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 is now so good that we don’t look elsewhere for inspiration – we’re leading the way.

What are the best hairstyles to wear with headwear? How do you get the look perfect?

When working with my clients I suggest what will work with the overall outfit, so it’s about a vibe as I mentioned.

Choosing a style that suits the wearer and the outfit.

The trend for hair these days is softer – more relaxed and less contrived, like ponytails and beautiful updos.

Remember that hairdressers aren’t trained at attaching headpieces, so it is your responsibility to know how to put it on.

Remember that getting into the car can be tricky.

We caught the train to the races in Melbourne, which was fun and sometimes you do need to put your headwear on at the track.

Order a minivan instead of a car if your headpiece is large!

One time I went to the races with my headwear sticking out of the sunroof – it’s all part of the fun really.

What do you love about racedays?

For me it’s not just about the day, as I’m lucky to work with amazing women and help them feel wonderful in the lead up to the day.

Personally, I love the creative process of putting my own look together for the day too.

But it’s not just about fashion, I also enjoy spending the day catching up with people that I have built relationships with over the years; racedays are a great time to meet new people and form long standing friendships.

See more of Clair's work here

Feeling inspired?

Entry into Hawaiian Airlines Fashions in the Field is FREE for all racegoers aged 18yr+ who are attending the SkyCity Boxing Day Races.

There are prizes for the Best Dressed Women, Men, Accessories, Millinery AND this year there's even a "People's Choice" Award that will be judged post-event by fans of our Facebook page that ANYONE on course may be up for.