Fashion,  Life,  Outfits

Entering Fashions on the Field in a Wheelchair

When originally scheduling content for my blog, I had planned on entering two more Fashions on the Field (FOTF) competitions, being Karrakatta Plate Day and Pinjarra Cup day, before publishing this. However, due to COVID-19, these FOTFs got cancelled, so here we are. With no events happening though, it’s the perfect opportunity to reflect on my FOTF journey.

I first started paying attention to FOTF in 2017 when I joined Milano’s Fashion on the Field competition, almost 18 months before entering a FOTF myself. I’ve always loved fashion and attending the races, so this type of competition seemed like the perfect combination. Seeing what other women were wearing was fun and it was a great supportive community. However, there has never been a winner who looked like me. From my knowledge, no one in a wheelchair has ever won FOTF.  It is rare that someone with a physical disability or even wearing glasses enters. While it is rare to see people in a wheelchair (or even an amputee if we’re talking about physical disabilities) at the races, surely there are people out there like me who would like to enter FOTF. So, with physical appearance perhaps going against me, how could I ever have a chance of winning?

I entered my first FOTF competition in 2018. It was the first time the Myer FOTF State Competition had been a photo competition and the first of its kind in WA. This was great for me because it was an even playing field for my wheelchair, haha literally. There were no stairs or stage to overcome (I’m yet to see a stage that considers access someone with a disability who might enter). I’m also definitely more comfortable in front of the camera than in front of people, so it was the perfect scenario.

I wasn’t prepared for the toughness of the competition, as something I’d wear to the races and what people wear in FOTF are quite different, with the latter being much bigger, bolder and fancier. However, at the time I thought my outfit was pretty good (which you can see below), with it including a few of my favourite items, a cutaway shoulder dress and a boater. My photographer was great, and I had a lot of fun!

Photo from Myer WA State Final 2018

I didn’t enter my second FOTF competition for another year, entering the second Myer FOTF State Competition. This time Mum and I had spent months planning and creating my outfit. It was fantastic and very on-trend, maybe even a bit ahead of its time, with the retro look really making a comeback now. It also included a few of my favourite things, including a boater (again!) and matching shoes and handbag (which has always been a dream of mine). Every year the competition seems to get tougher though and unfortunately, I didn’t place.

Photo from Myer WA State Final 2019

By now I’d become more active in the FOTF online community and there were times where I thought “I could beat that” after seeing photos online. After the WA Country Cup finals in November, FOTF “season” finished till it comes back in February, so nothing really happened after the state final.

It was in February this year that I entered my first “traditional” FOTF competition. I was always going to the Pinjarra Magic Millions meeting due to Owners Only, but I didn’t even plan on entering their FOTF till a week or two before it.

I’d previously brought one of the Review Collectables dresses after falling in love with it in late November. Due to my abnormal body shape, it did need some alterations. Christmas and New Year was a busy time, so Mum didn’t get around to it till mid-January. By very early February it looked like the dress was going to be finished in time. It was around this time that the FOTF competition came to my attention.

I tossed up for a few days on whether I should enter or not. It was a traditional format which meant there would be a stage that wouldn’t be accessible. This would mean that I would have to stand out more than I already do and “walk” in front of the stage. In the end, I thought, stuff it! Who cares if I stand out? I had a fabulous outfit and I wanted to test my fashion style against the best.

I would like to thank you the people who helped me get in contact with the club to make sure I could enter. Due to my wheelchair, I can’t just turn up and assume everything will be accessible. So, I contacted the Pinjarra Race Club to let them know I’d be entering. To their credit, they were very helpful, letting me know that it would be perfectly fine, and they would ensure there was room in front of the stage for me.

After getting up early to get ready, the outfit came together perfectly. I felt and looked pretty good, if I do say so myself. When I arrived, the sign-up people were surprised to see I was entering. Haha they actually thought my support worker was entering instead of me. This did take me back a little bit, but then again, people in wheelchairs aren’t common on the FOTF scene and I did still have my ventilator mask on at that stage.

Pinjarra Magic Millions FOTF 2020

I decided to enter in the first heat so I could get it over and done with and because I didn’t want to eat before in case I mucked up my lipstick! I was nervous to enter but I’m glad I did. The support from people from the FOTF group definitely made it a lot easier too. Unfortunately, I didn’t make it passed my heat (which I think might have been because my shoulders were exposed) but I was hooked now!

Pinjarra Magic Millions FOTF 2020 Credit: Western Racepix

With one FOTF under my belt, I decided to enter a second! The next one that I could get to was the Rose of York race meet. Mum and I were more prepared now and had a better idea of what judges might be looking for. We’d also looked at pictures online of the previous Rose of York winners and it seemed slightly less competitive than Pinjarra.

After planning it for a month, you couldn’t get an outfit that was more on-trend. Based around the handbag, the dress was retro, I wore a headband which had pearls on it, tick tick tick. Once again, I contacted the club and they replied saying there wasn’t a stage, which was perfect for me. Mum and I went into this one feeling pretty confident.

Rose of York FOTF 2020

However, this was a FOTF were I learnt a valuable lesson, you might love your outfit and it might be on-trend but that doesn’t mean the judges are going to like it. There were just 10 people competing so that helped my chances, plus there was only a few dressed up to the Pinjarra standard. After parading in front of the judges they announced the top three, starting with the second runner up. Unfortunately, I didn’t make the top three. However, after all of that, they announced a consolation prize, which I won. I couldn’t help but feel like perhaps I got it because I was someone in a wheelchair and I tried, especially because they knew I’d be entering. I decided to take it as an “unofficial” fourth place.

Rose of York FOTF 2020

All of this started to make me question a few things. Is someone entering in a wheelchair too much of an unknown for judges? I can’t help but think too, if an able-bodied person was wearing my exact same outfit, would they have done better? When getting feedback on my outfit in the FOTF Facebook group, someone suggested that I match my wheelchair covers to my outfit. While this would be impossible because I would need 100s of covers and still not have the right shade of colour, shouldn’t the judges be seeing past my wheelchair and just judging me on my outfit? I’m not asking not to be judged, haha because a judge’s job is the judge, I’m just asking to be judged on the same criteria as everyone else.

I guess we’ll never know the answers to my questions but I’m not going to stop entering just because I use a wheelchair. In fact, after that meeting, I went on to plan another two outfits that I’ll have to enter another time once COVID-19 is over. One thing is for sure, I will be the first person who uses an electric wheelchair to win a FOTF competition!

Someone who uses a wheelchair is rare enough at the races, let alone in Fashions on the Field. This post highlights my FOTF journey and what I've experienced so far.

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