From Bowlers to Fascinators, Your Steeplechase Hat

Apr 06, 2023 at 02:59 pm by RMGadmin

From Bowlers to Fascinators: The Kentucky Derby & The Hat
Iroquois Steeplechase and Kentucky Derby Season is upon us! And that means it is time to find the perfect hat. Whether you will make it to Churchill Downs or Percy Warner Park, the horse related rites of spring are definitely also about the fashion! But where did this millinery obsession come from? The spectacular female fashion often seen at the Kentucky Derby, is not solely a product of modern times; rather, opulent feminized dress has played a large role in the history of the Kentucky Derby. What Derby founders envisioned was a racing environment that would feel luxurious, reminding people of European horse racing. For a well-to-do late nineteenth and early twentieth century woman, a day at Churchill Downs, especially on Derby Day, was an opportunity to be seen in the latest of fashions.
A journalist from a 1901 Courier Journal stated, “The seats in the grandstand were filled with gaily dressed women and men. The mass of green, pink, red, yellow, blue, all the colors of the rainbow, blending into one harmonious whole was as beautiful a sight as His Eminence in the lead.” 
Nothing is more prominent amidst the parade of fashion beauty than the millinery. The hat has become synonymous with the race’s place in history. In stands along the racetrack, you see ladies flaunting elegant attire with flamboyant hats perched on their heads like crowns. Men accompany their classy ladies, decked out in sharp suits and ties, embodying a look that’s classic, cool and edgy, or bold and flashy. This is the Derby look.
The history of Derby fashion stems from the era of famous long-established races such as the Royal Ascot (1711) and the Epsom Derby (1779) in England. The popular term “derby” was even coined from the Epsom Derby — originally named The Derby after one of its founders, Lord Derby. When these races were established in the 18th Century, the racetrack was a place of not only sport but also class. Originating as a social engagement among the upper class, the racetrack was characterized as a venue where you dressed formally and stylishly, displaying your station in society. Wearing hats was not only the trend in the early years of these races, but a form of etiquette that distinguished classes. As the racetrack quickly attracted people from beyond the upper class, many people wore hats and formal wear to uphold the level of class and showcase their own style. As times and fashions have changed, tradition has remained the same — most notably with hats and fascinators.
The Derby isn’t just any race — it’s an experience that never goes out of style. Every year the hats get more outlandish, more colorful and more expensive. Sounds like an American tradition, if ever there was one! 
Do not miss the “Greatest two minutes in sports!” For more information, go to Whether you make the pilgrimage to Churchill Downs or watch at your favorite Derby soirée, make sure your hat is fabulous!