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Racing’s crowning glory

With fashions on the field commanding almost as much attention as the horses on the track, Jyade Old gets a milliner's view on the future of hats in Melbourne's Spring Racing Carnival.

Fashion has been an important part of Australia’s racing culture since the 1960’s when a Victoria Racing Club (VRC) marketing gimmick encouraged ladies to go to the races to enjoy ‘Fashions, Flowers and Favourites’. Fifty years on when Australians think of racing the horses may come first but hats still come in a close second.

Louise Macdonald is a milliner who is currently working on around 25 hats for Melbourne cup day. She’s been in the industry for 20 years and has seen some interesting changes in that time.

See Jyade’s image gallery from the milliner’s studio here. 

‘About 10 years ago the VRC put a lot of effort into increasing their membership and getting new members, and that has really helped the millinery industry,’ she says.

With money being tightly held in an uncertain economic environment, non-essentials like fancy hats and extravagant fascinators could easily be relegated to history but Ms Macdonald doesn’t see that happening.

‘Orders are down a bit but more because we have lost a week, with Derby Day being in October. You can do a lot of work in a week at this time of year. But I still had to stop taking orders at the start of October,’ she says.

Another plus for the industry is the availability of materials at large craft chains like Spotlight and Lincraft. While some think that millinery should be left to the professionals, Ms Macdonald sees it as an opportunity to welcome more people into the world of headwear.

‘Not everyone has the budget to buy a $4600 hat, so why should you exclude those people,’ she says. ‘They can get a real sense of creative satisfaction.’

For those putting together their own creations it may only take a few dobs of glue and a stitch or two but for Ms MacDonald the process is much longer.

‘Not including sourcing material, I take a whole day: that includes customer consultation, fitting, making of the hat and pick up,’ she says.

With so much work going into each hat it seems a shame to think that these are single wear items, but Ms Macdonald says they’re not.

‘My customers definitely wear them more than once; they will have their big debut at Flemington or Caulfield, then wear them again throughout the year,’ she says. ‘Those that only go once or twice tend to swap and share among friends, and that’s nice.’

Victoria’s Spring Racing Carnival keeps Ms Macdonald and her fellow milliners very busy.

‘Some of the diehard customers who go every year they want a certain style hat for Derby Day, something more colourful for Cup Day and Oaks Day something more flowery,’ she says.

But there are plenty of other people looking for unique headwear.

‘All up and down the east coast, carnivals are spread throughout the year. I get a lot of orders for the Magic Millions but also from Rockhampton and Townsville,’ she says.

It seems all around Australia, hats and fascinators will continue to be part of the racing scene for some time to come.

Jyade Old is studying the Graduate Diploma of Journalism at La Trobe University and is part of upstart‘s editorial team. Follow her on Twitter: @jyadvantage.

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