Melissa Barnes is a prolific sartorialist on South Australia’s racing scene. Both a master milliner and an accessories icon, the founder of Adorn Collection is renowned for her creative racewear looks. Accordingly, the style star has won a variety of competitions nationwide and Melissa most recently took home the title of Fashion At The Races 2018-2019 Runner Up. Melissa caught up with FATR to discuss her fashion philosophy and how to prepare for your next Fashions on the Field competition.
Melissa’s infatuation with racing began while living in Darwin. In 2012 after attending a few race days, she won Myer’s FOTF at the Darwin Cup while she was six months pregnant in a knee-length A-line emerald and black dress paired with a hat she made herself.
Melissa then leapt onto the South Australian scene with a Fashion At The Races win at the Strathablyn Cup. “From there, I have won a few other FATR sashes,” Melissa said. “I love going along to the country race tracks to catch up with the girls and check out all the other outfits on show,” she said. “My most memorable win was at the Adelaide Cup in 2017 where I went on to represent SA in Myer’s FOTF competition in Melbourne for the Spring Racing Carnival.”
“I have seen FOTF evolve a lot over time and I think it is exciting to see where it will go in the future,” Melissa said. “There is nothing quite like getting up on stage in a fabulous outfit and also watching other beautifully dressed ladies and men,” she said. “I think FOTF works really well when there is a balance of ‘real life’ and ‘digital’ judging because so many things can be missed in a photo.”
The racewear veteran’s most recent winning ensemble from the Balaklava Cup was a green and navy suit crowned with a felt brimmed hat she created a few years for Adelaide Cup. “I struggle with dressing for winter competitions, so I thought a colourful jacket and pant combo would really work for me and my body shape after having the twins,” Melissa said.
“I found the suit online and did some alterations to the wide leg pants by taking them in myself on the sewing machine,” she said. “I made my belt bag by attaching the Gucci pouch with Velcro to a cheap belt I spray painted to match the green.”
However, Melissa’s favourite ensemble is still her look from Adelaide Cup Myer’s FOTF, not just because she won in it, but because she felt it reflected her style the best. “It started with the Roksanda skirt which I bought online, and the rest was added from there with some DIY along the way,” Melissa said. “I was lucky to find accessories to match on sale, I covered an old straw hat with leather to make it trans-seasonal and I spray painted a pair of mesh gloves to match,” she said. “I had the top made by Couture + Love + Madness to finish off the outfit.”
Despite having paraded her looks many a time, Melissa still feels nervous getting up on stage. “I’ve learned to be confident on stage by smiling through the nerves, it’s really not as hard as people think,” Melissa said. “I don’t stress about winning because if I love my outfit then winning is a bonus,” she said. “Dressing up and planning an outfit is what I do it for.”
“These days I don’t get to dress up much because I am at home in active wear looking after the kids,” Melissa said. “It’s a great feeling to ‘dress in your best’ and be among other like-minded fashion enthusiasts, who quite often become your good friends,” she said. “I love the community feeling and support everyone gives you.”
In preparation for a FOTF Competition, Melissa plans her ideas out before she commits to a purchase. Typically, she will perform many try-ons in front of the mirror to test combinations, then determines what works by taking and comparing photographs. “Usually, I make changes and tweak things so that my outfit is cohesive and feels right for me and my personality,” Melissa said.
“It depends on what I am loving or inspired by at the time, but I usually start with the outfit and build the rest on from there,” she said. “I spend time looking up different websites and putting together ‘style boards’ on my phone.”
Melissa collates her looks by balancing the old and new, giving a modern twist to what she wears. “I’m all for pushing fashion boundaries but I do believe that for the races it should be done with ‘racewear’ in mind, not just ‘fashion’.”
And of course, the look must be finished with the perfect headpiece. “A race day outfit for me is all about amazing headwear,” Melissa said. “I am obsessed with everything that goes on your head,” she said. “Choosing the right millinery is an essential part of planning a FOTF outfit and I really love the challenge of making something with real wow factor.”
Like this year’s Derby Day look at Morphettville, Melissa sometimes starts her outfits with the headpiece in mind. “Other times, I like to use an old hat and give it a facelift to go with a new outfit,” Melissa said. “If you can recycle then it’s a great way to save money.”
The Adorn Collection founder is famed for her taste in accessories. “I think they really finish off an outfit and your personality can be expressed through them,” Melissa said. “I’ve always loved quirky Kate Spade bags and that’s where my designer bag hire collection started,” she said.
