The Kentucky Derby: The Oscars for Headwear

Showing off outrageous hats is traditional at the Kentucky Derby

Showing off outrageous hats is traditional at the Kentucky Derby

Louisville, KY—While there will much wagering on which horse wins the 136th Kentucky Derby on Saturday, the sure bet fashion wise will be on hats, the signature accessory of the Churchill Downs racetrack.

The annual “Run for the Roses” is to headwear what the Academy Awards is to designer evening gowns. With increased TV coverage that draws celebrities from the likes of Paris Hilton, the Kardashian clan and racecar driver Danica Patrick to the Duchess of York, everyone seems to follow the dress code mandated by Churchill Downs:
”It’s dress to impress day!”

And nothing is more impressive than the millinery found at the race. Whether you have a plumb position on Millionaire’s Row or are crowded in the infield, bare heads are verboten.

If you didn’t have your frilly, flower-decked hat shipped in ahead of time, there are plenty of pop-up hat vendors who sell the outlandish to the stylish to the dapper for both women and men.

For example, Dorfman Pacific worked with the Churchill Downs buyer to create dressy women’s hats in sinamay as well as fascinators. The label for the Derby hats is Scala Collezione, which is available in a range of fashion colors and shapes bedecked with extravagances like ribbons, bows and features. Pink hats are de rigeuer at today’s Derby Oaks, a race that raises money for breast cancer.

Rainwear Opportunity?

First-timers to the derby are advised to be flamboyant as they want but keep comfort in mind, too. Julie June Stewart admonishes in her New York Times’ column to put away baseball caps. “You must wear a hat. A real derby hat! Make sure it fits, it’s comfortable and that is doesn’t obscure your vision. You won’t want to spend the day like a horse in blinkers.”

This year, look for some outré rainwear, rain hats and umbrellas, too, since the weather forecast calls for heavy thunderstorms and an 80% chance of rain in the Louisville vicinity.

Lastly, it’s not only the free-flowing Mint Juleps that might have women rethink wearing their teetering Manolos, Louboutins or Choos. Veterans can tell you from experience that high heels tend to sink into the grassy fields around the racetrack. Adds Stewart: “Ladies, if you must wear heels to the heavens, there are usually men selling sandals outside the track as you hobble back to your car.”

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