Monday, November 2, 2009

Melbourne Cup Special

Happy Day before Melbourne Cup day to you all. The above photo is an accurate representation of the remains of a day out racing at Flemington. Champagne, prawns and strawberries. Chicken sandwiches and very sore feet.

The top photo epitomises the elegance and style one would hope to see at any horse race worth its salt.

How I love the Spring Racing Carnival. Coming from a family who has owned and bred racehorses, it has been a big part of my life for many years. Through years of baking heat, and flooding muddy rain, I have trooped out to Flemington to at least one day, whether it be the Cup or Derby Day or the Oaks.

But first, a teeny peek into the history books.

The Melbourne Cup was first run in 1861, a long time ago for any Australian event, bearing in mind that Melbourne itself was really only established in around 1833.

The idea for the Melbourne Cup was to create great handicap race, which is run over a distance of 3200 m (2 miles). The race needs stayers, not sprinters, horses who have been around for while, not flighty little colts. Many thought that being run on a handicap basis (weights based on weight of horse and jockey, not set weights) would encourage mediocrity. As it happened, this was not the case.

In the 1880s Melbourne Cup attendances regularly reached 100,000.

Melbourne Cup 1889

During the stock market crash of the 1890s (the first big one) almost one third of the Melbourne workforce lost their jobs. The gold was running out, and people needed something to believe in and hope for. And in the time honoured style of the Romans, bread and circuses have often filled that need.

This is Carbine - one of the best racehorses in Australian history. He was originally owned by Donald Wallace, a founding partner of the Broken Hill Mining Company (now BHP) but was sold in England when he fell on hard times. Carbine won the Cup in 1890.

A carnival atmosphere has always prevailed. In the 1800s shooting galleries, picnics and tent parties were held. Today, not much has changed.

But really, for many people it is all about the clothes. How often does one get to wear a hat and carry a neat little bag? One year I took my grandmothers beige lizard skin Kelly style bag to the races and I did not look a jot out of place.

Here are some ladies on the steps of the grandstand in the 1960s. Check out the turban, the top hat, the little cloche hats and the sensible shoes.

Here is a vibrant photo of some English models at the race in the 1960s.

Like all public events there must be a controversial moment which is endlessly discussed. For the Melbourne Cup it was Jean Shrimpton's attendance in 1965 in (gasp) no gloves (oh no) a short dress and (goodness gracious) no hat.

Here is a Japanese model daring to wear a jumpsuit in the early 1970s. You can see the disapproving looks in the background.

Of course, there are many many criticisms levelled at race wear today. Many women no longer wear hats, but fascinators or flowers. Along with that look comes very short dresses, spaghetti straps, lots of chiffon (or the cheaper flammable equivalent). I say let them wear what they want, as long as they feel pretty who cares? My personal preference is for something more covered up. I looked around for some recent photos of what I would consider stylish racewear. I have to say it was not easy, perhaps due to the absurd preponderance of celebrities who sometimes focus more on attention seeking than style. In any event this is what I liked:

This is Derby Day 2008 where black and white is traditionally worn. The lady on the right is Erica Baxter, married to James Packer.

This is Jennifer Hawkins. She can pull off a short dress without looking too nightclubby.

This is Miranda Kerr, I love the freshness of this look.

So, to all, have a happy Day either at the races, or at least a little Champagne for the winning horse.

(Images (2) Nato Welton (3) (4) Not sure (5) as indicated (6) (7) (8) Rennie Ellis - National Archives of Australia (NAA) (9) NAA (1) and (10) Fairfax Media (110) (12) (13) Vogue. Other sources:


Millie said...

Just a fabulous post Jane - I really enjoyed seeing a little of the history of the race. My Melb. SIL just happened to drop in conversation last night on the phone that she's got a gong into the Emirates Marquee tomorrow, lucky duck. I'm still a little old-fashioned in that I firmly believe cocktail dresses, particularly those strapless numbers are NOT suitable for the Races. You are very egalitarian in your generosity on this matter!
Millie ^_^

Cath @ chunkychooky said...

yep, you are so right. it is, well for me, all about the frocks rather than the horsies, having said that we have just been doing the sweepstakes at work.

Amanda (Small Acorns) said...

Great post Jane. It is amazing how even New Zealand stops to watch or listen to the Melbourne Cup! But, I am desperate to know - are you going this year, and what are you wearing...?

Jacqueline @ HOME said...

Loved this post, I know you know our equivalent is Ascot....exactly the same only in England ! The only difference in the dress code is that I still don't think that ladies are allowed to wear trousers !.....bit old-fashioned, but we do like to stick to our traditios here. We have been a few times and we also go to Newmarket which is similar but on a slightly smaller scale.
That girl in the top hat in the '60's could have been me, then, and me now. I have a top hat like that and wear it whenever the opportunity presents itself...look at my profile picture...I have my bowler hat on there !
A great read and some teriffic photographs, Jane. XXXX

Jane said...

Amanda - not going to the Cup and am pleased because it is windy and yuck today. We are going to the Oaks on Thursday wearing v boring silk jersey dress and patent shoes and my favourite 7 year old Philip Treacy hat.

Jackie - I know you are a hat person.!! I love top hats. They are hard to find now. One day I will go to Ascot. I have been told that if you present yourself as a tourist to Australia House the day before they will give you a free 'foreigners' pass to the members! xoxo

Mise said...

Oh I do love some pizzazz and the chance to wear a hat without looking silly. That pesky Jean Shrimpton, starting the slippery slide toward casualwear when I so yearn to wear gloves to point at the vegetables I wish to purchase at the vegetable market.

Mise said...

By the way (reading the other comments here), I'm glad you have a Philip Tracey hat, Jane! He's Galway's most famous milliner and designer of the G, our local gala hotel.

Natasha in Oz said...

This was a great post-So interesting.
Just found your blog via Fun and VJ's and have signed up to follow...
have fun at Oak's day.
Best wishes, NM.

Monika said...

This is an awesome post, Jane! I really enjoy reading about traditions of other countries. This is something totally new for me. I liked the fashion photos, I am sure that fashion plays a big role here. The hats look amazing!

Thea said...

What a great and informative blog you have! I just stumbled across it.

viewdemonde said...

I was 11 years old when the photo of Jean Shrimpton was published in the newspaper. It was on the cover of the Sun News-Pictorial, Melbourne. I was home from school and was sitting up in bed when my Mother tossed it to me to look at. The fact that it was short and sleeveless and like you say, no gloves and no hat....scandalous!! People thought she was just wearing a sun-dress.


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