On the first Saturday in May, you can count on two things -- warmer temperatures and amazing Kentucky Derby hats. Heck, the Kentucky Derby's television coverage usually shows more hats than horses!
But why do women wear them in the first place? How did this tradition become such a pop culture phenomenon? And how can you achieve the same look?
First things first -- the history behind the Kentucky Derby's hats.
The founder of this race modeled it after racing events in Europe, particularly the Royal Ascot -- Great Britain's most famous horserace, during which spectators are required to wear full morning dress. In other words, they're required to wear their very best, including an elegant hat. Back in the late 1800's, hats had fallen out of favor as an everyday wardrobe staple. In many cases, British women only wore a hat when they went to the Royal Ascot -- meaning that they wanted to make this biggest fashion statement possible on the one day out of the year that they donned a hat.
Luckily, when the Kentucky Derby began in 1875, these wardrobe traditions came across the pond!
Just like in Great Britain, it's no longer customary to wear a hat every single day here in the U.S., so picking out a hat for the Kentucky Derby is extra-special. It actually makes the event a whole lot more fun than if you were simply going in your best dress and shoes. Picking out the perfect Kentucky Derby hat gives you a chance to showcase your inner Southern Belle -- even if you're from way north of the Mason Dixon line in real life!
If you plan on experiencing the Kentucky Derby in person, you'll see that the variety of hats differ based on where you watch the race. Typically, women who sit in the Kentucky Derby's General Admission area wear more eccentric hats, while the women who sit up in the more expensive seating areas tend to wear very formal and elegant hats. However, some of the most elaborate hats can be found along Millionaire's Row -- the box seats attached to the main grandstand where the Kentucky Derby's wealthiest spectators sit.
In any event, though, you can count on most of these hats having very big brims!
Forget about fedoras and other small brimmed hats. When it comes to the Kentucky Derby, the wider the brim, the better! From a practical standpoint, a wide brim hat will protect you from the sun and heat that Louisville typically experiences on the first Saturday in May. However, if you're planning on wearing a big brim hat, take a few precautions ahead of time. Securing your hat with a few hair pins will go a long way towards making sure your fashion statement doesn't blow away!
Of course, a great Kentucky Derby hat isn't just big. If you want to stand out in this crowd, you've got to pay close attention to the details. The very best Kentucky Derby hats come with things like feathers, flowers, ribbons, tulle, silk adornments, and just about anything else you can dream up. In fact, creativity is the name of the game here. There aren't any restrictions. You won't be looked down upon for choosing a hat of a certain color or material, so whether you want to wear bright red sinamay or black straw, you won't have to worry about committing a fashion faux pas.
As an added benefit, a big bold hat gives you a chance to tone down the rest of your outfit -- meaning you can get away with wearing a simple garden dress instead of something more expensive.
But what if big brim hats aren't your thing?
You're in luck! As popular as giant hats are, you'll also see plenty of fascinators in and around Churchill Downs. Luckily, this is one instance where the Kentucky Derby hasn't followed every single rule of the Royal Ascot. Back in 2012, the Royal Ascot announced that fascinators were no longer acceptable under its race day dress code, but they're still entirely appropriate in Kentucky.
What exactly IS a fascinator?
Fascinators are smaller headpieces that are a combination of a hat and a hair accessory. They sit angled on the top of the head, secured with hair pins. While they may be a fraction of the size of other Kentucky Derby hats, fascinators can be just as wild. In fact, it's not uncommon to see fascinators decked out with feathers, ribbons, and flowers just like their bigger counterparts!
Whether you opt for a giant hat or a smaller fascinator, you can expect to pay a pretty penny for a Kentucky Derby hat. Need a hat that fits into a smaller budget? Typically, the cheaper Derby hats come with fewer adornments -- so if you need to save some cash, opt for fewer feathers and flowers. A good way to use an inexpensive Derby hat to make a big fashion statement is to go with a bold color. For example, a bright red wide brim hat doesn't need a ton of adornments to stand out. The color alone will make your entire outfit pop!
In addition to making the ultimate fashion statement, it's believed that wild Kentucky Derby hats bring good luck to all of the gamblers who are betting on the race. This is yet another tradition that makes the first Saturday in May unlike any other!