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Best Dressed Lady outfit cost me a smart €43.90

IS IT possible to look absolutely fabulous for fifty quid?

That was the challenge for me at Ladies Day at the Dublin Horse Show.

As stock markets plunged around the world there was no better day to discover if style on a shoestring really could be achieved at the country's most high-brow style event.

Hundreds of stylish women turned out for the Best Dressed competition and I was no exception - apart from my meagre budget.

Heeled and hat-wearing, I set out to impress celebrity judges Sharon Corr, Brendan Courtney and Michael Leong and prove that you can ditch designer gear in favour of recession friendly prices.

Many women entered the competition with outfits costing less than €100 and the judges seemed to like their style-savvy thinking.

I upped the ante with an outfit that cost just €43.90.

Teaming a €25 cream print dress from the sale rack in Debenhams with a nude bag (€9) and pearl bracelets (€3) from Penneys, I joined the throngs of hopefuls for the Best Dressed to find out what ticked the boxes this year.

The headpiece I customised myself with the €3 feathers from Penneys and a hat costing €3.90 from Forever 21.

High street was the most popular choice for the event, with the majority of contestants around me parading cost-efficient frocks and customised accessories.

In stark contrast to previous years, only a small number of people entered wearing luxurious labels, donning couture vintage Diane Von Furstenburg or a chic Seventies Lanvin suit.

And while they impressed the judging panel, we recessionistas were more than a match.

Everywhere you looked there were friends showing off their handcrafted millinery or works of fashion art.



GLOVES

Hat after hat graced the stage and displayed their ensemble to the crowds.

Homemade or self-customised seemed to be the phrase of the day.

One of the lucky ladies to make it into the Top 10 completed her outfit by dyeing an old pair of white gloves fuchsia pink to match her dress.

Clearly I had some competition.

After five hours of queuing among hundreds of fashion hopefuls, I sashayed on to the stage to greet Off The Rails presenter Brendan -- who kindly made reference to Elle Macpherson as I towered over him.

I gave my style speech and drew a few gasps from onlookers admiring my €25 guna and €4 headpiece. "We're looking for something unique -- something that stands out," judge Brendan said when the last entrant had wandered off the stage. "It's key to do it on the cheap -- nobody wants to hear about someone who spent a fortune on a dress.

"They want to know where you can find a high street bargain and that's the way to do it.

That's exactly what this year's contestants did.

"I found my hat in a charity shop for ¤3.50 and covered it in cream leather and added trim to update it," said finalist Catherine McAleer, from Tyrone, who customised her own shoes for the big occasion.

Primary school teacher Katie Faulkner, from Stepaside, won the coveted title 11 years ago as a teen and definitely thinks creating your own outfit makes a huge difference.

"I think making my own hat helped me to stand out when I won -- I covered it with fresh flowers and that impressed the judges."

Although I didn't make the final 12, I was not disheartened.

Overall winner Yvette Byrne (20) stood out with her own design -- a hand-stitched lace costume and matching topper.

"It's amazing that she made the entire outfit herself, I love that," said Brendan.

As for myself, I managed to nab Brendan for some style tips. "You're dressed a little too casual," he told me.

"But I can understand how hard it must have been to find an outfit in one afternoon for so little, well done."

Brendan Courtney's celebrity diary: Page 20


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