Snap! When another woman turns up in the same dress
Joanne Sweeney on how to cope with embarrassment factor
In a world where there are already faux pas and calamities aplenty, it's every woman's fashion nightmare – the moment you realise someone else is dressed the same as you.
Whether it's an exact duplicate of that dress you've been saving for a special occasion, or an outfit that's the same shade or style, there are few other fashion moments that can prompt quite such a snigger from onlookers.
Do you brazen it out, befriend the other woman and laugh about it – or do you slink out of the nearest door and head home to lick your style wounds? That was the dilemma that faced former Spice Girl Mel B (38) when she ended up at a post-Oscar party in a virtually identical designer dress to American reality to star Joanne Krupa (34).
And former TOWIE star Amy Child's people reportedly had a word with Heartbeat actress Tricia Penrose's team when they both turned up for a red carpet event in London wearing the same animal print dress.
Tricia declined to change into another dress, so both women agreed to work a voluntary fashion exclusion order around each other for the rest of the evening. Not all women react with fear if faced with such a frocky horror show.
Ulster's own Christine Bleakley and Holly Willoughy filmed a tongue-in-cheek promo for their joint presenting of ITV's This Morning programme this week dressed in the same black dress, while local broadcast journalists Alison Fleming and Tracey Magee also found themselves in the same position recently when both arrived into work wearing the same black dress with a white Peter Pan collar.
Instead of the faux fur flying between them, the women gleefully posed for a photograph, which Ali later posted on Twitter saying: "Glad we both got the black dress white collar memo".
But if you're not sure what your reaction would be if you found yourself staring at a duplicate outfit, here are three examples of real-life fashion mishaps and the best way to deal with them.
The night Joanne was seeing double
Reporter Joanne found herself face-to-face with not one, but two women wearing the same dress at a high-profile media event. She says:
Attending the annual Coca Cola Press and Broadcast Awards is the big night in the Northern Ireland media calendar for journalists and PR people.
This year, I spotted a fabulous Fifties-style red satin dress in Oasis. To me, it was a real va-va-voom strapless dress with an interesting bodice detail and belt.
When I tried it on, it looked really good on me and I felt great in it. It reminded me a bit of something that Dita Von Teese might wear and I love how she is always so uber-feminine.
I thought that the red colour of the dress also made it a real statement number, so I was really looking forward to wearing it. I went to the awards all dressed up, complete with a spray tan and slick of red lipstick, only to find that not one, but two other women had exactly the same dress on. The gorgeous Zoe Cunningham from the Coca Cola communications team was wearing the dress in red, while the other girl was wearing it in black. Well, both of these girls were petite, beautiful brunettes in their 20s and looked stunning.
Let's just say that their dresses were probably a size or two smaller than mine. Zoe and I quickly found each other during the reception and remarked on each other's good taste.
Then, she told me about how the other girl was wearing the same dress in black.
It was decided it would be a hoot for us all to get together to pose for a picture – I suppose, in a way, to show that we were all cool with the situation.
But I couldn't help but compare how they had styled theirs.
One had taken the embellished belt off it and it really looked classier without it, so I was a bit envious.
It would have been much worse if we had shot dagger eyes at each other, but it wasn't like that.
None of us had a way out of the situation other than to accept it, so we were all mature enough to do that. Funny enough, though, I've never worn it again!"
Why Judith Mulgrew and Cathy Martin were both in the pink
Beauty therapist Judith (32), owner of Skin Medi Spa, Belfast, found her style hiccup witnessed by TV viewers. The mother-of-one lives in Belfast. She says:
I'm lucky that I have never turned up to a big event and found another women wearing the same outfit, but I did have an incident recently when it looked like myself and another woman were dressed the same.
Just a few weeks ago I was lined up to be interviewed along with Cathy Martin, who handles my PR, on UTV's The Magazine show, about how some celebrities are opting for extreme beauty treatments, such as the bee venom facials which Kate Middleton has been said to have receiving.
It turned out that Cathy and I both were wearing the exact same shade of coral when we arrived at the station.
It was completely by accident, as we didn't discuss what each other would be wearing.
