Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Fun Facts: Kentucky Derby Hats, Then & Now

Kentucky Derby Hats and History
Kentucky Derby Hats provide glamor, fun and protection from the sun

The Kentucky Derby is coming up!  Saturday May 3 will see the 140th running of the Greatest 2 Minutes in Sports… but let’s be honest, we’re more concerned about the hats!

The History of the Kentucky Derby

The Kentucky Derby may be a horse race (and we’ll grant you, the horses are gorgeous, and really, really fast), but it can be argued that the real stars of the Derby are the extravagant hats.  Founded in 1875, the Kentucky Derby has always been a place to see and be seen, with fashionable attire at high priority.  Colonel Meriwether Lewis Clark Jr. (grandson of William Clark of the Lewis & Clark) originated the idea of a fancy racetrack after witnessing high-class European horseracing events.  Until then, U.S. racetracks had a lowly, tawdry reputation, one ripe with opportunity in Clarks’ eyes.  Encouraging attendance by upper-class ladies and gentlemen established the Kentucky Derby as not only a major racing event, but also a high-stakes social occasion.

Clothing Trends at early Derbies mirrored those of fashion at large.  Dresses were long and bustled, gloves were a must, and hats were an absolute necessity.  As it was an important society event – on par with a ball – the finest clothing was worn.  This trend continued through the middle of the 20th century; even as styles started relaxing, the Derby was still an occasion to don formal gowns and coordinating hats. 

Hats at the Kentucky Derby

Wearing hats in general had been obligatory; any lady knew it was immodest to leave the house with a bare head.  After World War II, a major shift began and hats became optional.  Indeed by the 1960’s, wearing hats was unusual and quite out of style.  The Kentucky Derby, however, held fast to tradition, and hats remained an integral part of the dress code.  In fact, as the decades progressed, Derby hats have become fancier, bigger and more extravagant. 

Nowadays, hats loom large at the Derby.  Though pretty dresses are still customary, they are positively outshone by the hats.  From sweet and charming, to outrageously embellished, there’s a hat on every head.  Most hats have a large brim, making them functional by providing shade from the sun.  


Glamorous Hats for the Kentucky Derby

Shopping time!  Let’s choose some hats for the Derby, shall we?  SolEscapes has a great selection of sophisticated sun hats that would look stunning and provide protection from the hot Kentucky sun.

Southern Charm is a perfect place to start.  It’s all Southern Belle, with its pretty colors and big bow.  With a 50+ UPF rating and 5” brim size, it protects like a champ, and with soft materials and an adjustable head size, it’s comfortable to wear.  It comes in three colors: pink, ivory, and black/taupe.   Packable.  $42.50 by Physician Endorsed

Belladonna screams glamour!  It has a huge 7” picture brim that flops gracefully around the face.  Made from paper straw, it has an adjustable head size, 50+ UPF sun protection and is packable.  It comes in gold, black or ivory.  $70.00 by Gottex by Physician Endorsed     

Olivia is just the ticket if charm is your goal.  It’s cute as can be with a wide ribbon trim in black or white.  Made from 100% Toyo Straw, it is rated UPF 50+ and has an adjustable interior headband.  $50 by Profile by Gottex

Vivienne brings the drama.  Its downturned 6” brim shades the face rather coquettishly.  It’s made from straw, and the elastic headband provides a comfortable fit.  It comes black or natural (both with a black ribbon trim) or natural with a white ribbon trim.  $99.00 by Gottex  

Audrey is a classic stunner, made of fine Milan straw.  The lampshade shape and oversized 5” brim offers dramatic flair as well as superb sun protection.  It has an elasticized inner band for comfort and excellent fit.  Audrey comes in beautiful colors: navy blue, black and natural.  $225 by Gottex 

Whether you’re heading to Churchill Downs, or enjoying the Derby from home (with mint juleps, of course), be sure to take part in the fun tradition of Kentucky Derby hats!

What would you wear to the Kentucky Derby?

Heading to the Kentucky Derby?  SolEscapes has a wonderful selection of stunning Kentucky Derby hats

Sources:, Kentucky Derby Museum
Image of Columbine Bed & Breakfast by Rich4Art, via Wikimedia Commons

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