Dubbed “The Greatest Two Minutes in Sports”, the Kentucky Derby is more than just an event—it’s become a fashion movement, and the evidence lies in the modish and dynamic hats Southern belles wear on the first Saturday in May, each year.
It all began in 1875 with the builder of Churchill Downs—the venue for the Kentucky Derby—Colonel Meriwether Lewis Clark Jr. He would seek to create buzz around the races by attracting high-end clients with the help of upper-class women, dressed to impress, literally, and it worked.
That’s right, as 20 thoroughbreds along with their jockeys gear up for an exhilarating race, men and women set the stands ablaze with not only their cheers, but the latter donning some of the most high-fashion looks, hats being a major part of that. Since then, as the Derby grew in popularity and fashion rules became less rigid worldwide, the hats grew in size and variety.
Decades later, ladies still show up to the event clad in the best of the best, decorating their headpieces with feathers, bows, ribbons, and other stylish embellishments, spawning the renowned and highly sought after fascinator, and other elaborate hat designs.
When fancier outfits are chosen for the occasion, ladies opt for simpler headpieces, calling upon the classic wide-brimmed sun hat and topping it all off with a flower or bow for a more stylish finish.
While observed as a Kentucky tradition, if you thought this fashion statement was only celebrated within Churchill Downs, you’re quite mistaken. Hollywood celebrities and even members of the United Kingdom’s royal family have long debunked that myth. They’ve embraced wide-brimmed hats and fascinators as part of their outfits, with Queen Elizabeth herself gracing the Kentucky Derby in 2007, donning a lime green hat, laced with a fuchsia bow—so you know, it’s a pretty big deal.
Nevertheless, the style of hat a woman wears all depends on the look she’s going for. She may want to appear bold and vibrant, fascinating the crowd while stirring up media attention, or she may prefer a more subtle approach with delicately designed features, more often found in the classic wide brim derby hat.
Rising to the task are master milliners. New York’s very own, Christine Moore, comes to mind—out of Manhattan Mall, she has created some of the Kentucky Derby’s finest hats, woven in styles that render her clients speechless before they proceed to praise her talent online. Yes, millinery is thriving like never before, and the Kentucky Derby is one of the places where it all comes to life.