Cathy immediately offered to go and change into another outfit but I told her that it wasn't necessary at all. After all, she was wearing a jumpsuit and I was wearing a dress.
Still, while the tops were slightly different, they did look really similar –almost the same outfit – particularly when it was on the screen. At one point, the interviewer, Rita Fitzgerald, asked us if we had meant to turn up wearing the same outfit.
It didn't annoy me one bit. In fact, I would see it as a compliment, as Cathy is so involved in and knowledgeable about fashion, so for her to turn up in the same colour as me meant I was on trend.
We were both doing the interview and had something to say so it hadn't any impact at all on what we were there to do but I did wonder what the viewers must have thought of it afterwards.
I have to say, though, as a woman I would be surprised if anyone really took it badly if another woman turned up wearing the same dress.
I reckon that any dress could look very different on one person than the other, particularly on how they have styled it.
And at the end of the day, it's only an outfit – no-one is hurt by it. Just take it as a compliment, that's my advice to other women."
... and what Cathy made of the episode:
"We just giggled about it and once on the sofa we were very relaxed about it as the presenter Rita Fitzgerald simply made a joke of it.
I think we both complemented each other, to be honest, so it didn't bother me in the slightest, even if Judith is younger, slimmer and absolutely gorgeous!"
A doppelganger for Caroline Fleck
The 42-year-old Downtown Radio presenter reveals her surreal experience when a woman who looked exactly like her turned up in the same dress at a wedding. Caroline, who is also a Randox Health marketing executive, is mum to Jack (16). She says:
I was going to the wedding reception of a couple who married in Gretna Green and decided to hold their celebrations at home afterwards, here in Co Down.
The invitation came via a friend and as I didn't really know a lot of people that were going to it, it didn't really occur to me that there was a risk of someone else wearing the same dress.
Well, you don't do you?
Of course, there have been times in the past that my girlfriends and I have accidentally ended up wearing the same style of clothes. But on those occasions one of us will then just decide to get changed – it's no big deal.
But not only did a woman turn up at a wedding reception wearing the same dress as me, she looked exactly like me, with the same hair, the same build and the same height.
When we arrived at the wedding, this woman actually had just got there in front of me and walked in ahead. I just stood there staring at her; I couldn't believe it.
She even was wearing very similar shoes to me and carrying a black clutch with gold detail, just like mine.
It felt like I was looking into the face of a sister from another mother.
It was really surreal, actually quite freaky. People kept looking at us and I suppose wondering what was going on.
My whole outfit cost about £400, so it wasn't cheap and I wouldn't have thought that it was easily available.
The fact that she also came from Scotland but still had chosen the same dress and accessories was also really weird.
It was definitely an awkward social situation. I don't think it really bothered me, but I do think it upset her, as she seemed to try and keep well away from me as much as possible.
Later, after a few drinks, I literally bumped into her as she came out of the toilets and we had a laugh about it. Sure, what else can you do by then?
Still, I did check her out in the dress, which was a black, very tight-fitting number, a style that I'm comfortable with wearing as I'm curvy and not afraid to show it.
I looked at her rear too – but I definitely thought that mine looked much better."
.... and it happens to celebs too
* It's bad enough being compared to another woman who's wearing the same dress as you. But when it's in the national media and the other woman also happens to be pregnant, that's just cruel.
That's what happened to Girls Aloud star Kimberly Walsh last year, when she was pictured wearing the same Zara dress as the pregnant Saturdays' singer, Rochelle Humes.
But now that Kimberly's pregnant herself, at least she knows it will look good with her expanding bump.
* Fashion journalists had a field day in 2009 when Paris Hilton and Rihanna were both pictured out in New York wearing the same dress, a black and white Vera Wang number.
* Joan Rivers on her US hit show Fashion Police regularly gets her panel of commentators of Kelly Osborne and Giuliana Rancic to rip celebrities apart for their styling of the same outfit with her 'Hit or Miss' rating. It can be savage, but not quite as bad as the other slot, where unidentified pictures of women are rated to be either genuine celebrities or genuine hookers, based on their clothes.