Art of the Kentucky Derby Hats

Derby day is about more than horse racing, betting, and mint juleps – it’s also about fashion, most notably in the form of hats. It’s an occasion where race-goers can show off true pieces of art, and where the artists, or milliners, behind these hats can showcase their creations on an ever-popular stage.

These days, there aren’t many occasions that call for the grandness that are exhibited by Derby hats, and the tradition of the Derby hat is one of the most alluring facets of wearing these art forms.

Many times, Derby hats are passed down from generation to generation, known as valued family heirlooms that have a story all their own; some even end up on display at the Kentucky Derby Museum at Churchill Downs. These one-of-a-kind hats are known for their glamour, whimsy, and detail, and are the icing on the cake when it comes to Derby Day fashion.

Gary Stevens riding out onto the track at the ...

Gary Stevens riding out onto the track at the 2005 Kentucky Derby race on Noble Causeway (trained by Nick Zito) at 12-1. He would lose to Mike Smith aboard Giacamo (50-1) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Boasting such details as feathers, silk bows, and flowers, Derby hats range from mysterious wide-brimmed creations that sweep across the face to stylish fascinators that perch atop the head. What’s behind the creation of these works of art? Hours and hours of master craftsmanship for clients that have one thing on their mind: wowing the crowd on Derby day. These hats can cost thousands of dollars, depending on the materials, design, and level of craftsmanship.

Most Derby day clients buy a new hat every year, as many race-goers would never wear the same hat twice. Milliners frequently create custom hats for clients they never meet, exchanging e-mails, pictures of outfits, and swatches of material with which to match the hat. Some milliners even feature online features that enable clients to “try on” their Derby hats virtually, or show the progress behind the creation of that client’s hat.

Many hats are created to suit the personality of their owners, which can prove to be an inspiring, exciting process. On Derby day, the Derby hat is not just an accessory, but a true extension of its wearer, mirroring confidence, attitude, and style.


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