England’s glorious summer continued at Sandown Park’s Ladies’ Day, heating the racecourse to a balmy 27-degrees and providing the perfect opportunity to don pretty sundresses once again.

There was also an extra reason to sport your best summer frock, with the popular Best Dressed competition attracting many a well-heeled lady, vying for a host of spectacular prizes. Although this particular competition came with a suggested dress code: outfits featuring the colours of the American flag (that’s red, white and blue) to celebrate US Independence Day, which just happened to fall on the same day.

As Angela had already departed London for the Melbourne winter (unlucky), I called in two of my other race-loving friends, Fiona and Gail, for a true ladies’ afternoon at the track. And because we love a good dress code, we all did our best to represent our friends across the Atlantic. This called for some trawling through the archives to dig up an outfit I haven’t worn in many years: my 2007 Melbourne Cup Fashions on the Field runner-up jockey-inspired polkadots outfit (or just “Polkadots” for short).

Fiona, Gail and I in our best American-themed racewear at Sandown Park.

Fiona, Gail and I in our best American-themed racewear at Sandown Park.

The Best Dressed competition was to be judged by a Lady(ies) of London, but an American by birth: the beautiful Noelle Reno, star of the Bravo TV series, fashion entrepreneur, blogger and socialite (that’s one lengthy email signature!).

Six lucky ladies were chosen as finalists, and we were so excited when Fiona and Gail received the “magic calls” to say their Americana outfits had been nominated as two of the six. They were joined by some pretty pastel retro frocks and elegant, streamlined neutral and black ensembles, creating an eclectic mix of racing looks and making Noelle’s job even more difficult.

The Best Dressed competition finalists line up for judging.

The Best Dressed competition finalists line up for judging.

Wearing a breezy white Jonathan Saunders for Debenhams top and skirt, and a sun-smart wide-brimmed hat trimmed with veiling by Stephen Jones for Debenhams, Noelle was assisted in her judging task by milliner Ilda di Vico, who contributed a beautiful couture hat to the prize booty. Other prizes included jewellery from Hot Diamonds, Molton Brown bath products, beautiful flowers and a much-desired magnum of Moët et Chandon – and this was all for the winner!

We were delighted, surprised, excited and amazed when Noelle announced Gail as the Best Dressed Lady. Gail, who had never entered a Best Dressed competition before, scooped the winner’s prize in an outfit that was pulled together just the night before – proving you don’t have to spend weeks of effort and large amounts of money to create a winning look. The outfit featured a bargain print dress from the Peter Pilotto for Target collection, a hat (made by me) which she originally commissioned for Royal Ascot, coral red suede pumps from The Kooples and a black belt and clutch bag.

Best Dressed Lady Gail McLean (centre) with judges Ilda di Vico (left) and Noelle Reno (right).

Best Dressed Lady Gail McLean (centre) with judges Ilda di Vico (left) and Noelle Reno (right).

Gail's winning outfit comprising Peter Pilotto for Target dress, bespoke Lisa Tan hat and shoes from The Kooples.

Gail’s winning outfit comprising Peter Pilotto for Target dress, bespoke Lisa Tan hat and shoes from The Kooples.

Noelle later said in her blog for Optical Express Magazine that she wanted to choose someone who would “really truly appreciate the prize, another sort of underdog”. She was thrilled to discover Gail was a mother who had never won anything in her life before, with the exception of some swimming titles.

Later that night, as Fiona and I toasted the end of a glorious summer day at Sandown Park, Gail was swapping her glamorous clothes for a swimsuit to compete in her local swim meet. High on adrenaline from being named Best Dressed, she backed-up her win with another first prize that night in the half-mile race. Style and speed – Gail certainly has the perfect combination for trackside success!

Photos courtesy of Sandown Park Racecourse.

By Lisa Tan