‘’It is all about being and looking comfortable’’

Last year’s best dressed lady shares her tips for nabbing the big prize

Winner all right. Helen Murphy at last year’s Galway Festival. 
 Picture: Barry Cregg / Sportsfile

Winner all right. Helen Murphy at last year’s Galway Festival. Picture: Barry Cregg / Sportsfile

The Galway Races has managed to transcend all other racing festivals in the country and the best dressed lady’s prize is no different. Seasoned attendees at these type of style events will concede that the standard of fashion in Galway is above and beyond what is to be seen at any other track in the country.

Therefore the interest in the winner of the biggest off-track prize at Ballybrit is always phenomenal. It is much more than being about the actual prize, it is an honour to be crowned the queen of style at Galway. Last year’s victor Helen Murphy freely admits that winning the title of best dressed lady was one of the most enjoyable days of her life. Amazingly it was the first time the affable Clarewoman had ever taken part in a competition of this nature. “It was a bit like what I always imagined winning the Rose of Tralee would be like. People were coming up to me asking to get my picture taken with themselves and their children. It was lovely, I have met so many people through it, I still have people who recognise me as the ‘winner in Galway.’ I also have had numerous people contact me who I would not have seen or heard from in years.”

So what are her big tips to become this year’s chosen one? “The most important thing for me always, no matter where I go or what I am wearing, is that I have to be comfortable. You must wear the outfit and not let it wear you. One thing all the judges said to me last year was that I just looked really at ease. If you are tugging at your outfit and just look uncomfortable, it is noticeable and the judges will see that. Another thing is your heels - make sure to break them in, indeed break the whole outfit in if it is new by wearing it around the house for a few days! A good attitude is also very important, enjoy the day and have a laugh and see being picked in the top 10 or winning as a major bonus. I think it is really important to go with the intention of enjoying yourself and having a good day out, as opposed to winning. “

No mini skirts or maxi dresses

She believes there are some standard rules that apply to all race-day outfits. “Keep it an appropriate length. For me that would be to the knee or slightly below. No ballgowns or maxi dresses, I don’t think they are suitable for racing. The milliner Carol Kennelly said to me last year that one of the reason’s she loves Galway is it is all about the hats. You see the most amazing selection of headpieces. Don’t be afraid to experiment with your look, fashion is supposed to be fun. If you are wearing a big showpiece you must keep your outfit and accessories simple. And vice versa - if like me last year, your outfit is the centrepiece of the look, go for simpler headwear.”

Grooming is something that is also undoubtedly very important. “I would always advise people to get their hair done, it just makes it look so much neater, and professionals always have great ideas about which styles will suit a headpiece, so bring your headwear along to the apointment. Most people are good at doing their own make-up, just spend a little extra time on it. One thing I noticed last year was that I had a perfect manicure - my nails are usually in a terrible state but I got them done the day before. I think it completes the overall look. It is the final piece of the jigsaw, and those little extras add up.’’

Incorporating an Irish element into your outfit

The Kilkenny Shop is the new sponsor of the big prize this year and the company is of course well-known for showcasing the best of Irish design and promoting the ‘buy Irish’ message. Speaking ahead of the event, judges Maura Derrane, Melanie Morris, and Bairbre Power have all encouraged ladies to don home made clothing and last year’s winner is inclined to agree. “Reading between the lines you would imagine they will go for somebody wearing an Irish design. There is a separate ‘Wear Irish award’ on the day which obviously covers that, but if anyone was going with eyes on the prize I would say incorporate a home-grown design into some part of your outfit. It might not necessarily have to be a brand which is stocked in The Kilkenny Shop but Irish nonetheless.”

Helen is happily employed as a secondary school teacher in her adopted home in Cork but the big win has meant there are further opportunities to pursue a part-time career in fashion, an area for which she clearly has a huge passion. “It has opened so many doors for me, I have a blog known as Daily Diva Diary - before Galway I had a few hundred followers, now it has more than 7,000. I was doing a little bit of modelling but I am a lot busier with that, I have modelled in more shows and for boutiques. I have also been asked to judge a few local best dressed lady events. It has been a brilliant experience.”

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