Belfast Telegraph

Cheltenham best-dressed winner Una: 'Don't be afraid to mix labels with high street buys'

Coalisland woman Una O'Farrell Feeney was the first past the fashion finishing post at the recent Cheltenham Festival, scooping £10,000 prize money for the best dressed on Ladies Day. She shares her wardrobe secrets with Kerry McKittrick.

Una O'Farrell-Feeney was glad she had spent some time choosing an outfit to wear to Cheltenham races this week having bagged the big prize for the best dressed on Ladies Day.

The Co Tyrone woman, who wowed judges in an elegant teal dress by Danish designer Malene Birger, says: "It's been a surreal time going to the event and ending up getting my photograph taken with Miss England."

And strange it was as Una's image has since been festooning news and fashion websites all over the world.

The 32-year-old pharmacist found herself the winner of the Best Dressed prize at Ladies' Day at Cheltenham, scooping a prize haul worth more than £10,000. This included over £4,000 of fashion vouchers, a luxury leather handbag and a diamond necklace from iconic jeweller, Boodles.

But this wasn't Una's first visit to Cheltenham Festival, considered the Olympics of the horse-racing world, as she accompanied her now-husband Colm there for his 30th birthday four years ago.

Una, who lives in Maghera, says: "Each year we stay in the same B&B run by a lovely lady called Gail. We walk the course and have a bit of breakfast before getting dressed up. And as soon as we arrive at the racecourse we go to the Champagne bar for a drink.

"We like to go on Wednesday and Thursday, the latter of which is Ladies' Day, because it's quieter and calmer. It's just the two of us - it's our own date day."

Colm, (34), is a plumbing contractor and during the course of Ladies' Day was mostly found on the phone dealing with a large order of toilets for his business. Since Una's big win, though, he has been joking that he always wanted a winner in the enclosure - he just imagined it would have four legs.

And while Una isn't exactly a racecourse veteran, having never visited any of the big race meets on this side of the pond such as Punchestown or Galway, she relishes the atmosphere and style of Cheltenham while Colm keeps a close eye on the runners and riders.

"In the past I've dressed up for Ladies' Day but it was always a bit half-hearted, just pulling an outfit together from whatever I had in the wardrobe.

"This time round I decided to put a bit more thought into it because I don't know when we'll be back again."

Una's award-winning dress may have been created by Danish designer Malene Birger but it was purchased closer to home in the Snooty Fox Boutique in Dungannon.

"My dress was a sale purchase but it still cost a few hundred pounds. I don't like to follow trends too heavily and prefer to go with a piece that I'm naturally drawn to. When I first saw the dress on the hanger, though, I was a bit unsure about it. It's not form fitting so I wasn't sure if it would be flattering or not. However, once I tried it on it felt great. I knew instantly how I would style it up and what the final look would be."

Una also credits the staff at the Dungannon boutique who share her passion for style.

"Glenda there is just brilliant. I could talk to her about fashion all day.

"Once I had the dress (for the races) I brought it to Iona Quinn Millinery near Coalisland. I had a good idea of what I wanted - dramatic - but with not too much going on and a little height added. Iona was able to create it for me in about a week and I love the hat," says Una.

She continues: "I paired it with vintage gloves - when I say vintage, my mum bought them for me 20 years ago for 50p from Dunnes Stores. They've been in my wardrobe for a long time."

Despite the fact Una and Colm's families knew each other, she didn't meet her future husband until Boxing night about 10 years ago.

Her brother Patrick introduced them that Christmas and they have been inseparable ever since, getting married in June 2013 in New York.

She recalls: "There were 10 of us and we got married in Central Park. I wanted something very relaxed with not too much of a sense of ceremony. It was great craic and just brilliant. It wouldn't suit everyone but it certainly worked for us. My father had passed away so it could have been a difficult day for many in the family, but they were all there on Facetime, wishing us well."

And, of course, the bride had a designer number after some savvy shopping: "My dress was an Alexander McQueen piece that I found on TheOutNet.com. I didn't want a wedding dress but I did want a nice, white dress, something simple. I loved the one I got."

So what are Una's top tips when it comes to dressing yourself head-to-toe in prize-winning style?

"I like clean lines and a classic look with the odd statement piece," she says.

"I do a lot of shopping online and from season to season. I buy one or two investment pieces and have a few bits by Malene Birger already such as a good leather jacket. The rest I will get from the high street. Who doesn't love Zara? For work, I find a good staple pair of black trousers and black skirt because I have to dress smartly for work."

Una is very keen to be comfortable in her sense of style and once she spots an outfit she likes, she can get creative when sourcing it.

"I was struggling to find something to wear to a wedding recently until I saw an outfit on Pinterest - a strapless top teamed with a blue pencil skirt. I got the top from TheOutnet.com in the January sales, but finding the skirt proved more challenging. In the end I bought some curtain material and took it to a local dressmaker. I was delighted with the result and I felt the colours and shape really suited me."

And when it comes to pricier designer finds, Una says she is content to wait until a sale to snap up that covetable piece.

Despite her love of labels, though, her advice is to trust your judgement.

"Stay true to yourself," she says. "If you like something on a hanger but you're not sure if other people will get it, just buy it anyway - suit yourself and don't follow the trends too closely.

"Try things on because you really don't know what it will look like until you see it on you. Keep an open mind because you can surprise yourself. I love accessories and can keep my outfits really simple then add a statement necklace or pair of earrings."

And this is good advice from the lady who left Cheltenham with the £10k prize.

It's back to normal life now though for Una as she has returned home to Northern Ireland, albeit with something of a fashion haul.

"I got a bit mixed up when going through airport security," confesses Una. "I didn't know what was in what bag and the woman who searched my bags kept asking me if there was anything else in my bag. It took me a good few minutes to realise there was a diamond necklace in there."

Style tips

  • Una’s winning dress was created by designer Malene Birger whose outfits have been seen on Kate Middleton, Cheryl Fernandez-Versini, Reese Witherspoon and Kim and Khloe Kardashian
  • Be your own stylist and don’t be afraid to mix designer pieces with high street finds
  • Sale shopping is a great way to get that must-have designer outfit you couldn’t otherwise afford. Scour outlet stores here and online
  • Find fashion inspiration outside of the trends, wear what you think looks good on you
  • Not sure about an outfit? Try it on so you can see how it suits your bodyshape
  • Be comfortable, there is no need to suffer to look good

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