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Kentucky Derby Hats

Photo_Gallery-Kentucky(4)_t607The Kentucky Derby is the biggest event in high-stakes thoroughbred horse racing and even though it is huge in the world of that sport, it has grown in popularity among casual fans too. Many that don’t normally follow horse racing at all have now found themselves drawn to the event on the first Saturday in May.

It’s not just that Kentucky Derby odds that are the big draw. Yes, that’s important but one other major reason why you will see mainstream or entertainment news outlets at Churchill Downs is the number of hats you will see at the Kentucky Derby. The phenomenon has taken on a life of its own and those who bet on the Kentucky Derby will see more than a few pieces surrounding the Derby hats and their popularity.

Prepare yourself for the week following the Kentucky Derby. You will be slammed with “Best and Worst Hats from the Derby” lists, so sit back, settle in and watch how ladies manage to walk around the Downs while balancing their hats.

History of the Hats


The Kentucky Derby first ran in 1875 and the tradition of wearing fancy hats to the Run For The Roses has been going for almost just as long. Going to Churchill Downs was seen as a luxury, so if you were going there, you were probably well off. That meant you had to be dressed to the nines. Women would go to the best seamstresses in their town and ask that they would be outfitted in the latest fashions and that usually meant a hat to go with their outfit.

As the tradition rolled on through the 1900s and society was a little less strict with what women could wear (remember, they were quite restricted throughout history with longer dresses, etc.), the outfits would get more bold and risqué. That’s when the hats also followed suit. They were not always as loud as they are now but the hats have evolved with the times. Of course, they can get expensive and if you are going to a racetrack that has a place called “Millionaire’s Row”, as Churchill Downs has, a hat definitely becomes a status symbol.

No matter what the style is, a hat is always welcome at the Kentucky Derby and through the years, the creativity that goes into these hats can be almost as exciting as the race itself.

Celebrities That Have Worn the Hats

23Awesome-Celebrity-Derby-Hats-580x435As the Kentucky Derby has become mainstream, we’ve started to see more and more celebrities at the race than back in the day when it was basically for rich women who were connected to the race somehow (a horse owner’s wife/daughter/sister/etc., for example). It is quite common to see famous faces at the Derby now and if you look through the archives, you will see the likes of Jessica Simpson, Latoya Jackson, Kim Kardashian and her family, Chelsea Clinton and even Queen Elizabeth herself has made the trek to Churchill Downs.

Of course, the grand Playboy himself, Hugh Hefner, has made his way sporting a sharp fedora (more on that later) and his harem of lovely ladies were all outfitted in their own hats.

It should be of no surprise that the rich and famous get in on the hat action since these hats can get extremely expensive and over-the-top for something they’ll wear once a year. By the looks of it, some of these hats cost the same amount as a small apartment.

How to Make Your Own Derby Hat

However, you do have the option of making your own hat for the Kentucky Derby if you don’t feel like spending a small fortune on a brand new hat. First, you need a solid hat that you can find anywhere from a local superstore to your friendly neighborhood second-hand store. Think of a wide-brimmed hat you would see women wear to church in the southern United States and that is the type of hat that you need as the foundation for your Derby hat.

Then you can go about picking out what goes on the hat. Usually you would start with a band that goes around the hat and a netting that also goes on the hat. You can find most of this stuff at a craft store for cheap. Then you start gluing on bows and flowers in the color pattern of your choice, and remember, the flashier that your hat is, the better. There doesn’t seem to be a “bad” type of hat to wear to the Kentucky Derby – just a big hat. Like, wedding cake big.

When they talk about the ‘Kentucky Derby contenders’, it usually refers to the horses but there is also a fashion competition that takes place. Remember, you will be competing with women that can afford to buy the biggest and best materials that you need to have a successful Kentucky Derby hat. There are plenty of tutorials on the internet that will show you how to do it yourself or at least how to assemble what you need and give the materials to someone who can construct it for you.

Do Men Have Derby Hats?

Kentucky_Derby_hats_11_t607The hat fashion isn’t just for the ladies, although they are more known for it and they can get away with wearing more outlandish styles of hats. The men have been wearing more understated hats, such as the above example of Mr. Hefner, who was wearing a simple fedora when he strutted into Churchill Downs with his bevy of beauties.

Hats can also be practical, for both sexes, because the race is run on the first Saturday in May, in Louisville, Kentucky. You can bet that it is going to be warm and if the sun is out, you will need to keep the sun out of your eyes. There’s also the superstitious thinkers as many men betting on Kentucky Derby have their lucky hats. Therefore, men have been wearing the hats to the race for a long time; it is just a little more simple than the ladies and they don’t cost a ton of money….tentatively.