RACE DAY FASCINATION
IF VISITING MELBOURNE DURING CUP TIME, EXPECT CHATTER TO FOCUS ON FILLIES, FANCY FROCKS AND OTHER FINERY
For all the years we lived in Melbourne, plans.we made it to the Melbourne Cup just the once. For many Melbournians, Cup Day meant another public holiday and unless you were a racing enthusiast you made other I remember each year the lead-up to the Melbourne Cup was saturating. For weeks before the big day, our newspapers and televisions seemed to carry no news other than that associated with horses and racing. And fashion. Oh, the time dedicated to fashion was extraordinary. With Melbourne’s bipolar weather, no fashionista worth her fascinator would be caught without two outfits. One light and flouncy in case Melbourne should turn on one of its dreaded 40-degree days, and one in case Melbourne decided to put on a hailstorm and struggled to find a temperature above 12 degrees. Spring in Melbourne is feisty. From the beginning of September to December the weather could be icy or sweltering. Or both. In one afternoon. Even though most of Melbourne’s population did not make it to Flemington, it did not mean there was a lack of interest. Television sets were turned on first thing in the morning to see what the female presenters were wearing, and to see if the fashionistas in their expensive outfits were either being blown to bits by a cold southerly or hot northerly wind. One thing was certain, the weather played an enormous part in this special day and it still does. No matter where we were on Cup Day, everything stopped at 3pm for the big race. Whether we were picnicking in the cold air of the Dandenong Ranges, or splashing in the water on the beach at the Mornington Peninsula, we all kept an eye on the time. Transistor radios were then brought out and we sat silently listening to the call. If we were at home by the backyard pool (or inside around the fire), we would gather around the television to watch the race. I never understood why one horse race was such a big deal and I never questioned it. You were a Melbournian; Melbourne Cup was king of everything. I was a teenager in 1965 when the beautiful English model Jean Shrimpton shocked the country by turning up at the Melbourne Cup in a white mini dress and bare legs. She did not wear a hat or gloves. Sacrilege. The now-legendary photo of the fresh, natural, gorgeous young woman has Melbourne matrons in the background. They were uncomfortable and weighed down beneath heavy hats, handbags over their arms, gloves on their hands and thick stockings on their legs. They were all glaring at the lovely young woman in front of them. Newspaper headlines screamed the ‘legs that stopped a nation’ over the photograph, but every year after, thousands of women forgot the stockings and the formality. Do not expect to see anything on the front page of newspapers if it doesn’t relate to Melbourne Cup at this time of year. Korea might threaten to send a nuclear missile across our bows. But that will not make it to the front page if a horse is not feeling chipper or a fashionista has let slip what she might be wearing on the big day.
In a case of who wore it better, women in floral headpieces walk past cherry blossoms at the Flemington Racecourse in Melbourne and, right, model Jean Shrimpton in her scandalous 1965 Ladies' Day outfit without gloves or stockings.