While Melissa believes matching bags and shoes are not necessarily crucial for the races, she believes they must compliment your outfit. “It’s about balance and if I can’t find the right colour shoes or bag, I have been known to paint them, so they work with my outfit.”
Melissa’s philosophy on gloves and stockings is to only wear them if they add interest to your ensemble. “Don’t just wear them to tick all the boxes,” Melissa said. “I never wear stockings because they are so uncomfortable,” she said. “Gloves are one of my favourite accessories but sometimes they just don’t work with an outfit, so you can always carry them or pop them in a clear clutch, so they can still be seen.”
For jewellery, Melissa has a ‘less is more’ attitude. “I often just wear earrings,” she said. “For a nostalgic touch, I also like to add a brooch to my outfit, I have a big collection which I’ve sourced mostly from second hand shops.”
To keep her ensembles unique, Melissa often collects ideas and pieces them together for one fabulous ensemble. “I try not to buy off the rack, and if I do, I like to make adjustments or layer my pieces to make sure it’s not the same as anyone else,” she said. “Sourcing unique fabric and getting something custom made is also another way to make sure you don’t end up wearing the same outfit as someone else.”
A few days prior to a competition, Melissa embarks on her beauty regime with an eyebrow refresh and a spray tan if time permits. On the day, she will have her hair and makeup done professionally. “I like to wear my hair up so that my headpiece is the focus, but the style will depend on what I am wearing,” Melissa said.
“Fresh and glowy makeup for the races is a must - heavily contoured makeup and dark eyes (and very short hemlines) should be left to the nightclub,” she said.
“I’m a bit traditional that way, but there are plenty of ways you can make your look contemporary without going overboard with makeup or showing too much skin.”
Melissa’s advice for FOTF first-timers is to put together an outfit you will love and wear with confidence, while ensuring you are dressed to suit the weather. “Do a bit of research beforehand to check if there is a dress code for the day, like black and white for Derby Day,” Melissa said. “Wear millinery, and if you can’t afford to buy, then borrow or hire something,” she said. “Always check that your millinery is on properly and secure, especially on windy days.”
This year in racewear, Melissa notes racegoers are still choosing minimal headwear. “Clips and bows will be out in force along with bonnets, rear facing pillbox styles, embellished crowns and the always easy to wear brimmed hat,” Melissa said. “For those entering FOTF, I think we will continue to see the large brim hats on stage along with the longer hemlines that have been following through from the Spring Racing Carnival,” she said. “Pleating and asymmetric details are a great way to add some extra movement to a simple silhouette.”
Melissa believes in tailoring a colour palette to the person and not the trend. “Wood, straws and earthy tones are something you can play around with but if you like bright and bold then go with what works for you!”
The track sensation recommends statement bags, matching belts and hair clips in accessories. “I think we will continue to see structured metallic earrings styles along with embellished drop earrings (think Dolce & Gabbana or Christie Nicolaides) along with mismatching earring sets.”
Although Melissa had a busy lead up to Spring Carnival styling clients with designer bags and millinery, and recently giving birth to twins, she still managed to attend Derby Day at Morphettville. “I stalked all the Myer FOTF action in Melbourne from my phone,” she said.
“I love that in Melbourne anything goes,” Melissa said. “There were so many amazing outfits over the carnival, it’s hard to narrow down a few,” she said. “Some of the details that caught my attention were feathered fringing detail, pretty pleats, large floral prints, tailored pantsuits, wet-look fabric and metallics.”
Between having four children and a thriving business, spare time is a rare commodity in Melissa’s life, but she is planning one outfit for a race day next year. “I haven’t planned any further than that at this stage,” she said. “I always say, ‘that’s my last one’ but I’m sure something will come up that I will want to attend.”
Plan your next Fashions on the Field entry across the seven qualifying events coming to SA racing clubs this season. The Murray Bridge Christmas Cup is next up on December 1, followed by the Mount Gambier Cup on December 6 before 2020’s competitions kick off with the Ceduna Cup on January 18. Don’t forget all Womenswear Winners from each FOTF event will qualify for our FATR State Final - People’s Choice Award, thanks to our lovely sponsors, BNKR, The Daily Edited, Evo Hair, Cloud Nine, Rossi Boots, and Thoroughbred Racing SA.