BRINGING STYLE ON TRACK
As the Ladies Day season kicks off at the races this summer, there will be almost as much colour and action off the track as on it, says ALANNA GALLAGHER
Behind the scenes at racecourses the length and breadth of the country, fashion’s thoroughbreds are under starter’s orders and the stakes are high. The carrot? A whopping ¤50,000 in shopping vouchers and other prizes, as the competition for this season’s numerous Ladies Days hots up.
There’s no doubt that racing has become more than just the sport of kings, if the estimate that 1.45 million Irish people go racing is to be believed, and 200,000 new race goers have signed up to the atmosphere over the last four years. These new recruits include Yasmin Le Bon, Ronan and Yvonne Keating, Jim Sheridan and Gráinne Seoige.
This racing renaissance is due in part to the improved facilities as well as the increased profile of the sport through clever advertising and public relations.
Ladies Day, which started as a fusty excuse to extend the life-span of racing festivals, has become an extremely lucrative event in its own right, full of photo opportunities and handbags at dawn as the competition for high stake prizes raises temperatures.
“The secret to attracting the right kind of attention on Ladies Day is to keep the look ladylike,” says Tamarisk Doyle, of Horse Racing Ireland. “Colour is really important, with an emphasis on classic styles rather than street chic.”
Melissa Bindon, girlfriend of jockey Tom Ryan, a so-called “J-Wag”, spends a lot of time at the track. She pulls out all the stops on Ladies Days but prefers to go bareheaded. “Hats are for older ladies,” she says.
Jane Hardy, winner of Ladies Day at this year’s Hennessy Gold Cup doesn’t agree. She loves headwear and owns some 20 pieces. “The days of the matching shoes, bag and hat are over. It’s all about effort and doing it on a budget. Nowadays, it’s about mixing and matching. It’s easy to buy design-
er clothes. I think most of the judges are looking for people with style, who demonstrate that they can put an outfit together.”
With unpredictable weather, Bindon recommends layering as “the secret to looking stylish and keeping body temperatures from plummeting”.
“A good coat is essential to looking good in all weathers. I have a white one for summer and a second long, black wool style for winter,” she says.
Faith Amond-Milford has been a regular racegoer for more than 30 years and has won as many Best Dressed Lady competitions in that time. Buy wisely and know what style suits you, is her winning advice. “I’m not blessed with a good figure but fit is important. I invest my money in clean, classic cuts,” she says.
Judith Devine has won two ladies day competitions at the Curragh. Her prizes were a trip to Barbados and another to Dubai. Devine wore Karen Millen dresses on both occasions. “Wear what suits you, not what’s in fashion,” she advises.
Devine is an amateur dramatic fanatic. She cites Audrey Hepburn’s personal style as inspirational. She recently played Eliza Doolittle in My Fair Lady and admits that Cecil Beaton’s costumes for the film have influenced this year’s potential ensemble. She’s staying tight-lipped but is bucking the colour advice by going for something monochromatic.
“Grooming is also important,” adds Amond. “And go easy on the accessories. If you’ve a stronglooking hat then there’s no need to go wild on the rest of the outfit. Less is more.”
Being well-shod is also important. High heels add essential height and leg appeal. That sinking feeling you get when your heels disappear into the mud is another bad experience that has been relegated to the racing history books.
All the enclosures generally have a hard surface so you can strut your stuff in vertiginous heels.
“The prizes are a good incentive to dress up but it’s also a good day’s craic,” admits Devine. This year, the big race is the The Parknasilla Hotel Goffs Million Race, at the Curragh in September. International model Jasmine Guinness will present the season’s biggest fashion prize – ¤20,000 worth of shopping vouchers from Brown Thomas – to the most stylish woman on the day.
If the winning outfit at this year’s Punchestown Festival Newbridge Silverware best-dressed lady competition is anything to go by, there is a sea change afoot in what the judges are looking for.
Karen Murphy, from Kinsale, wore a vintage dress from her mother’s wardrobe. The move has created dissent amongst some of the other entrants, so much so that some believed there should be a steward’s enquiry. But the move echoes the sentiments of Horse Racing Ireland’s fashion ambassador, Kathryn Thomas, who also plans to up the ante by stirring up the enclosures’ style stew. “Say goodbye to the safe, structured suit,” Thomas says. “What I’m looking for is not your Sunday best but something with a personal touch that looks and feels glamorous.”
You have been warned. Beg, borrow or steal something really stunning to stand out from this year’s competitive crowd.
ON COURSE: Ladies line up for the final of the Best Dressed Lady competition at the Curragh racecourse (main photograph); Yasmin LeBon with Karen Murphy (below), the overall winner of this year’s Punchestown Festival Newbridge Silverware’s Best Dressed Lady Competition. Photographs: Michael Chester and Healy Racing Photo
Faith Amond-Milford, from Carlow, has won more than 30 Ladies Day competitions