Ladies Day at the Races
It all really began in Kerry. . .
I actually never heard of a ‘Ladies Day’ until I arrived in Kerry in 1992.
At the time, I was working in the Corporate Affairs Department of Kerry Group and they sponsored (via their brand Dawn Dairies) Ladies Day at the Killarney Races. Initially I thought it meant that ladies got in free, but after a quick initiation briefing, I learned that it was a day where ladies dressed up - and the ‘best dressed’ was decided by a panel of judges, and awarded a prize.
When I left Kerry Group to start my own consultancy, Upfront PR, one of my first clients was the Dawn Dairies Ladies Day at Killarney Races. Over the 19 years I managed this event, it grew from a fun day out where it was a good idea to wear a hat matching your dress to win - into an event that required monumental planning (by both the organisers and the entrants) of Normandy Landing proportions as ladies travelled from all over Ireland (and beyond) to dress to impress to win the title Dawn Dairies Queen of Fashion (and a trip to Paris and later New York).
The high octane glamour and the COLOUR of Ladies Day - as we now know it today in Ireland, originated in Kerry. Unlike Dublin (where I am from), Kerry ladies embrace colour and know how to have fun with fashion. City chic is often very pared back, utilitarian and black, Kerry racing style is vibrant and playful.
Of course, there are critics ...
They contend that the concept of women dressing up to impress each other, and judges, to win a prize, objectifies and dumbs down our gender. I strongly disagree. I personally identify as a feminist, but in my extensive experience, I have seen that Ladies Day events celebrate women, promote the Irish and independent fashion industry and are also a lot of fun. Importantly, you don't have to dress up yourself to enjoy this day at the races. It is as much a spectator sport as watching the horses on the course - and in some instances, just as competitive.
Importantly, the increasing popularity of Ladies Day over the past 20 years, saved many race courses nationally from going bankrupt (as ladies, their friends and family) flocked to win the prize (and even bet on a horse). The positive impact on attendances ignited by the Ladies Day phenomena, was warmly embraced by HRI (Horse Racing Ireland) 'GoRacing', who focussed some of their advertising strategy on promoting a day at the races to new and younger audiences by widening its appeal beyond the action on the track.
Ladies Day also is responsible for the emergence and success of today’s thriving Irish millinery and regional womenswear fashion industry. Back in 1993, you only bought a hat for a wedding (or Royal Ascot) and mostly they were wide brimmed Rivera styled in black or cream. All the dresses were either international labels from BT’s or a 'bought for a wedding outfit' from boutiques with very little Irish designer talents represented. Today, #wearingirish is cool, with many ladies pre ordering their outfits and headpieces especially for the races, - and high street retailers such as Dunnes Stores, Carraig Donn and Penneys also widely featuring, proving creativity, not budget, is the overall winner alright. A good example is the milliner, Carol Kennelly, who has won almost every major ladies day title in the country. She used some of her prize money as seed capital and has turned her love of style into a highly successful, multi award winning millinery business with an international client base.
However, having managed the PR and events for ladies day at the races for over 25 years, I think the ultimate reason they are so successful is that for an admission price of 20 euro (approx), it gives everyone an excuse to dress up, go out, meet friends and socialise in an action packed environment. For economic, social and mental health perspectives, ladies day has grown and evolved because women, men, family and friends - all embrace it.
If you have not experienced the excitement, it is time to go racing . . .
For the past 4 years I have managed the PR and events for the Listowel Races.
Next week we will be announcing details of the June Bank Holiday Meeting which is on Sunday 5th (Ladies Day sponsored by the businesses of Listowel with a €5,000 prize fund) and Monday 6th of June.
Of course, the biggest Ladies Day in Munster, the McElligotts Honda Ladies Day is on Friday 16th of September at the Listowel Harvest Racing Meeting which runs over 7 days from Sunday 11th to Saturday 17th of September. Over 30,000 people flock to the scenic Listowel Race Course on Ladies Day to soak up the ambience, enjoy quality racing and showcase some racing style.
So make a date, and come along and engage in some serious racing, serious fun and sensational style! . . .and contribute to the local tourist economy, national fashion industry and future of the Sport of Kings in the process.
I hope to see you there.
For a full listing of forthcoming race meetings in Ireland, visit http://www.goracing.ie/