They came from far and wide to accept the challenge. They journeyed to Redcar and Pontefract, to Thirsk, Ripon and Beverley, Catterick, Wetherby and York, where each fulfilled her personal quest to become a champion. Finally, they will gather next week in Doncaster to compete against each other in the Grand Final of the Go Racing in Yorkshire Best Dressed Lady 2015 contest. There can be only one.
Ladies’ Days are a serious business, make no mistake. Some would-be contestants plan ahead for months, selecting their outfits, searching for the shoes, the bag and especially the hat to go with, although these days, we tend to use the term “head piece”, to reflect the bespoke and artistic nature of these stunning and rather clever creations.
Sometimes teams of women take part in a particular Ladies’ Day race meet, perhaps a group of friends or, increasingly, a posse of customer models from a particular fashion boutique or hat designer, as a sort of promotional event to drum up special occasion clients.
The Ladies’ Days contests take place at the nine racecourses in Yorkshire throughout the racing season, with some serious contestants entering more than one, perhaps even three or four. At most courses, those who wish to be considered can simply turn up to the parade ground or winners’ enclosure and face the judges, but some operate an invitation system, with judges handing out cards beforehand to those they consider worthy of interest. It has been known for would-be contestants to follow the judges about. It has also been known for the contestants themselves, or their husbands, to go up to a judge and demand to know why they haven’t been picked.
Some Best Dressed contenders spend a fortune on bespoke and designer pieces, while others prefer to use their own styling skills to create a stand-out outfit using High Street buys. Jill Dales from Redcar won Thirsk Ladies’ Day wearing a dress from Wallis. “I bought it to wear to the Redcar Ladies Day but it was too cold,” she said, admitting she is not usually one to dress for the weather. “But it might have been a different story if I’d worn it for Redcar.”
For our pre-final shoot at Ripon Racecourse, Jill who is 44 and works as a customer service administrator at Tetley Tea, wore the blue outfit she ended up wearing to Redcar, another High Street buy from New Look, teamed with shoes from Dorothy Perkins. But, as with her winning Thirsk outfit, she had her headpiece especially made to match, by Bespoke Fascinators of Guisborough.
Jill advises taking along a pair of flat shoes in a matching colour, so you can enjoy the day once the judging is over. But most of all, she says it’s important to wear something you feel comfortable in, adding: “If I don’t love what I’m wearing, it’s just not right.”
The trends that have emerged predominantly for this year’s Ladies’ Days include retro, especially Fifties’ inspired looks, plus classic monochrome and plenty of stunning floral prints – think drama rather than pretty. But it is the headwear that has really taken off – a sad little fascinator is not going to do it. For the modern Ladies’ Day contender, we’re talking inventive statement creations, usually the result of a collaboration between designer and wearer.
Detail is important too. Deborah Grogan from Shropshire won at Wetherby – a blustery event, by all accounts – in a 1950s’ inspired outfit including a Chi Chi Curve Alyssa pansy print dress, picture brim hat by Sharper Millinery, mint sling-backs from Dorothy Perkins, vintage diamante gloves and a pearl clutch bag from Debenhams. Deborah, a former grand final winner, said the outfit cost around £100, proving you don’t need to spend a fortune.
It’s too late now to be considered for this year’s Best Dressed racegoer, as the nine challengers will take part in the final next Saturday. Good luck to them all. Better start planning for next year.
The Go Racing in Yorkshire Best Dressed Lady 2015 competition is at Doncaster on Saturday, October 24. Judging is in the parade ring after the second race, due off at 2:35pm. The prize is a luxury two night break in a Spa Suite at the Best Western Premier Mount Pleasant Hotel in Doncaster; a piece of vintage jewellery worth £2,500 from loveVintageDiamonds.com; £500 voucher for Yasmine of Bawtry and Epworth, and the winner becomes the face of Go Racing in Yorkshire for 2016.
The first Ladies’ Day 2016 will be at Wetherby on Tuesday, May 24.