Hats off on Ladies Day, though competing does not come cheap

Best-dressed winner defends the peculiar Irish summer ritual of Ladies Day

Ladies Day is not for the faint hearted nor the light of pocket. A queue of hopefuls assembled in the early afternoon sunshine at the RDS, one more elaborately coiffured than the next, with a view to winning the best dressed competitions.

If the size and ambition of the hats were a barometer of the economy, the country would appear to be doing well judging by those on display at the Dublin Horse Show.

Leah Kelly's hat resembled a gust of wind blowing through feathers with a mélange of floating quills, according to its creator Derek Montgomery, a milliner based in Mullingar, Co Westmeath.

He claims more than 100 pieces worn for Ladies Day were made by him. All were made to order and none came cheap. His hats retail at between €290 and €420. “I have a four-week waiting list,” he said.


Ms Kelly's attention to detail paid off when she was voted best-dressed lady at the Kilbeggan Races last week. "You are talking about the guts of €1,000 every time you want to do it (enter Ladies Day)," she said. "That would be a minimum," added Mr Montgomery.

Another standout creation (or stand up) was worn by milliner Laura Hanlon from Roscommon. This vertiginous hat was made with leather at the centre adorned by ornamental roses and lilies and topped off with a silver bobble. It turned a lot of heads. "It's my first time at the RDS," she said, "go big or go home".

Among the attendance at Ladies Day were the Westmeath Rose Leanne Quinn, the Wexford Rose Saoirse Walsh and the Chicago Rose Katie Callahan all taking it easy before the frenetic round of engagements at the Rose of Tralee festival next week.

No equivalent

Ms Walsh comes every year to the Horse Show; Katie Callaghan was non-plussed by the whole peculiar Irish (and British) ritual of Ladies Day. The United States has no equivalent.

“This is a shock to me. I’m a bit blown away. I don’t know how you judge it because everybody looks so incredible,” she said.

How indeed are these competitions judged is a question many ask. Amidst stiff competition, the Stena Line Most Creative Hat award was won by Helen Murphy from Douglas, Co Cork. Her cerise pink, wide-brimmed number,which resembles the Vietnamese conical hat, was made by the Ennis-based milliner Margaret O'Connor who has designed hats for Lady Gaga among others.

"When I went into the shop, it reminded me of the Christian Dior hats of the 1940s. Once I had the hat, I didn't really mind what I wore after that," she explained.

The Dundrum Town Centre best-dressed woman was Deirdre Kane from Carlow who impressed the judges with her vintage ivory outfit from Buy Design in Co Kildare which she complemented with matching shoes from River Island, a vintage turban-style hat and full-length gloves. The handbag was from Penneys.

There has been rumblings that such Ladies Days are outdated. She was having none of it. “I don’t think it affects my intellect in any shape or form. I like to look nice,” she said. “I don’t see any difference between the men looking nice and the ladies looking nice.”

The best-dressed man went to Florin Tamas who wore a blue and navy combination, creatively matched with cravat, pocket square and trilby.

Ronan McGreevy

Ronan McGreevy

Ronan McGreevy is a news reporter with The Irish Times