AS SPRING racing season arrives, it's not just horse racing that is catching enthusiasts' attention.
More young women and men are entering fashions on the field competitions each year at Wimmera racing events.
Wimmera Racing Club president Penny Penfold said the annual fashion competitions were growing significantly in popularity.
"The competitions have always been a significant part of the race days, but in the past three years there has certainly been more fashionistas that travel to the Wimmera to enjoy the day," she said.
"Previously, there was always a few Wimmera people that would travel to race days outside their hometown, but now people are coming from places like Bendigo, Geelong and Ballarat to races at Horsham, Murtoa or even Donald.
"These people are spending money to get themselves here, not to mention the time and effort they put into compiling their outfit, just to arrive on race day.
"It is fantastic because it adds to our locals races - not everyone is into horse racing and we are naive to think that, so these competitions offer something extra and it helps get people through the gate."
Mrs Penfold said fashions on the field competitions were crucial to small country race days.
"It gives us a different element to our race days and allows us to attract a different audience," she said.
"With the popularity comes a bit of pressure to put on a good prize pool, but it's a good kind of pressure - it keeps us on our toes.
"We are fortunate that our communities are great supporters of local racing clubs so we are always able to pick up donations for prizes."
Fashions on the field competitions also have a growing online presence, with large social media groups dedicated to sharing photos of winners across the country.
Mrs Penfold said the increased social media following could be the reason why more people were flocking to country competitions.
Horsham maternal and child health nurse Melanie Wade is a regular entrant to fashions on the field competitions across the state.
Her journey started in the Wimmera, regularly entering the competition at the Horsham Cup.
"I then became more interested in racing fashion from December 2017 onwards," she said.
"Since then, I have been attending competitions regularly in both Victoria and South Australia."
Her first taste of racing fashion came at Horsham Cup in 2015.
"I made a last minute decision to enter after Andrea Cross, who was the emcee that day, encouraged me to enter," she said.
"On that occasion I was wearing a cobalt blue and sea-green dress out of my cupboard, sparkly silver Diana Ferrari wedges, a satin cobalt blue clutch and a cobalt blue feather clip in my hair.
"My fashions on the field style-sense has changed significantly since then, thank goodness."
Mrs Wade said entering fashions on the field competitions was now her hobby.
"Most weekends in spring I head off the races either with my family, or by myself," she said.
"There are always other fashionistas there to catch up with for a chat and have a cheeky champagne."
On a typical spring weekend, Mrs Wade will spend about one and a half hours getting ready for the competition and she can drive up to two hours to get to the races.
"So much time goes into outfit planning each year - from the dress, shoes, jewellery, bags, millinery and hairstyles," she said.
"In the planning stage I put together pic-collages on my phone to try to get an idea of how an outfit will come together."
Mrs Wade said what she loved about entering fashions on the field competitions was the fun of putting together an outfit.
"I love seeing the colours and styles that other people are wearing and getting to feel good in nice outfits with my hair and makeup done - much different to when I go to work.
"I also love socialising with others who also love fashions on the field."
Mrs Wade is getting her outfits custom-made by a dressmaker in Geelong this year.
"I've also purchased millinery from Melbourne, Tasmanian and South Australian designers," she said.
"I'm currently loving bright, bold colours including orange, pink, red and cobalt blue, and embracing both floral and geometric patterns."
Mrs Wade encourages other people to get involved in competitions at country races.
"My best advice for anyone considering entering fashions on the field is to get up, smile and have a go - it's all a bit of fun," she said.
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