On raceday style: A conversation with Claire Hahn

Past Prix de Fashion and Boxing Day Fashions in the Field winner, Claire Hahn, has undoubtedly got creative flair. In recent years, her impeccable eye for design and styling has seen her become a sought-after milliner to cores of fashions in the field entrants (and winners!) from around the world. We chat to her about what it takes to nail your fashions in the field outfit.

Clair Hahn at Flemington Racecourse for Melbourne Cup Carnival in November 2019

How does the New Zealand standard of fashions in the Field compare internationally? ling. That said, when I work with a client, my styling ability is part of the package. We have some amazing milliners in New Zealand and Australia, and when people work with me, they appreciate my eye for detail and the fact that I can guide them on the kind of shoe, bag or earring they need to create an overall look. I find that women that want to be competitive will often come to me for the second opinion and polish.

How does the New Zealand standard of fashions in the field compare internationally?

I sell millinery worldwide, with my biggest market being America, followed by Australia and each part of the world has a very different take on racewear. America is still way behind the eight ball, but I have to say that the Irish, Australians and New Zealanders are in a class of their own.

I used to think Australia was way ahead of us in terms of fashion, but Kiwis are currently killing it overseas. They are not out of their league on the international stage at all, they are at the top of their game. Take the last Oaks Day for example… it is a big honour to get into the Top 10 and four of those in that line-up were Kiwis. That tells you something about our standards and level of dressing.

People kept coming up to me when I was over there saying, “WHAT is in the water in New Zealand?”

It’s such a cool place for us to be and hopefully it gets even better and better.

What are the basic rules for dressing for the fashions in the field?

For someone to get involved, there are some basic rules. You must look ladylike and chic, but the outfit also needs to be effortless, innovative, original and coordinated from head to toe. It's standard racewear times ten!

Three or four years ago you could wear a pretty midi dress with a hat, clutch and matching shoes and do well in the competitions, but the bar has been raised and now your look needs to be fresh, clever and unique.

I advise people that they can’t enter a competition and expect to win first time as it takes practice.

Where are the best places to buy women’s fashion?

You don’t need to spend a fortune to be competitive. However, racewear is a specific genre, so you also can’t just pop to Portmans and buy a dress. I recommend buying online at The Iconic or ASOS.

It doesn’t matter where you buy or the brand, it’s about the whole look from head to toe.

You do need to source from different places.

There’s also a strong secondhand market for racewear. I sell all my racewear once I’ve worn it, but you need to make it your own.

You lose the creativity of the personal touch when you buy a full set off someone who has already worn it. After all, part of the fun is putting the outfit together!

What advice would you give to a woman who’s never been on stage let alone walked a catwalk? When I used to compete, I would get so nervous. Remember that everyone is in the same boat.

You must present your outfit well, so be confident that you look and feel amazing.

Don’t rely on Dutch Courage, so save the champagne for afterwards.

Enjoy yourself.

Fashion on the field is a good place to find your tribe; it’s not catty behind the scenes and people will support you if you need a safety pin or something too.

What sort of time frame do people need to prepare an outfit?

Winning looks can come together in a matter of days, but I suggest that you start earlier to enjoy the process. Allow at least a month. Bear in mind that those last-minute tweaks can take an outfit from a finalist to a winner. Carena West’s winning look in Melbourne had a different hat the day before and she bought shoes the day before too. If she hadn’t changed these items, I don’t think she would have won, but personally I find last minute shopping too stressful.

Where do you find inspiration?

I believe a great raceday outfit has a ‘vibe’. It can’t just be a great dress and hat. It needs to be a bit thematic.

Inspiration can come from might be a dress, a hat or bag and that's where the inspiration comes from.

Our standard of racewear in New Zealand