Why Do Women Wear Hats at the Kentucky Derby?

Why do women wear hats to the racetrack? We need to go back to when the Kentucky Derby was established. Back in 1875, the initial Kentucky Derby visitors wanted to dress to the nines. The fashion at the time was large hats.

In the expensive seats at the Churchill Downs, ladies wore classic wide-brimmed southern belle hats, similar to the ones Scarlett O’Hara wore. Men also wore hats; however, theirs were more demure.

Fashion Statement

As is common in fashion today, it’s not enough to be in style but ahead of new fashion trends, too. Women’s Kentucky Derby hats were an opportunity to show off how cutting edge their sense of personal style was. Don’t be fooled, horse racing hats for men were just as important a fashion statement in the early days.

kentucky derby hats

Wearing a hat to the Kentucky Derby is believed to bear good luck! The long-established fashion was started by the women, however, over the last few years, many men have taken part in the tradition as well.

Wearing Your Hat

Wearing a hat is much like getting into costume, you might be pleasantly surprised to see what type of character you become. From the fantastic to the sublime, there are no rules or limits.

Generally speaking, women wear wide-brimmed, “Southern Belle” inspired Kentucky Derby hats.


The hats can be decorated with flowers, feathers, bows and ribbons of any color to express creativity and individuality. You will see hats in all shapes and sizes, as well as some hats exuding humorous themes!

A more recent trend in Kentucky Derby headwear is the fascinator. Smaller than a traditional hat and just as stylish, this piece of headwear has become more popular among Kentucky Derby attendees over recent years.


Recently popularized by Kate Middleton, these chic, headpieces are made from a woven disc topped with feathers and netting and secured to your head via a comb or headband.

They can be simpler to wear than a hat, and won’t give you hat hair.

fancy kentucky derby hats

Hairstyles to Wear with Your Kentucky Derby Hat

Tucked Under Updo

These big hats can create a sense of mystery as to who is hiding under the big rim and big style of the derby hats.

Having your hair tucked up only adds to the allure of the mystery while passer-by’s try to sneak a look. Keep your hair sleek and tucked under the big hat, only reveal a few inches of a bun or curled up-do.

Long Side-Ponytail with Floppy Hat

Kentucky in May can be hot – or humid – or hot & humid.

A side-ponytail is the perfect option for a big floppy hat because you can still show off your long hair and wavy texture but it keeps your hair controlled under the hat – and off your neck for the unpredictable Louisville weather.

Steam-Punk Hatter Hats with Wavy Bob

If you’re opting to wear the mad-hatter style look rather than a floppy hat or fascinator, mad hair is the perfect style. Undone texture like messy waves or a choppy bob look will give your Southern Belle style an edgy twist.


Whether your preferred look is a practical fascinator or a show-stopping chapeau, you can thank the Derby’s English roots — and especially Meriwether Lewis Clark Jr’s trip to Epsom — for the tradition of Kentucky Derby Hats.

1 Comment

  1. Joan

    Excellent ideas. The Kentucky Derby is my favorite time of year.


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