Thoroughly Modern Millinery
Cup celebrates closers and clotheshorses alike
Copyright © The Star Ledger 2004
Sunday, January 18, 2004
BY LERON KORNREICH
MELBOURNE, Australia -- They say it takes grooming
and training and good breeding to make it to the Melbourne
Cup Carnival. I thought they were talking about the horses.
But it quickly became clear competition is fierce
on the lawn off the track as hundreds of women strut in a
high- stakes fashion competition that has managed to draw
more crowds some years than Melbourne Cup Day.
I headed to Flemington Racecourse on Crown Oaks
Day decked out in a fancy hat and matching dress. The train
ride was surreal. After all, when was the last time you boarded
an NJ Transit car filled with people decked out in loud zoot
suits, cutting-edge funky dresses, and fancy feathered hats?
Just two days earlier at the Melbourne Cup,
more than 100,000 gamblers and fashionistas crowded the racecourse
donning elaborately decorated hats, brightly colored suits,
and clutching champagne flutes. But while the horses are the
attraction on the first Tuesday in November, Thursday is "Ladies
Day" and the race is not to the swift so much as to the
Officially, it's called Crown Oaks Day but unofficially
it's "the day the girls come out to play." I edged
my way through the crowds picnicking on the lawn toward the
enclosure where two competitions take place: The Women's Classic
Racewear competition and the Millinery Award.
I arrived a little after 10 a.m. and watched
as 300 ladies lined up to register for the contest, which
is open to anyone. They were each given a number and a chance
to vie for $628,000 in cash and prizes.
I could feel the excitement as the contestants
paraded across the stage in outfits ranging from tasteful
to tacky, some dressed like flappers, others in Victorian
garb, and others in haute couture.
It was exciting to watch as first-time entrants
competed against professional models and hand-made hats went
head to head against boutique bought.
Livia Dallafontana said she created her enormous
wide brimmed hat complete with plastic toy horse perched amid
a swirl of ribbons. She lost the competition to a woman dressed
in a less overstated dusty pink ensemble with a matching designer-made
Deborah Truesdale couldn't believe it when her
pink feathered top hat got her into the semifinals of the
millinery competition. She told me she had asked designer
Dolly Vardin to match it to a pink suit. In the end, she lost
to a fellow non-model, Michelle Panton, who donned a Susan
Drerup hat decorated with fluttering red butterflies.
There was plenty to photograph: a group of women
of Italian ancestry dressing in coordinated green, red and
white; men dressed as middle-aged women trying to convince
security to let them onto the stage to compete; a group dressed
as cavemen and cavewomen complete with clubs and plastic bones;
women in full Victorian regalia, including white wigs and
white face powder.
Two days later, on Emirates Stakes Day, children
and teens get a chance to show their fashion savvy. As soon
as the decked-out Cup Carnival crowds clear the racetrack,
the fashionistas take over Melbourne's Federation Square for
the city's Fashion Week.
* Getting there: The official Cup Carnival
Web site is www.vrc. net.au. Melbourne Cup Day always runs
on the first Tuesday in November. Crown Oaks Day is held two
days later. Lawn tickets can be purchased on the day of the