Today sees the final of the Yorkshire Best Dressed Lady Racegoer of the Year contest. Stephanie Smith studies the runners.
The hours spent gazing critically in the mirror, trying on jackets, dresses, maybe dress coats, then shoes, bags and, of course, hats. But it’s all been worth it, for these are the winners of the Ladies’ Day fashion competitions which have taken place across the county throughout the racing season.
To some, it might seem surprising that, in 2014, women are willing and prepared to dress themselves up in their finest and step into a parade ring to show off their outfits and compete against other women, also togged up in their best special occasionwear.
But this is more catwalk than beauty pageant. These are not teenagers and early 20-somethings stepping out in bikinis and pink shiny one-shoulder gowns. Ladies’ Day contests span a wide range of ages and style tastes, and what all the contestants share is a love of fashion and a sense of occasion.
At many racecourses, any woman who feels that she has made an effort and wants to enter can do so – a tannoy goes out to call potential contenders to roll up and take part, and their outfits are then judged by a small posse of interested parties.
Some racecourses operate an invitation-only system, whereby judges mill about and hand out invitation cards to women they deem stylish.
I have been a judge using both methods and can tell you that the invitation only system is by far the harder. On one occasion, I was given 10 cards to hand out and quickly got through seven, so decided to be more judicious, and survey the field more widely before handing out the final three. Within five minutes, I was intercepted by a man demanding to know why his beautifully turned-out wife had not been given a card. She was indeed elegantly and stylishly dressed so I let her have one. Minutes later, another gallant husband stepped forth to champion his lady. I allowed another card, quickly allocated the final one, then retreated to the nearest bar.
I digress. Wendy Kelly, 43, from Redcar, won the Thirsk heat in a red outfit from Fascination Online, chosen because of the wet conditions on the day itself. “I was very surprised and absolutely delighted,” she said. Wendy, a housewife, who is married with two children aged 11 and eight, had entered best-dressed contests before, but this was her first time as a winner. “I think the best thing is to dress weather appropriately,” she said, adding: “ I wore my really high stilettos and they were sticking into the ground.”
Wendy was joined by Redcar winner Philippa Hunter for a Yorkshire Post pre-final fashion shoot at Ripon Racecourse. Philippa, 23, won her heat in a backless nude dress from her own range from her boutique Rag and Doll in Guisborough. “I think it needs to be something different,” she said.
And that is what is so striking and inspiring about all the outfits that are featured on these pages. If only more sports made room for fashion and serious shopping excuses. Sigh.
• The judging today takes place in the parade ring at Doncaster after the second race, which is due off at 2.40pm. The winner will become the face of Go Racing in Yorkshire for 2015 and will receive a luxury two-night break in a spa suite with treatments at the Best Western Premier Mount Pleasant Hotel, Doncaster; a £500 fashion voucher for Yasmine of Bawtry and Epworth; and an art deco diamond ring valued at £2,500, courtesy of loveVintageDiamonds.com.