On the first Tuesday in November, Melbourne's famous Flemington racecourse is a picture of roses in bloom, well kept lawn, gleaming grandstands and a magnificent congregation of some of the finest horses in the world, tended by liveried hands and colourful silk-clad jockeys.
But as much as the Melbourne Cup is about those horses and that race, it's about the punters – more than one hundred thousand people who descend to celebrate one of Australia's most historic sporting and cultural events and who take the opportunity to dress up and be part of it.
To really make the most of a day at the Melbourne Cup, balancing fun with upholding tradition is the name of the game. Follow our guide to make the Melbourne Cup your very own festival of finery and a fun theatre of manners, etiquette and putting your best foot forward.
WHERE TO STAY
Urbane, elegant and clad in quality, Crown Towers is everything a racegoing bloke should be. It also has everything he could ask for, even a flat screen TV in the bathroom to keep abreast of things trackside while you manscape. The Crystal Club can be like your very own gentlemen's club (only with ladies present), and a place for complimentary breakfast, afternoon tea, and pre-dinner drinks and canapes. Done at Flemington? Go get a steak with the lads at Rockpool, or devour a pizza or parma at Cotta before you hit the adjacent casino.
Make sure your outfit nods to the latest trends, while also showing off your personal style in an elegant and graceful way.Victoria
8 Whiteman Street, Southbank. Phone (03) 9292 6868. See crownmelbourne.com.au.
WHERE TO EAT AND DRINK
A great occasion calls for refined imbibing. The Everleigh, north-side on Gertrude Street, is where whisky is king and it's all about a speakeasy atmosphere. This is not a place for post-race carousing, but an elegant proper cocktail bar to get yourself into a dapper frame of mind. In the CBD, find pub food with an upmarket twist at the aptly masculine-monikered Captain Melville, in Melbourne's oldest pub building, the former Mac's Hotel – and if you're worried about getting into that tailored jacket come the big day, alongside the steak sandwich and parma, there's a quinoa salad and a vegie burger. Head upstairs for a nightcap at one of Melbourne's best rooftop bars, Loch and Key, with a gentlemen's club vibe to its wood-and-leather touches. Ring the bell in the side alley for entrance after 10pm and head to the balcony for great city views.
The Everleigh, 56/150 Gertrude Street. Phone (03) 9416 2229. See theeverleigh.com.
Captain Melville, 34 Franklin Street. Phone (03) 9663 6855. See captainmelville.com.au.
Loch and Key, upstairs, 34 Franklin Street. See lochandkey.com.au.
WHERE TO SHOP
Completely flummoxed by this race wear caper? Henry Bucks' flagship on Collins Street is a one-stop-shop for all a gentleman's sartorial racing needs. Find shirts in every colour, shoes to suit all suits and the suits themselves in the gleaming, genteel and just a little bit glamorous family-owned retailer.
Fancy a chapeau? City Hatters on Flinders Street in the vaults under the station is an institution that's survived the test of time, and stocks the best of men's headwear.
One of the fabulous aspects of Melbourne is that independent retailers rule across the city, particularly throughout the north and CBD, as well as south and east into Windsor, Armadale and Malvern. And as a city of well-groomed gents, it takes men's fashion very seriously. So step up to the barrier in something that plays on current retro trends.
Melbourne's own Arthur Galan AG in South Yarra will set you on the straight with a suit. Rummage in the chocolate box Royal Arcade and find Marais where, if money isn't an issue, you can deck yourself out in the best of international designers.
Henry Bucks, 20 Collins Street. Phone (03) 8102 4700. See henrybucks.com.au.
City Hatters, 211 Flinders Street. Phone (03) 9614 3294. See cityhatters.com.au.
Arthur Galan AG, 568 Chapel Street, South Yarra. Phone (03) 9827 7222. See arthurgalan.com.au.
Marais, 1st floor, 314 Little Collins Street. Phone (03) 9639 0314. See marais.com.au.
WHAT TO WEAR
Rick Miolo of V&J Menswear in the CBD has one key piece of advice: "The must-have for the spring racing carnival is a good pair of shoes," he says. "Light tans are in, as are dark greens. A dark green shoe applies beautifully to a charcoal suit."
V&J Menswear is a New York-style den of masculine finery, found on the third floor of Carlow House on Flinders Lane. Sit down on the couch, sip a scotch or a coffee and let Miolo, or business partner Carl Cilia sort you out. Though they love to outfit a gentleman from top to toe with a made-to-measure suit, if there's no time for that, they have plenty of good advice.
"A gentleman should first look at his budget. If he can't afford a label suit, make sure the fit is correct, the shoulders are in line and there's not a lot of excess fabric in the pants."
Only got your business suits to wear come race-day? Miolo says throw out the nine-to-five rules.
"Get the best colourful shirt you can. A dark suit – jazz it up with paisley ties, Happy Socks (the colourful cult hosiery seen under many a Melbourne rolled-up trouser leg), add a vest to the ensemble. Create a contrast; a quick flash of impression. Something that pops. To do this, accessories are your most powerful tool."
Miolo suggests cufflinks, a tie bar, and essentially, "the flower of the day on your lapel. And a pocket square. Even if you get a cotton hankie and fold it, or your wife or girlfriend's colourful scarf. Use your imagination and have fun."
V&J Menswear, 3rd floor, 289 Flinders Lane. Phone (03) 9078 5054. See vandj.com.au.
