelong Cup:


    A part of dressing well is acknowledging what goes with your figure and skin tone
    Cream may be in, but if you have pale skin then just don’t go there
    A person with awareness of their body shopping at Target will generally look better that someone who has no clue buying something designer because “it’s in.” There is too much buying what’s in with no realisation that it doesn’t suit the wearer.

    Visible bra straps. I’m not talking about where the shoulder straps have crept outside your dress, I’m talking the back strap going straight across the middle of what is supposed to be a backless dress. A backless converter is not expensive. Factor one into your race day frock.

    Dresses that you can move inside of. If you move, your boobs move and your dress stays in the one place – it’s too big. You should wear a dress, not a shell.

    Cardinal sin of wearing dark underwear or bra under a light top. Beige might not be as sexy, but black underwear visible under a cream dress is even less sexy. It’s your call.

    Fake tan. How is that still in?

    Pull your gloves up. If they’re supposed to go to your elbow make sure they’re not sagging around your wrists.

    Racewear is supposed to be knee-lengthish, not "I can almost see what you had for breakfastish"

    Stop bloody pouting! Smile naturally and be happy – nothing makes you look better than a smile. You’re a finalist in Fashions on the Field so you should be happy about it not looking like you’ve just sucked a lemon.

    Jumpsuit. Pardon?

    I have Hessian sacks nicer than Paula Kontelj’s “dress” even if only because I’d tie my sack with a nice piece of Hessian rope to give it some shape.

    Thin-strapped, above-knee, shapeless satin dresses are not dresses, they are nighties or slips.

    Match your makeup to your outfit and skin tone. (see comment about cream dresses)

    If you’re wearing a top and a skirt, make sure the colours match. Either exactly or significantly differently. Champagne pink doesn’t go with cream, Miss Third Place.

    Dainty dresses require dainty shoes. Not boots. And just because there is a heel on it does not make it dainty. Whoever decided that those hideous things are in fashion has a lot to answer for.

    Put your shoulders back.

    If your dress has a see-through back: cut the tags off.


    Well I did warn you that it was long!