The day always starts so well: me and my girlfriends (all of us then in our forties) dressed to the nines in frocks we’ve spent ages choosing, faces made up with just a smudge of smoky eyes and a perfect arrangement of scarlet lipstick, legs waxed and tanned, heels firmly strapped to the feet, topped with a large picture hat encircled with silk blooms or, for some, a bijoux fascinator with a smidgen of net falling seductively across the right eye. We channel Audrey Hepburn and Sophia Loren – such class, such allure, such perfection! Off we go to the champagne breakfast, then on to the racecourse where thousands more women have similarly excelled themselves.
Not far from the stands, rows of flash cars are parked up, spilling posh picnics, beautiful women, savagely groomed men (some in tails), and a ton of Bollinger. White linen tablecloths hide plastic picnic tables. Silver candelabra with candles that quickly succumb to the wind. Silver platters of cold chicken and ham, asparagus in hollandaise, miniature whitebait patties, caviar, truffles, strawberries dipped in chocolate. So simply divine, darling. You shouldn’t have gone to so much trouble. You can be sure we’ll be scouring the grounds until we find someone we know who is tiddly enough to share their bonhomie and their bounty.
By day’s end, though, the picture isn’t quite so perfect. The fascinators have slipped sideways, our blistered feet now bare, strappy sandals now dangling in our hands. The lipstick has worn off, and the smile is a little smudgy too, testament to a few too many Lindauers on the Lindauer Lawn. The posh picnics have been denuded, the remaining canapes strewn across the stained white cloth, rejected asparagus stalks, strawberry hulls and champagne corks lying in the grass among discarded betting slips.
I can recall my last hurrah to the races 20 years ago ended with a taxi ride home, my girlfriend and I laughing hysterically in the back seat when she had to spend at least ten minutes rummaging through her capacious handbag to find her wallet. Whatever was so funny about that clearly escaped the taxi driver, who continued to steer us silently through the town, past bars where revellers as merry as we were continued to pour the cash through the tills that race week is all about. We did manage to exit the taxi with some modicum of sobriety, without falling on the ground, then proceeded to appal our husbands at the state we were in.
Not the end of the world if you’re in your forties, with teenage children and comparatively youthful allure.
But, twenty years on, not such a good look on a woman over sixty with grandchildren and age spots.
We’re supposed to be sensible, wise, an example to women twenty years younger. We’re not supposed to get shickered, we’re not supposed to giggle hysterically at nothing and above all, we’re not supposed to dress like we’re twenty or more years younger, or we’ll hear people whispering “mutton dressed as lamb” everywhere we go.
So how do I prepare for Cup Day when I’m a fully accredited SuperGold Card holder?
People on the pension can’t expect to spend up large on a Cup Day outfit. Decades of purchases, however, have yielded a wardrobe of classics that have stood the test of time. Surely among all those frocks and jackets, hats shoes and bags, there will be something suitable, something my friends won’t have already seen? Or, given the amount of detail our 65-year-old brains have to store, might have forgotten seeing before?
The hat with the pink peonies and pink feather boa attached seductively around the brim? Definitely mutton dressed as lamb.
The matching pink, criss-cross spaghetti-strap dress? Bare shoulders aren’t so attractive over 60 unless you’ve toned your upper arms daily at the gym. Which I haven’t.
The strappy pink heels? Sensible sixties know that heels aren’t going to last the distance on spongy grass and even spongier bar carpet.
But the alternatives – flatties, a floppy sunhat and a sober shift dress – are definitely not in the spirit of Cup Day, where the fashion stakes are even more important than the betting stakes.
That’s when the rebel in me takes hold. Dammit Janet. I’m going to wear purple!
I haul out a wide-brimmed mauve straw hat (not seen since Cup Day over 30 years ago), snip the dusky green silk flowers off another hat, sew them onto a strip of netting ($5 at Spotlight) and attach them to the band, dig out a purple leather bag I bought cheaply at an Italian market during a purpleness phase a few years back, and rummage through the wardrobe for a frock and jacket that might match. That’s the joy of never throwing away classics: there’s a muted aubergine jacket from the last millennium. And lo! Purple suede wedge shoes that aren’t too high and won’t sink into the Lindauer Lawn. Job done! Classic Cup Day outfit sorted for $5. Nobody could say that’s mutton dressed as lamb. The frock doesn’t go above the knee. The shoes are wobble-proof and the bag is capacious enough to carry a large bottle of sparkling water to sober me up during the day. Now all I have to do is to remember to drink it instead of champagne.