Will you get into the Birdcage wearing this? Racewear’s new rules

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Key points

  • Victorian Racing Club has confirmed updated dress regulations for exclusive members areas at Flemington Racecourse.
  • Women in members areas, including Birdcage marquees, can now wear shorts, cut-outs and exposed backs to a dignified depth level. These options were once confined to general admission areas.
  • Men can also showcase calves in tailored shorts, worn with a jacket and tie.

Mind the gap. Bare midriffs, cleavage cut-outs and exposed backs are in. Belly buttons, denim and sneakers are out.

This could be a trend report following Paris Fashion Week shows by Dior, Givenchy and Christopher Esber but come from the venerable Victoria Racing Club.

What can you wear to the Melbourne Cup? Short suits for men are allowed in the members (Louis Vuitton menswear 2024); Cut-outs and midriff dresses must not reveal the belly button (Valentino haute couture 2023; Chloe ready to wear 2024).Credit: Getty, composite Kathleen Adele

Updated dress regulations for exclusive members areas at Flemington Racecourse, home of the Melbourne Cup, are embracing contemporary styles.

“This is not about becoming casual or relaxing rules,” says Neil Wilson, chairman of the VRC. “It’s the opposite.”

“This is not a case of anything goes.”

Before these changes, the most recent dress code update was in 2018, when the VRC daringly embraced the ankle, making socks optional for men. The new rules go far above the knee.

Women in members areas, including the celebrity-crammed Birdcage marquees, can now wear shorts, bare midriffs and other body parts with cut-outs and exposed backs to a dignified depth level. These options were once confined to general admission areas.

For members backless styles must stop at the waist, well above the buttocks. The I Dream of Jeanie rule, which required Barbara Eden to cover her belly button in the sixties TV series, applies to midriffs.

“It’s not about going for your life,” Wilson says. “A cut-out in this context is what we believe is appropriate for our brand. It needs to be considerate of the environment and think about the elegance of that.”

The Members dress rules are changing to accommodate midriffs and shorts for women. Model Alli Coe from Chadwicks wearing Misha and Millinery Jill and Lillian in a suit by Max Mara and Millinery Jill.Credit: Simon Schluter

Hotpants and briefs required for the pantless trend popular this season on the international runways remain off shopping lists. Racewear shorts need to be tailored, resting just above or below the knee.

Men can also showcase calves in tailored shorts, worn with a jacket and tie but will be unable to feel the air against their stomachs in midriff attire and cut-outs inside the Members Bar.

“In London recently I attended a meeting where a gentleman wore a distinctive suit by Thom Browne with tailored shorts,” Wilson says. “On the streets I noticed more men with shorts.”

“Our regulations have always said suits, we are just introducing shorts as a choice. ”

Men removing ties and wearing sneakers, from Valentino or Volley, is not a choice. Wilson says VRC members consider remaining rules, which also forbid denim and baggy leather pants, part of the organisation’s fabric.

“The VRC is managing the transition to more contemporary requirements and fashion is an important part of that. These regulation changes have an impact on how we think about racing.”

Last year the VRC changed the rules of Cup week’s long-running Fashions on the Field competition by removing gender categories, making the Best Dressed and Best Suited prizes open to men, women and non-binary entrants.

The new members’ dress code is expected to further influence this year’s Fashions on the Field entrants.

“Members rules are a guide for everyone,” Wilson says. “In the general areas there are no restrictions but you still see people wearing top hats and amazing millinery. People enjoy expressing themselves on the big days.”

Enthusiastic expression has sometimes blurred the line. Rules were flaunted by Paris Hilton with her flagrant belly button exposure in 2003, Bec Hewitt’s white cargo shorts and cut-out top in 2006 and singer Enrique Iglesias’s jeans and open white shirt in 2010.

Bec and Leyton Hewitt at Flemington Racecourse in 2006; Enrique Iglesias ignoring the rules in 2010; Paris and Nicky Hilton at the Melbourne Cup in 2003.Credit: Sebastian Constanzo; Getty

Like an illicit hip flask these celebrities made it inside members’ areas but staff have been trained to monitor the new requirements, without the need for measuring tapes in the manner of Bondi bikini inspectors from the fifties.

“Some interpretation is required but we help people manage outfits that are not within the guidelines and train people to have those conversations,” Wilson says.

Last year the Australian Turf Club changed the members’ dress code at Randwick Racecourse’s major race days to allow cut-outs but midriff outfits remain banned.

Regulations at the Melbourne Racing Club, which operates Caulfield Racecourse, are under constant review.

“We were the first club to remove the need for jackets and ties outside the Caulfield Cup Carnival, and we had really positive feedback from our members on this,” says MRC chief customer officer, Jeremy Francis. “We will continue to listen to what our members and racegoers have to say about dress codes on course and evolve these in line with the feedback.”

These relaxed rules will continue to rile some critics, who can dress as they please in general admission areas. Racing Victoria chief executive Andrew Jones at the Asian Racing Conference, held in Melbourne in February encouraged more extreme changes.

“Why do we need a dress code? Why don’t we let people wear what they want, they will figure it out,” Jones told the conference. “No one rings up a restaurant and asks about the dress code – they just wear what they want.”

“It’s not about dressing to meet the dress code,” Wilson says. “It’s about exceeding expectations.”

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