Monday 23 October 2017

And they're off . . . The race is on for our best dressed lady

Style winners will battle it out for the first ever 'Best of the Best' competition

Sarah Hayes Kelly, Darley Irish Oaks fashion winner, Curragh 2012
Sarah Hayes Kelly, Darley Irish Oaks fashion winner, Curragh 2012
Kelli O'Dell, 2012 winner on Ladies Day at the Galway Races
Suzanne McGarry from Strandhill, Co. Sligo, the winner of the Newbridge Silverware Style Icon Competition
Ciara Kelly, 2012 winner at Killarney Races on Ladies Day
Sharon Heffernan, 2012 winner of the Chic Boutique Best Dressed Lady at Listowel Races
Bairbre Power

Bairbre Power

As a regular fashion judge on the Best Dressed competitions at Irish race courses, I'm seldom surprised.

The trend a few years ago to wear evening dresses to afternoon race meetings has, thankfully, disappeared along with the horrible vista of girls wearing too much false tan.

Naoise Pelin, 2013 winner Etihad Airways Guineas, at the Curragh
Naoise Pelin, 2013 winner Etihad Airways Guineas, at the Curragh

Nowadays the Best Dressed entrants are far more pragmatic as they chase a cache of prizes and holiday breaks worth approximately €120,000 at 33 events throughout the year.

However, in an interesting development, this Saturday marks the arrival of the fashionable face-off, the first of its kind on the hugely competitive Irish racing calendar.

Ladies who have scooped the style stakes at Irish courses over the last 12 months have been invited to the Curragh to compete in a Best of the Best Dressed ladies in the inaugural Bollinger Rosé Ultimate Ladies Day.

Talk about handbags at dawn. You can throw hats, frocks, shoes and probably Granny's vintage gloves into the mix when Ireland's hardcore Best Dressed racing brigade battle it out at the Darley Irish Oaks.

The Irish racing scene is populated by lots of ambitiously stylish fashionistas who diligently follow the Best Dressed style stakes.

However, a recent win can push ladies out of the frame for another Stylish Lady victory in the same year so seasoned Best Dressed entrants will be relishing the opportunity to have another go at out-dressing their rivals and a return to the Winner's Enclosure.

It's a competitive scene, with no obvious bitchiness to be observed. The girls are friendly towards one another but one thing they won't do is share the contents of their Little Black Book, bulging with contacts for the best milliners, shoe-dye services and vintage stores with kick-ass accessories.

With such a golden circle of heavyweight high achievers assembling to compete for the new Bollinger Rosé title, you can rule out folksy tales of nights beside the telly, glueing DIY hats together and hand-dying matching gloves and clutch bags.

Such industry is to be recommended and as a judge, I love an interesting back story as much as the next judge. But as this is first ever face off between serial Best Dressed entrants, the scene is set for some serious fashion rivalry, which will definitely be more Prada than Penneys.

The temptation to throw in the odd 'oh I made this myself last night' or 'this is a swap shop find' loses its homely appeal when there is a Queen-status to be bagged.

It's like a gathering of fashion prefects who have an unbelievable, encyclopaedic knowledge of how to turn a judge's head. An eye for detail marks you out on the Best Dressed Circuit.

Suzanne McGarry's cornflower blue outfit (left) inspired by a $20 cameo brooch, won her €25,000 at the Moyglare Stud Stakes last September.

For others, it's in their DNA. Sarah Hayes Kelly (above) from Limerick won at the 2012 Darley Oaks and can take plenty of inspiration from her sister Eva Hayes who was one of the most crowned Best Dressed winners and finalists on the circuit in recent years.

So far 16 winners have said 'Yes' to the invitation to compete for the prize, which includes a crate of champagne, VIP spa break at the Aghadoe Heights Hotel in Killarney and a racing package for the Curragh next September.

Student Kelli O'Dell (23), who won in Galway last August, is back in her native Australia so the competitors can cross her off the list of rivals to watch out for.

Kelli is typical of a new breed of international competitor who has form winning in different territories, so good is her talent for putting together a head-turning look with clothes and hats judges haven't seen before. She certainly turned the heads of Irish serial competitors when they heard how in 2010 she won a Mercedes-Benz CLC 200K Coupe, a trip to Hong Kong and a week's cruise to Fiji after winning in Auckland.

Judges at the Darley Oaks, including TV3's Colette Fitzpatrick, can expect nationwide winners from 2012, and Deborah Barrett was the final qualifier for the competition after winning the Dubai Duty Free Most Stylish Lady competition on Derby Day.

This fashion face-off is shaping up to be a virtual style Olympics, but with gold for only one.

Irish Independent

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