Nightclub attire vies with conservative chic at Punchestown Ladies’ Day

Crowd tended to show acres of flesh or were warmly swathed in tweed


You don’t need road signs to Punchestown on Ladies’ Day. You just follow any taxi filled with feathers, as I did at Naas, and watch the fashion fillies flutter into the field and stagger off in their stilettos towards the fun.

“This is the most challenging Ladies’ Day of all,” said the first stylish woman I met at the thronged entrance, a seasoned veteran of the turf called Rhona Blake. “It’s the weather – you don’t know what to wear because it can be balmy one day and freezing the next. I’ve been here when it’s snowing,” she said.

Dressed in a navy flared coat by Jasper Conran for Debenhams, a navy dress by the Irish designer Roisin Linnane, with black boots from Fitzpatricks she was, as they say in fashion circles, beyond chic.

Her husband, Charlie Murless, no stranger to racing being a former chief executive of the course, pointed out that the star turn of the day, however, would be Hurricane Fly, one of Ireland’s greatest champion hurdlers.

“He is, in your terms, the equivalent of Coco Chanel, the crème de la crème,” he explained helpfully. Catching sight of a girl in a skimpy backless blue mini-dress sheltering from the rain, he commented that she would be considered overdressed at Aintree.

“They wear nothing there,” he shrugged.

Studying the form took on a whole new meaning. The place was packed, the bars jammed with people draped around Guinness and champagne. The fashionable distractions from the racing – that thunder of hooves somewhere in the distance – were the hats, everything from precarious garden arrangements of flowers to quivering cock feathers and alarming confections of net and straw.

One woman sported twisted red balloons on her head matching a dress of layered black and white plastic sausages. If there was a dress code, it was that there were no limits, no stops to the gallops, sartorially speaking.

The exuberant crowd divided into those displaying acres of flesh to others muffled in tweeds, Tattersall checks and flat caps.

Groups of young women wore a nightclub combination of short skintight dresses with Ronseal tans and very high heels, many walking as if climbing stairs with difficulty.

One in long purple chiffon with matching purple wedges did not look out of place, nor did another in white lace and leopard-print sandals.

Those with self-conscious “look at me” glances were obviously intent on the best- dressed competition with its prize of €1,000 of Coast outfits and a “world trip”, ie two days each in London, Madrid and New York.

But others, such as Peggy Stringer from Donegal, now living in Dublin, in a winter white coat with a white felt cloche and a dress in daffodil yellow, were more quietly stylish.

She nailed a winning look for Punchestown that suited the mood and spirit of the occasion, and needed no endorsement from any judge or competition. Pure thoroughbred.