Hats Off to the Kentucky Derby

by Miranda Hilderbrand

Where can you combine a day at the races, sipping Mint Juleps and THE hat fashion event in the United States? The Kentucky Derby, of course! Alternatively referred to as “the most exciting two minutes in sports”, it is undoubtedly one of the most famous horse races in the world. Occurring this year on May 4, it is expected that 150,000 people will attend the races, which doesn’t even begin to factor in the many spectators at literally thousands of Derby screenings, events and parties. While the race is the main attraction for the event, it is without question the hats that truly steal the show.

The first Kentucky Derby race took place in 1875 at Churchill Downs in Louisville, Kentucky. The race always takes place on the first Saturday in May. Louisville residents, out-of-towners, celebrities, presidents and even members of the Royal Families flock to watch thoroughbred horses compete along a 1.25 mile racetrack.

Since it’s beginning, the Kentucky Derby has always been a high society fashion event as well as a race. Derby founding father, Colonel M. Lewis Clark Jr., envisioned a racing environment that was both comfortable and extremely luxurious. Opulent dress has very much played a large role in the history of the event. For the social elite of the late 19th and early 20th century, the Kentucky Derby was an opportunity to see and be seen in the latest of fashions with hats as the crowning glory of the event. In fact, to find a lady without a hat during the event was almost considered a scandal, not just a mere fashion faux pas.

The term “Derby Hat Parade” is used to refer to the mass sea of stylish and elegant hats that are seen at Churchill Downs during the races. This is an event where you want to be noticed, so when choosing a Kentucky Derby hat, it is best to be as original as possible. In most cases, the hat is the main part of the woman’s attire. It is very difficult to be considered over-the-top in your hat choice, so the wider the brim and the brighter the colors, the better. Most hats you see are adorned with flamboyant embellishments including feathers, flowers, bows, ribbons, tulle or all of the above. Many women pair their hats with a simple, matching cocktail dress.

Of course, we cannot forget about the male attendants of the Kentucky Derby. Men’s hat fashion at the event is usually more understated and classic. You will more often than not see hats that are solid in color and take their inspiration from the 1920s. A man cannot go wrong with a classic Panama hat or even a traditional bowler, or derby, as it is known on this side of the pond. Men can also go a bit more unique with a classic Boater hat or even a straw top hat. And gentlemen, do not be afraid to embellish your hat as well, be it with a unique hat band or even a fun feather to match your suit.

Hatbox: A Modern Haberdashery looks forward to and prepares for the Kentucky Derby every year. We carry hats from many renowned milliners around the world, including Nigel Rayment and Louise Green as well as Austin’s own milliner, Milli Starr. We offer custom fittings and can assist you in selecting the perfect hat to accentuate your outfit, shoes and accessories. So prepare yourself with your very own unique hat and enjoy your day at the races.