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The Fashionable History of Kentucky Derby Hats

Since 1926, hats have been an interesting part of the famous horse races called the Kentucky Derby. The elaborate hats that we see in today’s grandstands have not always been the hats of choice for this event.

The first reference to these Kentucky Derby hats mentions their presence, but the hats were hardly as elaborate as we might see in today’s time. The Kentucky Derby is the only event where elaborate and outrageous headwear is both accepted and expected, but how did this little part of history come into the spotlight?

Fashionable History of Kentucky Derby Hats

The First Kentucky Derby

The very first Kentucky Derby was held in 1875 after a gentleman returned from several high-profile horse races in England and France.

He wished that America had the same sort of high-profile event, so he began to raise the necessary money to build the first horse-race track just outside of Louisville, Kentucky. This man is Colonel Meriwether Lewis Clark Jr., and he poured his heart and soul into the creation of the Kentucky Derby.

The men were jumping at the chance to attend these horse races in England and France, but women tended to steer clear of the track because of the gambling and drinking that accompanied the event.

This was quite a problem for Clark because he wanted the races to be enjoyable for everyone, not just the men of the area. To draw the women to the event, Clark employed the help of his wife and all the ladies of Louisville to position the races as a fashion event.

The Fashions of the Kentucky Derby

Clark’s idea to make the horse derby seem as a fashion event worked. The full morning dress dress code for both men and women drew quite the crowds, and everyone showed up in their best outfits. The women came to the races to enjoy fancy picnics with close friends.

They wore the typical gloves and hats with their fancy dresses. The fancy styles have altered quite a bit since the first Kentucky Derby, but the hats have remained a constant addition to the races since the start.

The 1920s were an era of the flapper styles, but these outfits did not make much of an appearance in the derby. Instead, the era is remembered for different choices of formal suits or dresses, and the hats remained a staple. The start of the 1960s caused the typical derby fashion rule to relax some.

Hats began to step away from the everyday fashion, which led to a huge change in derby fashion. The hats began to have larger brims and brighter colors because people had an excuse to go all out for attention. These are the Kentucky Derby hats we often see today.

Today’s Fashion of the Derby

Today, the Kentucky Derby remains one of the most fashionable sporting events in America. Men dress in their finest suits, while women still dress in the finest dresses and suits. Of course, hats are still seen at this Churchill Downs event. In fact, the Kentucky Derby even draws celebrities to show off their elaborate and beautiful hats.

One interesting fact about the Kentucky Derby hats is the mark they have made on today’s society. There are several sources that claim the renewed usage of these elaborate hats in modern society, especially in England’s royalty.

Though the Kentucky Derby is almost 142 years old, the beauty and elaboration of derby hats still mark the event today. Clark and his wife had no idea that their attempt to draw women into the event would make such a mark on the event for so long.

Janice J. Robinson

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