• mvmayall01

Racing Fashion meets Covid: Social Distancing in Style

Updated: Dec 22, 2020

How an idea for a statement outfit became a statement about our times.

This outfit was never intended to be worn through a canola field. When we first started discussing concepts, Emma liked the idea of a statement look to be worn at Flemington on Derby Day (the start of the Melbourne Cup Week Carnival). It wasn't designed to be a safe fashions entry, but rather she wanted the opportunity to lash out and have fun in a dramatic look which would be easy to see. From anywhere!

Which meant a big hat. A very big hat.

Inspired by some of the crazy large hats on overseas catwalks, the drama of films like 'My Fair Lady', and the silhouettes of screen sirens from the 1940s and 50s, we drew up a general idea of the look she wanted.

The very first sketch on a notebook, when ideas and inspirations were flying in all directions and Emma was busy planning her trip to Flemington for Derby Day 2020.....

This sketch was dispatched to Felicity Northeast Millinery, who was very willing to get creative - and to upsize her normal hat making efforts! We waited for Felicity to finish, feeling that the final look of the hat would determine the finer details of the rest of the outfit.

But in the meantime, Covid intervened. Melbourne was put into strict lockdown. Borders were closed. Felicity and I were both in different states from Emma. And the prospect of attending the Melbourne Cup Carnival grew increasingly in doubt.

Felicity finished the hat and sent sneak peeks. She also sent some fragments of materials so that the rest of the outfit could be planned. But now Emma had to decide what to do - because she wouldn't be going to Flemington this year. No-one would.

The first view of the hat in progress, by Felicity Northeast Millinery

That's when this outfit turned into an intellectual concept. Jokes about the size of the hat helping with social distancing were all too real. So we decided to enjoy the process, think about how fashion can represent the times that we live in, and make some alterations to reflect the cultural changes brought about by the current crisis.

Using clothes to keep appropriate social distances is not a new idea. In the 1800s, the crinoline, originally a marker of the upper class, started to be adopted by middle class women. It was a clever way of ensuring that men would stay an appropriate distance away, maintaining respectability. When skirt widths started to decrease, towards the 1900s, large hats replaced skirts as a marker of social distance. Another weapon was the hatpin - not just used to keep hats in place, they were also considered a potential weapon women could use as protection from unwanted advances.

Crinoline-wearing women in the 1800s

To emphasise the concept of social distancing, the hat - already large - had a crinoline section added around the base of the brim which is a subtle nod to the concept of the face mask. The dress was altered from its original design and a full, gathered, drop-waist section added which flared out - a modern take on the crinoline. The rest of the dress was kept simple to reflect the nostalgic silhouettes we had used as inspiration.

In terms of accessorising, sticking to a retrospective look was important because of the role nostalgia plays in times like these. It has been noted by historians that fashion often takes its cue from the past during times of global crises, such as pandemics. Known as the 'nostalgia economy', there is subtle comfort in retreating to old looks when the world and our futures are filled with uncertainty. Psychologists suggest there can be significant benefits - nostalgia can help to comfort people during periods of isolation, anxiety or confusion.

Nostalgic images which provided inspiration -->

Finally - putting it all together. With the borders still closed, Felicity was tasked with trying to get the hat to Emma's home town in rural New South Wales. This was not easy - hat boxes don't come that big. But Felicity managed to create a box large and safe enough for the hat to safely make its way to Emma. In the meantime, I posted Emma's dress, (which had been made via virtual fittings!) as well as two beautiful shoe bows which were created to complement the dress and provide a finishing touch to the outfit. Emma got to work adding the accessories and styling her conceptual outfit.

The Shoe Bows. On detachable clips so they can be added to the heels or fronts of the shoes.

To complete the concept, Emma arranged to be photographed alone, in isolation, in the middle of canola fields beside her home. Her socially distanced, nostalgic outfit cut a glamorous but slightly wistful figure as the canola flowered around her. A sign of Covid times.

A statement outfit. And a statement about our times.


What are your thoughts on this Covid creation? What developments will we see in occasion-wear if the pandemic continues for another year?

All photographs of Emma in the canola fields taken by Wendell Teodoro. Wendell, a well-known photographer with a long history of creating beautiful FOTF images, is currently working on a visual story documenting the impact to FOTF and the changes created by the Covid pandemic. He visited Emma at her home near Young so he could see and experience her world outside of the brief glimpse that we get when we see her fashion entries. We will be the beneficiaries of his latest artworks when he publishes them later this year.

Hat by Felicity Northeast Millinery

Pearls from Love Me Then Leave Me

Dress and Shoe bows by Fitoure Mode. For now, a hobby not a business - I'm a friend of Emma and the dress was made for cost of materials only while I pursue my passion for writing about, making and enjoying fashion.

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