Irmgard Grady of Tracey Lord Hats (right) with the winner of the best hat at the first fashions on the field in 1968 Patricia Murphy.

Irmgard Grady of Tracey Lord Hats (right) with the winner of the best hat at the first fashions on the field in 1968 Patricia Murphy. Photo: Jay Cronan

Patricia Murphy, an elegant 73-year-old mother of eight, took out her lace-edged handkerchief and wiped her eyes.

''It's 20 years since we last met so I had a little cry when we saw each other,'' she said.

Mrs Murphy was reuniting with Canberra milliner Irmgard Grady (better known as Irmgard Lyons, the woman who owned Hats by Tracey Lord in Lonsdale Street and later the Monaro Mall, where buying a hat was less a shopping experience and more a rite of passage for many young girls and women in the national capital.

Irmgard Grady of Tracey Lord Hats (right) with the winner of the best hat at the first Canberra fashions on the field in 1968, Patricia Murphy. Click for more photos

Tracey Lord Hats

Irmgard Grady of Tracey Lord Hats (right) with the winner of the best hat at the first Canberra fashions on the field in 1968, Patricia Murphy. Photo: Jay Cronan

  • Irmgard Grady of Tracey Lord Hats (right) with the winner of the best hat at the first Canberra fashions on the field in 1968, Patricia Murphy.
  • From left, Christine Waring with Patricia Murphy and Irmgard Grady of Tracey Lord Hats with some of the hats Mrs Grady use to sell.
  • From left, Christine Waring with Patricia Murphy and Irmgard Grady with some of the hats Mrs Grady use to sell.
  • Irmgard Grady of Tracey Lord Hats (right) with the winner of the best hat at the first fashions on the field in 1968 Patricia Murphy.
  • Irmgard Grady of Tracey Lord Hats, one of Canberra's first milliners.
  • Irmgard Grady of Tracey Lord Hats.
  • Irma Grady (formerly Irma Lyons) of Tracey Lord Hats, helps a customer with a selection of hats.
  • Tracey Lord Hats when it was in the Monaro Mall.

''I always remember Mrs Lyons' gentle smile and graceful hands as she placed a hat on my head. It is something I still vividly recall with joy,'' Mrs Murphy said.

And the pair can claim a place in Canberra's racing history. Mrs Murphy won best hat with a stylish Tracey Lord creation in about 1968, believed to be the first fashions on the field in Canberra, judged by style maven Maggie Tabberer and hosted by Stuart Wagstaff.

Mrs Murphy won $27. This year's total prize pool for the Black Opal Stakes fashions on the field will dwarf that, with almost $40,000 in cash and prizes across four categories. The record prize pool of $36,000 will be distributed at the March 9 meeting for classic ladies racewear, classic men's racewear, millinery and classic couples racewear.

For Mrs Murphy, of Queanbeyan, a hat always completed an outfit. Mrs Lyons made about 100 hats for Mrs Murphy, her mother Patricia O'Malley and her daughters. She wore one to her wedding to lawyer Philip Murphy in 1967. Mrs Murphy was pregnant when she won best hat at the races and will always remember the thrill.

''I was just blown away,'' she said. ''It's a wonder I didn't have the confinement there at the racecourse.''

Mrs Lyons, originally from Germany where she learnt millinery, came to Canberra in 1954 and married Kevin Lyons who had the hat shop originally in Lonsdale Street. It was named after Grace Kelly's character in High Society.

''It was just before the Queen's visit to Australia and he was almost sold out of hats,'' she said.

Now 82, Mrs Lyons married Vincent Grady after her first husband died from dengue fever caught during World War II, but everyone knows her as Mrs Lyons. She lives in Campbell where the gold gilt-edged mirror from the shop now hangs in the hall and a print of a woman looking at hats, also from the shop, is in the living room.

Mrs Lyons and Mrs Murphy were reunited by chance through a mutual acquaintance and another well-known Canberra milliner, Christine Waring, who collects Tracey Lord hats, saying they inspired her own work.

The two last met in 1993 when Mrs Murphy's daughter Penelope married, and Mrs Lyons made a hat for them both. Mrs Lyons believes they were the last hats she made before she closed the shop.

''You use a lot of your own ideas in the designs, to shape them. Whatever suits the customer, you've got to keep that in mind,'' she said.

■ Tracey Lord hats will be displayed at the Black Opal Stakes at Thoroughbred Park on March 9.