Horse race

Off to the Races! The History of Kentucky Derby Hats

If there's one thing the Kentucky Derby is known for, it is the sheer spectacle of fashion one can see through the sea of its attending crowds.

But where did it all begin? And why?   

Conceived by inspirations in his European travels by Meriweather Lewis Clark Jr. (yes--the grandson of William Clark of the famous Lewis & Clark), he hoped to bring the grandeur and societal showcasing of the races like the Epsom Derby in England and the Grand Prix de Paris Longchamps of France he had fallen in love with while abroad to American soil, and laid ground for the now world famous track of Churchill Downs in Louisville, Kentucky. 

With the Derby and its filly race counterpart the Oaks he also implemented similar dress codes as were required for the European racing, bringing more formal dress and fashion from the high society crowds to the tracks, and ever since the races have been a place to put your best foot--and hat--forward!

What was Traditional Dress Code for the Kentucky Derby?

Following trends and tradition of European horse racing, dress code for the Kentucky Derby was dictated to be morning dress

Morning dress for gentlemen entailed a morning coat with a fetching pocket square, matching waistcoat, trousers, oxfords or dress shoes, and for hats a fitting top hat. Other accessories such as pocket watches, canes and boutonnières were also quite the norm. 

For the ladies, day dresses of lengths primly set longer to as to cover the knees were the initial staple, paired with appropriate jackets, boleros or shrugs to cover the shoulders, as well as footwear that wouldn't be taxing for standing for several hours. Hats topped off the decadent fabrics of the dresses, adding a luxurious touch to their attire with their fanciful feathers and styled brims that carried on an air of elegance and grace.

The Modernization of Kentucky Derby Fashion

As fashion moved forward, so too did trends of what people would wear for the races, including their hats.

As women broke free of the requirement of dresses, the 1920s saw some opting to wear sleek suits with jackets instead to pair with their hats, and men opting for trendy straw boaters or panama fedoras instead to pair with their own suits.

This flexibility of the still rather formal dress code would continue to be something race goers would have fun playing with through the years to come, and with the Kentucky Derby beginning to be televised in the 1960s, more elaborate hats were worn especially by women to steal the spotlight in front of the camera and their fellow attendees even in Millionaire's Row.

From this loosening up of fashion requirements to fashionable fun we get the current modern manner in which people approach their Derby attire. 

"Kentucky Derby is Go Big, or Go Home!" we tell customers, and it's honestly as much fun for us helping them find their perfect Derby Day hat as it likely is for them getting to wear it during the annual event.

It's become a time to really let your personality shine through, whether it be a seemingly gravity defying fascinator or luxurious brimmed hat with elaborate feathers and ribbons, a sleek ivy league cap, dapper top hat, or fashionable boater or bowler. The sky's the limit!

 So if you're planning to attend the Kentucky Derby this year, or even a local party for the big day, why not get started with checking out our selection of Race Ready hats at Hats in the Belfry!