Fairyhouse of fashion
The festival offers the perfect opportunity to dress for the races in style
As well as being an obvious highlight on the racing and the social calendar, the Boylesports Irish Grand National is a visual feast of some serious style.
What makes this fashion parade even more impressive is the fact that April weather is notoriously temperamental, meaning that race-goers have to factor in all eventualities when planning their outfits.
This year, Carton House's Most Stylish Lady competition takes place on Easter Monday and the theme is 'Modern Vintage', inspired by the earls and ladies who both inhabited and visited Carton House over the centuries. Sky Sports news presenter and style icon in her own right, Olivia Wayne is flying into Dublin to judge the competition.
"I'm a big fan of fashion and racing so it is an honour to be asked. My friends and I always find a day at the races to be really enjoyable, full of fun and glamour, and with Fairyhouse being home to the esteemed Irish Grand National race, it makes winning Ladies Day here that bit more special," she says.
The winner will enjoy a prize of return flights to Boston with Aer Lingus for two, staying in a 4-star hotel in Boston, as well as a stay in the Presidential Suite at Carton House before they fly out, so there's plenty of incentive for attendees to pull out all the stops, style-wise, on the day.
Maria Macklin, House of Colour image consultant for Monaghan and Louth, acknowledges that the Irish weather doesn't exactly make it easy to decide what you should wear to the Irish Grand National. "Add to that the pressure to look chic yet comfortable and some of us race-goers have a major dilemma on our hands," she says.
Her tips for looking effortlessly stylish include opting for a faux fur stole, a statement shawl or scarf that won't cover up the details of your dress but will help keep you warm, and to not be afraid of making a strong fashion statement. "Many women will wear dresses with matching fascinators but if it suits your personality style, why not try wearing a gorgeous jumpsuit with heels instead," Maria says. "There is an array of colourful trouser suits this season which can be an interesting alternative."
Her other top tip is to keep a pair of flat heels in your bag but to make sure they work with your outfit. "There is nothing worse than watching someone struggle through a day at the races in a pair of killer high heels," she says.
Arguably even more important than the outfit, is the choice of head piece. Milliner Alison Roe, whose creations have been worn by celebrities including Jenny Buckley, Rachel Wyse and Sally Anne Grassick of RTE Racing, attends race meetings herself and she has several pointers on how to select and wear a show-stopping number.
She suggests trying lots of different hat styles to see what suits and what feels comfortable before deciding on the final choice, and to bring the outfit with you when you try on head pieces. "If there are bold patterns in your outfit, then you might like to keep your hat simpler with one or two colours," says Alison, who loves to combine local fabrics like tweed and Irish pheasant feathers in her work.
"And when choosing a headpiece for Ladies Day, as opposed to wedding-guest wear, then you can go a little bolder in your choice of eye-catching headwear and the sky is literally the limit."
Alison's other expert advice includes choosing a hat that is designed to be worn on the side of your head, where the parting lies, so that hair can be swept and styled to the other side, rather than being flattened under the hat. She also recommends having hair pinned neatly up or away from your face which will help fix the headpiece in place and keep your hairstyle tidy for longer.
Ladies wishing to enter the competition can register at the Carton House Most Stylish Lady marquee beside the parade ring in Fairyhouse, from 12 noon on Easter Monday. And it may helpful to know exactly what judge Olivia Wayne is looking for.
"With Irish women having such great style I know it's going to be a tough decision choosing just one winner," she says. "But I will be looking for those ladies who not only embrace this year's 'Modern Vintage' theme but who are relaxed and confident in their own style. Whilst there is a theme, we don't want ladies to feel they have to conform to the traditional Ladies Day attire - it's all about showcasing your personality and having fun with your look, be it classic, elegant, cool or edgy."