WHERE TO STAY
Pretty, refined but with plenty of attitude, Crown Metropol is everything a racegoing gal should be. And with complimentary Wi-Fi throughout, you can post all the selfies you need to in order to show the world you're working it. For a pre-cup day spruce up, stay at ISIKA Overnight Retreat, the residential floor of ISIKA Spa, accessible via a private staircase, so, even in a robe and with massage face, you can go from treatment room to hotel room and not worry about it. Included: pre-dinner drinks and buffet breakfast at Crown Metropol 28, where you might find time for a sky-high high tea or a paddle in the indoor swimming pool – pre-blow dry, of course.
Crown Metropol, 8 Whiteman Street. Phone (03) 9292 6211. See crownmelbourne.com.au.
WHERE TO EAT AND DRINK
Madame Brussels remains a feminine favourite of ol' Melbourne town, with its chintz-covered cane furnishings, floral flourishes and pink and green latticework. Despite its frou-frou it's never short of menfolk, good if you're single looking to mingle or maybe just looking to discuss the form guide with a snappy chap in the know. Madame Brussels loves to celebrate the Melbourne Cup, too, putting on its own little festival.
Keep the pretty floral theme going with some delightful pan-Asian eats at Chow City, where dishes are festooned in petals and micro herbs..
Fortify with a pre-races brunch at Chez Dre near the South Melbourne Market and finish with a sugar hit from the adjoining sweet treats shop, Bibelot, a Parisian-style cake, dessert, chocolate and ice-cream bar.
Madame Brussels, 59 Bourke Street. Phone (03) 9662 2775. See madamebrussels.com.
Chow City, 287 Exhibition Street. Phone (03) 9663 7898. See chowcity.com.au.
Chez Dre and Bibelot; 285-287 Coventry Street, South Melbourne. Phone (03) 9690 2688. See chezdre.com.au.
WHERE TO SHOP
As Myer is the official retail sponsor of the Melbourne Cup's Fashions on the Field competition, you'll find some stunning race wear in store at the flagship on the Bourke Street Mall. If you want to compete in Fashions on the Field, Myer's advice is to consider what the official criteria for judging is: " … things like style and originality, attention to detail and adherence to the dress code of each race day. So make sure your outfit nods to the latest trends, while also showing off your personal style in an elegant and graceful way."
Even if you're not competing, that's sound advice for what to wear on the day – if independent shopping is your thing, scour Melbourne's laneways and retail enclaves for unique and local designers. LIFEwithBIRD showcases the talents of Bridget McCall and Nicholas Van Messner. Find strong and edgy, yet classic pieces at Alpha60. Tiffany Treloar is the daughter of iconic Australian designer Prue Acton and her colourful, textural and standout designs are at reasonable price points.
Myer, 314-336 Bourke Street. Phone (03) 9661 1111. See myer.com.au.
LIFEwithBIRD, 241A Flinders Lane. Phone (03) 9530 2773. See lifewithbird.com.
Alpha60, 201 Flinders Lane. Phone (03) 9663 3002. See alpha60.com.au.
Tiffany Treloar, 191 Flinders Lane. Phone (03) 9529 7337. See tiffanytreloar.com.au
WHAT HAT TO WEAR
If there's one rule above all others when it comes to race-day headwear, master Melbourne milliner Louise Macdonald says it's best to choose something that suits you – "and consult an expert, because they can give you guidance as to what suits you best and show you how to wear it properly", she says. Whether that's a jaunty angle or pushed back on the crown of the head, "I see people all the time putting a hat on but with no idea how it should be worn and will look its best".
Lucky for the all-shapes-and-sizes racegoing public, there are many kinds of hats in style this year, from the halo tiara style that we love in Australia – "But you'd never get away with at Ascot" – to the new turban trend, "which some are a bit nervous about, others are loving". And then there's the beret, or percher hat, and the return of the wide brim. "We've made more wide-brimmed hats this year than the last five," says Macdonald, who notes they're great for women of bigger proportions or taller women for whom "the small hat just doesn't work".
Still don't have your hat? There's really no need to resort to mass-produced.
"The choice is narrowing but, yes, most of us milliners try to make sure we have a little bit of ready-to-wear stock right up till the end. We like to make sure we have plenty of black hats for Derby Day, or because many people have black accessories. And they work with pretty much anything. "
Louise Macdonald Millinery, Room 3, 8th floor, 37 Swanston Street. Phone (03) 9650 1352. See millinery.com.au.
How to keep yourself nice on the day? "Have a bit of grace," says Melbourne's etiquette expert, Susie Wilson, founder of the Antoinette Champagne Finishing School.
When considering a frock, or even a hemline, she urges women to consider tradition.
"A day out at the Melbourne races is special and dressing for the occasion is an important part of race-day experience," she says. "The Melbourne Cup Carnival comes with strict race wear etiquette for both ladies and gents. This tradition has been handed down by generations of racing clubs and their proud members. Don't bare it all. Don't show too much skin and wear a low neckline with a high hem. Opt for an elegant style. Don't wear outfits more suited for a nightclub."
And if you have the privilege of being in a members' area or marquee, "use common sense and good manners". Which, she adds, goes for the impulse to take selfies with celebrities on the day.
"Before you go over and ask for a selfie with them, stop and think before you act. Remember your manners. Always maintain your dignity. Say hello and keep walking. Proper etiquette is about thinking of others."