Each year you see a colorful presentation in Louisville, Kentucky in the weeks before the Kentucky Derby begins. Long before the first weekend in May (when everyone gathers at Churchill Downs to see the horses race), festivities are already underway. In mid-April, the Derby starts with the Kentucky Derby Festival and includes a fireworks event called Thunder over Louisville, continues with the Pegasus Parade, and ends with the Derby. Beginning with the Great Balloon Race Tour two weeks before the Kentucky Derby, you will start to see men and women wearing colorful hats and clothing.
However, it is obvious that these particular styles of hats and clothes have a history unique to the area. In fact, these hats are steeped in a tradition that goes back all the way to the beginning of the Derby in 1875. In addition to understanding the roots of these hats, the locals in Louisville also know where to find the best ones.
If you are visiting the Derby for the first time, a few insider tips about finding the right hat will ensure you fit in as if you have been attending the Kentucky Derby for decades.
Why do you wear a hat to the Kentucky Derby?
Keep in mind, when the first Derby took place, it was unheard of for women to go out in public without a hat. This is similar to the idea that many conservative Muslim women have about covering their head to protect their modesty. Today, women will choose a wide brimmed hat in order to protect their face from being sunburned. After all, spectators are sitting or standing at the track for hours waiting for the race to begin. For this reason, these days you will see more man wearing hats with a bill for the same UV-protecting reasons.
History of Kentucky Derby fashion
The first Kentucky Derby occurred and 1875 and was, in and of itself, a fashion show of the rich. Just like today, many people that design for a fashion show want to have the most original ideas. In particular, this means wild colors and flashy designs. This also means that, in addition to seeing jockeys in brightly colored silks, you will see spectators in the Infield and grandstand in similar hues.
While many have tried to analyze the fashion scene at the Kentucky Derby, few found much logic. It is also interesting to note that haute couture fashion is not limited to the upper class sitting on Millionaire’s Row. Instead, the people of Louisville, Kentucky continue to set fashion trends and inspire new ideas each season with their Kentucky Derby hats and attire.
Rules for buying Kentucky Derby hats
Currently, it is alleged that there are few places that the luxury hat industry gets so much exposure as with the modern Kentucky Derby. This goes far beyond the idea that any luxury hat will do. Among the fashion rules for what to wear to the Derby includes avoiding neutrals as your main clothing color. This means that your black dinner jacket, little black dress, and tuxedos will need to stay in the closet for this round.
It is common logic in the local community surrounding Churchill Downs that not everyone has a lot of money to spend on new clothing that they will not wear very often. For this reason, some of the less wealthy Kentucky Derby celebrators will wear the pastel clothing and fancy hats they bought for Easter celebrations. They will also wear these clothes again throughout the summer when they attend weddings and anniversary parties.
Due to the hot and humid nature of Kentucky’s weather, the most common forms of clothing purchased are made from seersucker for the men. If there is any logic to Kentucky Derby fashion, it is that the weather dictates what men will buy. More often than not, the hat will match the colors of the man’s seersucker suit. If a couple attends the Derby together, they will most likely have complimentary colors and styles of clothing all while avoiding the “twin” look.
Places to buy Kentucky Derby hats
As always, there is a great deal of controversy over where the best Kentucky Derby hats can be purchased. In general, the one thing that you can definitely know is that Louisville, Kentucky will almost be completely depleted of hats by the time they you get there for the Kentucky Derby. Obviously, many people are planning far in advance for their annual hat and most will purchase it by Easter time.
While some choose the traditional fedora, most will want something new or different. In addition to make-your-own-hat events at local stores, there are also local designers that are hidden and hoarded in Louisville. Regardless, the real secret comes from the people of Louisville. As it turns out, if you ask around in coffee shops in Louisville, many baristas will tell you that there are boutiques in the city to buy Derby Hats. They will also let you in on the secret that many Kentucky Derby hat makers are online at hats.com at the link.