It’s simply not Derby Day without the proper hat

It's not Derby Day without the proper hat!


The Kentucky Derby is just days away!

Anyone who has ever attended the Kentucky Derby knows that for the serious gamblers in the crowd, it’s all about the horses. For the fashionistas, however, it’s all about the hats.

Where did the tradition of the Derby Hat originate?

Oversized, beribboned, adorned with feathers or flowers, colorful Kentucky Derby hats are a long-standing tradition at Churchill Downs.

According to author Emily Feldman in A Brief History of the Kentucky Derby’s Most Famous Accessory, “The story of Kentucky Derby hats — the wide-brimmed, straw fashion statements that ride into Churchill Downs each year atop the heads of well-heeled spectators — is a story of American enterprise.

Col. Meriwether Lewis Clark Jr., the founder of the Kentucky Derby, probably did not envision his success in terms of feathered hats and fascinators. But transforming the racetrack [in the 1870s] from a place of ill-repute to place of high-society—and therefore high fashion—is precisely what he had in mind.”

Ascot GavoteIn fact, horses and hats are a historic pairing that stretches far beyond America’s Kentucky Derby. Europe’s top equestrian events, from London’s Epsom Derby to Paris’ Grand Prix have always attracted a posh, well-dressed crowd. And, the stunning image of Audrey Hepburn, right, balancing her enormous black and white chapeau at Ascot in the classic My Fair Lady is only slightly exaggerated.

What are the cost of Derby Day hats? 

Ladies who wish to stand out in a crowd with a showstopping hat will have to “pony up.”  These stunning chapeaux can be pricey!

Custom hat-making process is labor intensive. Custom made Kentucky Derby hats can cost between $300 and $500. Depending upon embellishments, design and materials, the cost can creep upward to as much as $2,000.

But, if you want serious style this Derby Day, you don’t have to spend quite that much. It just may take a bit of searching. And frankly, purchasing a hat is a little like falling in love. Sometimes the appeal isn’t instantly apparent to the outside observer!

How to choose the perfect Kentucky Derby hat

First, large brimmed straw hats are not only beautiful, they are practical as well. Throw on a wide-brimmed hat and — Volia! — instant sophistication. Plus, large brimmed straw hats offer great protection from the sun’s rays on a bright day.

Next, I love a seriously glamorous hat. A simple suit or dress you’ve worn many times suddenly has new life with the addition of a chic topper. Just don’t forget the bobby pins!

Last, America has (finally!) embraced the fascinator. Popular in this country for years with the on-so-fashionable Sarah Jessica Parker, the fascinator has been a staple of the British wardrobe forever. A fascinator is really nothing more that a tiny confection perched atop the head, most often embellished with feathers. (A bonus – it won’t obstruct the view of racegoer seated behind you.)

Whatever type of hat you choose this Derby Day, get shopping now. Great hats go quickly as the event approaches!

Your guide to a life filled with STYLE! Susan Conforte McNeill is a wife, mother, author, entrepreneur, Harper’s BAZAAR Style Ambassador and Cover Girl Ambassador. Susan Said…WHAT?! was named one of the Top 50 Beauty Blogs in the World by in 2015. Susan is also the co-founder of the literacy organization Success Won’t Wait! Read more about her in Family Circle Magazine.

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