Headwear at the Kentucky Derby: From Larger-than-Life Fascinators to Caps Worn with Pride

The Kentucky Derby is known for its rich traditions, from sipping mint juleps to the singing of “My Old Kentucky Home.” The traditions even span to the apparel donned at the event with hats positioned as the pinnacle of race day fashion. The Kentucky Derby Museum explains, “You can’t think of the Derby without thinking of hats.”


Those in attendance at the first Kentucky Derby in 1875 were expected to wear full morning dress, the formal dress code for day attire at social season events. As mandated by the period’s dress codes, both men and women would have worn a hat to the race. Yet, the extravagant hats we know today didn’t make an appearance until around the 1960s when social fashion norms loosened. As the races became televised, headwear was used to stand out on the screen. Today, you’ll see a mixture of hats, from simple sunhats to bold fascinators and understated fedoras to colorful top hats.


There’s no denying that hats are a fashion statement, but they can also be so much more. Hats can be used as an expression of identity and pride. Just look to those affiliated with a particular horse. You’ll often find them wearing a custom hat that celebrates their association with a contender. These hats tend to feature the horse’s name embroidered on the front panels while the side panels and back of the cap feature a mix of silks, farms, training centers or sales agencies related to the horse. The final product is a representation of connections that had a hand in a horse’s success. To those within the equine industry, these custom hats hold special value. Through decoration, common caps transform into commemorative apparel that marks a special moment.


Hats aren’t just a fashion statement, they are also a tool. A tool to express one’s identity, passions and associations. A tool to remember a remarkable occasion. A tool used to communicate pride.


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