Here is what a trip to Royal Ascot taught me about dressing for the races

Dressing for a day at the races can be difficult, but a day at Royal Ascot taught Edaein O' Connell a lot about how to do it right...


Growing up near a town that dedicates a week solely to horse racing made it very easy to fall in love with the event.

The atmosphere, the thrill, the craic and the fashion; it's addictive. Like many Irish women, one of my favourite things to do is dress up for a day at the races. However, like most things in life, nothing worth having comes easy, and searching for an outfit for the day is as tough as getting a mortgage in Ireland.

A lot of thought goes into it; it is meticulous and oft times fruitless planning. Comfort is key because you will do more steps on a racecourse than you would hiking Mount Brandon. Heels must be a certain height, a dress can't be too fidgety or a hat too heavy.

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At the grand auld age of 24, dressing for a day at the races can also add twenty extra years - it's very easy to slip into mother-of-the-bride attire. I want to look fancy and proper and all of the lovely things, but I also want to look and feel my age.

Related: Style Guide: 16 looks to wear on day two of a wedding

Last week, I took a very special trip to Royal Ascot with family to celebrate the end of my mother's working days. It was far from Royal Ascot I was reared, but the excitement was there all the same. For months I knew what I was wearing. It was a beautiful, floral, bright and vivacious midi dress and all I needed to complete the look was a hat.

Royal Ascot still adheres to a strict dress code, albeit it has loosened the reigns in recent years. I had to make sure that the hemline of my dress didn't finish four inches above my knee, there were to be no off-the-shoulder creations or strappy garments and there had to be a hat with a four-inch base.

Related: One Woman, Five Midi Skirts: Where to buy the best

A week before liftoff, a wardrobe malfunction meant my dress to be a no go. So back to the drawing board I went and trawled the streets of Dublin for a replacement. Through crocodile tears and a sneaky stress glass of wine, I found what I was looking for - a blood red polka dot midi dream from Rixo.

This is a brand known for it's abstract floral and psychedelic prints, so the somewhat demure pattern was an unexpected but welcome change. There is something eternally youthful and fun about polka dots and the tiered shape with blouson sleeves meant it was still classic, chic and perfect for Royal Ascot.

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The headpiece

Finding a hat was like a conundrum from Countdown and one I thought I would never solve. However, a saviour came in the form of milliner Aoife Hannon from Listowel who is a master of the game. In one night, she created the most alluring floral headpiece to complement the dress. I met her on Sunday and by Monday morning the piece was finished and in the air on the way to Ascot by 2 pm.

The millinery business in Ireland makes up a substantial part of the fashion industry. The talent pool is wide and deep but Aoife is one of the most gifted. Each of her pieces has a point of difference, something unexpected to make each one stand out. Eclectic, elegant and fresh, the pieces will never overwhelm an outfit. They always work and fit into place like a jigsaw.

For this event, she understood I wanted something impactful. Something which spoke to my personal style while remaining youthful. To keep the hat bold and fun, Aoife introduced a hint of clashing colour. Gold leaves offset the large red flower beautifully and a teal green belt streamlined the silhouette of the dress but also helped to break up the look even more.

Top tips for dressing for the races

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Although my look had to be particularly formal, the same idea applies if you are attending any race meeting or ladies' day but with a much more relaxed code. However, there are a few tips to keep in your most prized clutch.

  1. Throw out the rule book. Some of my favourite looks at race days are completely unexpected and out of the norm. Clash prints, colours, textures. Wear flats with a trouser suit or even trainers if you just want to have a fun relaxed day. Dress how you want to and have fun with it.
  2. Comfort is key. It's a long day so make sure your shoes can sustain you without causing blisters and pain. The same goes with your outfit choice. If you feel the need to fidget or check yourself continuously, it isn't the outfit for you.
  3. If you are getting a headpiece or hat made, really take the time to chat with the milliner about what you want. This not only ensures that you are getting the piece you desire, but it makes the milliner's design process much easier too.
  4. Don't think you have to spend a lot of money on an outfit. A dress from Penneys or ASOS can look like a million dollars when accessorised right. The same goes for headpieces; Debenhams and Marks & Spencer have a great range at excellent prices.
  5. Think seasonal. Racecourses can be cold places, so wearing a sleeveless dress isn't ideal and when it's hot, layers or heavy hats will not be your friend.

Five options you can buy now

Blue floral sleeveless dress, €39 at Topshop

ASOS Design premium pinstripe suit, €146.55 at Asos

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Matilda midi tiered dress, €300 at Rixo

Nico white set back heels, €64 at Topshop

Phase Eight Sylvia ring detail pillbox fascinator, €46 at Debenhams

To contact Aoife Hannon you can visit her Facebook page here

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