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Melanie Morris: Looking stylish -- the ultimate spectator sport for women

Rugby international, VIP style awards, St Patrick's Festival ... After the weekend that was it in, there must be a new hole in the ozone layer above Ireland, and a conveniently patriotic orange hue to our young women.

The primping, crimping and preening over the past few days has been exceptional in its intensity but two questions stand out in my mind ... what was it all in aid of? And was it worth it?

As I flicked through the weekend newspapers, any stylish young thing who was photographed seemed to have been done so in a very fancy frock, and with a triumphant pose -- hand on hip, head held high and front thigh jutting forward. All each picture seemed short of was an accompanying speech bubble that read, simply, "Ta-dah!"


When the recession came along, it was heralded as the end to conspicuous fashion choices. But one look at the papers showed us to be a bit premature in that statement.

True enough, there are fewer big occasions to dress up for. So, when given the chance, Irish females are certainly going for (sometimes literally) broke.

But when picking outfits and spraying themselves deep ochre, there doesn't seem to be a hint of trying to bag a man in the equation. Instead, it's a big competition of one-upmanship as the inappropriately named 'fairer' sex are pitching themselves furiously against each other.

It's like they're competing in their very own Lovely Girls contest, where points are awarded for the most fake bits per female body -- eyelashes, nails, hair extensions, tans, chicken fillet breast-enhancers, bum boosters ... the list goes on and on. And it's not just the young ones who are at it.

In fact, I think Ireland's more refined society types are worse. What else could explain the demand for scarves, rings and handbags that boldly feature Alexander McQueen's trademark skull motif? Let's be honest here, no one actually likes skulls on things, except perhaps Hell's Angels and the odd goth. Yet the social steeplejacks will join waiting lists to have a slice of this fashion action to flash at the next ladies' lunch.

Women dress to impress other women, because, frankly, once you're well turned out, men neither care nor notice the details, unless they highlight some nice naked flesh. No, the critique is left to the vipers' nest that houses a woman's peers -- the air-kissing ladies who'll bitch and get all pass-remarkable if given half the chance.

I've been exposed to this since knee-high to a grasshopper and remember tales of my mother coming home from parties knocked backwards by women commending her for 'getting great wear out of that Amanda Wakeley', or congratulating her on keeping her great figure as 'that dress has fitted you perfectly since the day you got it'.


With eagle eyes all around, it's easy to go into a flat spin when getting ready for a big night out.

I know I need a whole load of mascara, a designer bag and at least two glasses of wine to prepare me to run the gauntlet of getting out the door, then out of the taxi, removing coat, greeting fellow females and, finally, sussing out my place on the occasion's style ladder.

No wonder I've only been out three times so far this year. It's impossible to measure up to the pressures of girl power.

The day out that enlightened me most to the difference in dressing for men than for women was one day's racing at The Curragh last summer.

Rather than getting the usual bunch of fashiony women to judge the Best Dressed Lady prize, the sponsors, Alfa Romeo, chose their male brand ambassadors to do the job.

Let's just say that thanks to Baz Ashmawy, Aidan Power, Keith Barry and a few other likely lads, I've never seen more gleaming forelocks on a racecourse.


And the highly commended outfits, as chosen by these blokes, were so skimpy, I saw a lot of the same gear on girls attending a Barbie party in Dublin the next night.

The women who'd chosen designer hats and dresses to that race meeting, along with matching brollies and co-ordinated accessories were wasting their time.

But these chances to dress up are our escape from the humdrum of everyday living and I speak for womankind when I say sticks and stones may break our bones, but good clothes will hide the wounds.

And this summer, while men will be sucked into the World Cup, we women need a competitive sport of our own to obsess about. So, bring on those weddings, festivals, parties, races and let the Style Olympics commence. The going will be firm, the pack will be fierce but the commentary will certainly be unmissable.