The fun of putting together an outfit for the races is what draws competitors far and wide to try their luck in FOTF. The social side of this phenomenon is what we love and making lifelong friends is an invaluable bonus.
Mother and Daughter team Helen and Kimmi Varcoe share a love for the races and fashion. Their mutual passion has seen them travel around SA and interstate to compete in races fashion competitions. Helen is a milliner who has a wardrobe full of vintage items and this dynamic duo are renowned for putting a modern twist on classic vintage styles. They plan their outfits and enter together so a win for one of them is a win for both of them.
Kimmi has been lucky enough to win back to back runner up titles in the Fashion at the Races competition in SA. Both of the headpieces she wore were made by Helen and together they put a unique spin on both the outfits. Lengthening dresses, adding neckpieces and making alterations are all part of the planning process that both these ladies love.
Q1. What do you love about going to the races?
Kimmi: I love it all, the fashions, the banter, the fun times, the races, THE WINE. The atmosphere is always a happy one.
Helen: For me it is being able to dress up in something fabulous and wear a hat. Living in a rural country town the opportunities a not there, I love watching our own horses and having a glass of wine with friends.
Q2. When did you start competing in Fashions on the Field (FOTF)? Why did you decide to participate?
Kimmi: I started in 2011, the year after I finished school. I was 18 and had an income to buy outfits. However only got serious after mum began creating millinery, it was a lot cheaper and easier to have hats on demand, this was in 2012.
Helen: I have been going to the races for a long time but only got the courage about 6 years ago for me now I’d rather watch my daughter.
Q3. Can you explain the process of putting together an outfit for FOTF? Do you plan your hat or dress first?
Kimmi: My mum is the instigator of our fashions on the field success. It was her love for hats and fashion that also grew my love for it. We have an entire room dedicated to hats, shoes, dresses, gloves and accessories of every shape, colour and size.
When we are planning our race day outfits, it usually begins with the dress. We find ourselves screenshotting images and dresses alike and posting them continuously through Facebook messenger to each other until we find ‘the one’.
Once we have found ‘the one’, more than often we already have suitable shoes, bags and gloves to match and go straight into designing the hat. It’s pretty easy from here as mum is an amazingly creative talent who always comes up with something unique but effective for the outfit.
We love to put a spin on the outfits by adding unusual accessories, you will often see me in handmade neck pieces to add extra detail to the outfit. It is not always as rosey and easy as this, we do bicker, disagree and glare at one another at our ideas but in the end we always end up with an outfit we are totally satisfied with and can feel completely in love with when we wear it, which I believe is an important feeling to have when competing. Look good, feel good, strut good.
Helen: For me it can mean sleepless nights and brain drain on the lead up to a FOTF event thinking about an outfit ,ideas come about hats and designs for accessories and sometimes I could make three different hats and still be finalising on the day .
Q4. On average how much do you spend on an entire outfit?
Kimmi: Not as much as most, we already have our accessories sorted so that cuts out further costs. Sometimes we pay under $10, like we did for my 2015 state final outfit, sometimes more, but barely ever over $500.
Helen: I have a wardrobe full of vintage clothing inherited from my mum, my nanna and my husband’s Grandmother. I have also kept clothing from my teens so with a good dressmaker I tend to revamp these so my costs aren’t too much.
Q5. What has been your favourite outfit? Why?
Kimmi – my favourite outfit was my 2016 state final outfit, but my favourite hat will always be the wired purple flower percher I wore to Flemington Oaks Day.
Helen: For me it was Kimmi’s Oaks day outfit , it took me months to make and sew on the violet flowers and make her headpiece I also have a dress passed down from my mum that is very special (I have put it together home) but haven’t had the opportunity to wear it, yet.
Q6. Who do you follow or look to for your outfit inspiration?
Kimmi: Lots of people, basically any race day outfit in the media.
Helen: I love seeing all fashion posts on Instagram Facebook. I love to be a bit different so I don’t really follow anyone in particular.
Q7. What FOTF events have you won and what were the prizes?
Kimmi: I have won fashions on the field three times, twice at the Naracoorte cup 2015 & 2016 and once at the Millicent cup in 2014, the prizes included lots of vouchers from our local shops and accommodation in Adelaide and accommodation at Robe.
I have been a runner up state finalist two years in a row 2015 & 2016. In 2015 I won a $3000 Perri Cutten voucher where I bought lots of cashmere woollen coats and this year I won a $2000 Fashion Bunker voucher, which I have already almost spent.
Helen: I have only ever won 2 times. This was at the Terang cup 2015 with a fabulous prize of 2 nights in the Sofitel in Melbourne and a 500 dollar shopping spree in Port Fairy champagne. For winning the Penola cup 2015 I got vouchers from local shops.
Q8. What do you do with your old racewear items?
Kimmi: I keep all of my racewear! I love all my outfits and hope that I will be able to wear them all again one day.
Helen: I keep everything and loan items out to friends.
Q9. What’s the next FOTF or race meet you will be attending?
Kimmi: I think I am going to go to Flemington Derby Day with some friends for a fun trip, I’m not sure yet if I will go in FOTF.
Helen: I’ll probably prefer to watch others if our horse runs in any Cup meets we will likely attend.
Q10. What advice do you have for ladies (and gents) wanting to enter FOTF for the first time?
Kimmi: Do your research, make sure you fill the criteria for the season, wear something you feel comfortable in and most of all have fun and smile.
Helen: My advice is to have fun enter with a friend it helps with the nerves and certainly dress suitably for the season.