Tips for fashion entrants: It’s all about balance, baby.

Carena West

One of our raceday ambassadors, Carena West, is back with her tips for succeeding when competing in the Hawaiian Airlines Fashion Qualifier and The Ned Prix de Fashion at this Saturday's Vodafone Derby Day.

Ladies and gentlemen... Are you thinking about entering The Ned Prix de Fashion competition here at Ellerslie this Saturday, 2 March?

Below is my comprehensive guide for ensuring your outfit stands out among the crowd.

Disclaimer: I am one of a group of seven judges on The Ned Prix de Fashion's panel, so while my opinion plays a part, it's also in a larger picture of judges who all most likely have different views on what their ideal winner looks like.

Fashion competitions are subjective and should be treated as something fun to do, not serious business! Enjoy yourself first and foremost, otherwise, what’s the point?

Keep in mind that although a Derby Day is traditionally black and white; colour is welcome on the day and there will be no discrimination against competitors who choose to wear colour. Even though this competition is technically in autumn, summer outfits are welcome too!

1. It’s all about creating balance It is a common occurrence to see competitors wearing an outfit that could be quite gorgeous, but it’s just too done.

Often, this can happen when you work on an outfit yourself without a helpful friend to cast their eye over it and tell you that maybe you didn’t need that extra trim, or your shoes are a competing with your dress.

A good way to create balance is to let one or two pieces do the talking. If you have an absolute head turner of a millinery piece, then maybe simplify the clothing choice.

Have a top and skirt (or pants) that feels like it needs a little something to really make it pop? Try a statement belt in an unexpected colour.

2. Don’t feel like you have to spend a crapload of money to make big impact There are so many well-priced labels out and about these days, that putting together a winning look does not have to break the bank.

Look to runways for ideas, and you can be sure to buy “runway-inspired” pieces in high street stores.

L-R: Keepsake the label, Liquorish at ASOS, Lost Ink at ASOS, Loeil

L-R: LN Fashion, Topshop, Topshop

3. Modernise! Never underestimate the power of accessories. They can take your outfit from meh to magnifico!

Do some research as to what jewellery and accessories shapes are in, and what is on the way out.

Organic jewellery shapes in pearl and gold, as well as door knocker earrings and statement hoops are all winners right now, as well as statement cocktail rings on index fingers.

If you want colour in your earrings to match your dress/outfit- maybe try coloured stones inlaid in metal or modern takes on acrylic.

Top Row: Silvia Furmanovic, Stvdio, Stvdio, Lovisa, Lovisa Bottom Row: Both Lovisa

Bags and clutches can be the deciding factor if you and another competitor are too close to call, and mini top handle bags (pictured), tasselled bags, textured envelopes and cleverly shaped mini shoulder numbers replace the box clutches and ever-popular Cult Gaia style ark bag of seasons past.

From Top Left: Boyy,  M2Malleteir (top handle), Edie Parker (tort handle), Colette by Collette Hayman (Red), Rosantica (Multi), Cult Gaia (Tassel), Carolina Santo Domingo. (B&W), Nannacay (Yellow)

If your outfit is a retro or art deco delight, maybe consider modernising with the use of clever accessories (unless, of course, you are competing in a vintage category!)

L-R – Khaite, Kiera Knightley in Chanel, Zandra Rhodes

4. Pitfalls to avoid Don’t get too caught up in trends and fads- just because there are tons of socks in heels on the runway at the moment doesn’t mean they translate into “FITF” fashion.

In the same vein, something you may have seen on a celeb at the races may not fly in competition either.

Watch out for too much “matchy-matchy” – whether it be colour or texture. Mix it up to create interest and introduce new patterns, colours, silhouettes and types of fabric.

Don’t copy what a previous winner has worn before - they have won in their outfit, and with judges in the “industry” it pays to try something new.

Same goes with buying complete outfits from other competitors who may have won competitions in the outfit previously (I know that plenty of judges at Prix de Fashion level that follow other competitions closely enough to be able to spot an outfit that has been worn before!)

10 years ago stockings were a requirement at many race competitions as were closed toe shoes. These are no longer, and open-toed shoes can quite often look more complementary to your outfit than the former option. Make sure you are selecting footwear that doesn’t date your outfit.

Gloves are not a requirement - only wear them if they work with / add to your outfit.

Please don’t wear cream in your dress and white millinery! Points will be deducted.

Millinery is essential. Don’t create a beautiful outfit and top it off with a flimsy “fascinator” that you bought from a local accessories store.


  • The print mixing and colours on the Alice & Olivia jumpsuit is a perfect example of an outfit that could be a winner on the runway, but leave the boots off the catwalk

  • This Cushnie dress has amazing FOTF potential with a shortened hem, but at this stage is a little too “evening wear”. Spaghetti straps are still considered a “no”.

  • Brandon Maxwell creates incredible shapes with fabrics, but make sure you don’t have any midriff exposed. Back cutouts, on the other hand, can make a great impact.

  • Knitwear very rarely works in FOTF competitions. There are obviously going to be exceptions of course, but be wary!

5. Does your outfit get you excited?

Something I have learnt from creating looks over the years is if you are really excited about your outfit, you will represent it well. I’ve been in competitions where I’ve not been 100% about my final look, and it really does show through in the way you present yourself.

You need to be confident about your choices and OWN your look - this will shine through when you are on stage.

Attention to detail is important, but what is more important is creating an overall look that is pleasing to look at. You’ve got all the bits and pieces together, they look great laid flat on your bed, but do they work as a whole? This is the most important part.

Try on your outfit and see the balance of top and bottom. Ensure that the balance is visually appealing. Does the size of your headpiece work with the size of your outfit? You want the outfit and millinery to be complimenting each other, not competing.

Is the colour too monotonous? If you are wearing traditional black and white for Derby Day, are you incorporating textures and modern accessories?

Do your shoes complement your outfit? If they are your statement piece, then tone down your dress a bit. Below is a great example of what could be a beautiful balanced outfit if the dress was to be hemmed to mid-calf.

L-R Millinery: Claire Hahn, Dress: Oscar De La Renta, Shoes: Mother of Pearl.

Below: Three examples of gorgeous runway outfits that require only a small amount of tweaking to make them “FITF” ready.

Headwear: D.E Millinery, Dress: Erderm

Headwear: Claire Hahn, Dress Peter Pilotto

Headwear: Belinda Green Millinery, Dress Peter Pilotto

Headwear: Jill & Jack , Dress Prada

That’s all from me! Fire any questions through to me on my Facebook page: @carenatalksaboutstuff

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