BIG, colorful hats! Derby fashion parade.

Colonel Meriwether Lewis Clark, Jr., the founder of the Kentucky Derby — click to read my post on Austen Authors for more on thoroughbred horse racing — modeled the race after European-style racing events like the Royal Ascot and Derby at Epsom Downs. In the past, and still to this day, the English races mandated formal dress for men and women, including hats. When the Kentucky Derby began in 1875, American women, like their cousins across the pond, wore their finest garments to the races. Of course, dressing properly in the latest fashion was typical in those days, especially for the upper classes who attended the exclusive thoroughbred races. And, until very recent decades, hats were an accoutrement as required as a pair of shoes!

Fashion in America has changed, with headwear practically unheard of in a casual setting and rare for formal attire. Women wearing hats is slightly more common in the more traditional South, and no where is this carryover as prevalent than at the Kentucky Derby!

Derby goers take the custom to an entirely new level. The majority are ornate, colorful, exquisitely crafted, classy if ostentatious, and very BIG. Some are moderately sized and decorated, but whatever the size, typically wearers choose a hat to compliment their garments and with beauty in mind. Not all, however! There are an increasing number of Derby attendees who swing toward the ridiculous or bizarre.

On Google and Pinterest there are hundreds of examples of Derby hats. Limiting myself was very difficult! Enjoy the collage below, and vote on your favorite “beautiful Derby hat” and the “most ridiculous” sample.

Derby hat collage




Sharon Lathan

Sharon Lathan is the best-selling author of The Darcy Saga, a ten-volume sequel series to Jane Austen’s Pride & Prejudice.

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Love hats. Interesting article. Wouldn’t mind owning a couple of these beauties myself.

Stephanie Bilodeau

I love hats also! I collect vintage hats and wear them to church every Sunday. I have a friend at church and we see who can wear the best hat. As far as favorites in the pictures, I like the pink one with the roses and for ridiculous, the drink one. I’ve been to the Derby twice and the best part about going is definitely wearing the hat!

Stephanie L

I love hats. Absolutely love hats. If I could wear one all day every day, it would be awesome. With that said, I agree, they are just not that common and people tend to think I’m trying to hide because I wear hats so much. I really like several of those pictured. I think my favorites are the one in the center of the top row with the black and white feathers and red roses as well as the purple and white one in the next to bottom row. Ridiculous HAS to go to the one with, uh, food on a plate as a hat. Closely followed by the Barbie cake hat. LOL Oh I love the hats. Not so much for horse racing, I would go just to look at the hats. sigh Oh, and have a julep. =D

Stephanie L

Also wanted to add that the butterfly one that one of the princesses is wearing in the photos at the top of the page is incredible to look at! I saw a photo of it another time and it’s just incredibly well done if a little much.

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