It's the biggest horse race in the world, but let's face it — the Kentucky Derby isn't just about the thoroughbreds galloping around the track. This grand sporting event has also become one of the biggest fashion shows of the year.
Every spring, on the first Saturday of May, Derby goers descend upon Churchill Downs in Louisville, Kentucky to flaunt their outrageous best.
From over-the-top fascinator hats to swishy top hats, cool cowboy hats to sun hats festooned with frilly florals, the spectacle of festive hats is not to be missed. And it’s not just women getting in on the eye-catching action — mens Kentucky Derby hats are no less a sight to behold.
Whether you're heading to Louisville or simply celebrating with a Derby party of your own, we've got you covered with the best hats to complete your Kentucky Derby outfit. But first, we're helping you brush up on your Derby trivia and etiquette.
Run for the Roses
The Kentucky Derby has been held every year in Louisville, Kentucky since 1875. While it has a few nicknames, including "The Most Exciting Two Minutes In Sports," it's most often called "The Run for the Roses," which refers to the blanket of roses draped over the Kentucky Derby winner each year.
The race itself is the culmination of the two-week Kentucky Derby Festival, which first ran in 1935, and features the Great Balloon Race, the Great Steamboat Race, the Pegasus Parade, and Thunder Over Louisville, the festival's kickoff event that holds the title as the largest annual fireworks show in North America.
Derby Do's and Don’ts
Fashion has always been an important part of the Kentucky Derby, but it wasn't until the 1960s that flamboyant headwear became the primary spectator sport. While the Kentucky Derby doesn't have the regal pomp and circumstance of a royal wedding, it comes pretty close — with a sprightly Southern twist, of course. Here are a few things to keep in mind when attending the main event or hosting your own viewing party.
- A statement-making hat is a must for guys and gals, so let your imagination run wild but keep some perspective. When putting together your Kentucky Derby look, consider the color scheme or theme of your ensemble and pick a hat that will complement it, not compete against it.
- Have fun with size and shape, but remember a well-fitted hat is essential. Take a look at our guide on how to measure a hat before selecting your Derby Day hat.
- If you're going to the actual Kentucky Derby, it pays to play. High rollers, celebrities, and other well-heeled folks head to "Millionaire's Row" for indoor dining and premium seats to see the race, while the infield is where general-admission Derby goers can catch the race on the jumbotron, party all day, and flaunt those mad hats.
- Have a mint julep to toast the occasion. The official drink of the Kentucky Derby, this refreshing Southern libation is made with bourbon, crushed ice, sugar, and fresh mint, traditionally served in a frosted glass.
- Keep it clean. Your hat, that is. Should your fabulous fascinator or wide-brim fedora get splashed with bourbon, makeup, or who knows what, don't fret. Consult our guide on how to clean a hat and let the revelry continue.
Derby Hat Winners
You're an original and your hat should be, too. Shop some of the best Kentucky Derby hats for a red-carpet look that will take you to the races in style.
Sazerac by Kentucky Derby Official®
Flowers are a notable part of Derby Day, so why not pick a hat in with eye-catching floral accents, like Sazerac by Kentucky Derby Official®? Composed of gauzy sinamay fiber, the Sazerac exudes Southern charm with an organza flowers that sit above a 9-inch brim. Available in neutral colors, black or white, this hat can pull together any Derby look.
Paddock by Scala
You can't go wrong with a classic boater hat and the Paddock straw hat from Scala hits the spot. Hand-woven Ecuadorian Panama straw is accented with a striped grosgrain band and 2 3/8-inch brim for a look that is dexterously dashing. Pair this piece with a gingham button-down shirt and tailored jacket or a colorful bow tie and suit for a winning combo on Derby Day.
Lady's Secret by Kentucky Derby Official®
Put this hat on and get ready to channel your inner Southern belle. Boasting an over-the-top 7 1/2-inch brim topped with a whimsical bow, statement quill, and matching feathers, Lady's Secret by Kentucky Derby Official® embodies the gossamer glamour of Derby Day. Try it in lilac for a feminine flourish of "flower power" or turquoise for a look that floats on your head like an alluring sea.
Unbridled by Kentucky Derby Official®
When you want a hat that's pure money, the Unbridled straw fedora by Kentucky Derby Official® fits the bill. Bold but not brash, fashion-forward but not ostentatious, this braided hemp straw fedora hat is your ticket to Kentucky Derby excellence. Whether your horse wins or not, your hat surely will.
Camellia by Callanan
If you prefer to turn heads with more class and less flash, look no further than this angular, paper braid straw round crown. Designed with a 4 1/4-inch dimensional brim, 3-inch band, and papillion bow, Camellia by Callanan plays it cool so you can let the rest of your outfit shine.
Dartmouth by Biltmore
You’re the kind of guy who makes a s wherever he goes, so why would the Derby be any different? Biltmore’s hand-woven straw men’s Dartmouth fedora is an ode to older era, certainly, but it’s a modern version of a classic style with its vented crown and layered bow. This is not your grandad’s fedora. It's yours.
There's no doubt that the Kentucky Derby is one of those time-honored traditions that has captured the imagination of people not only in the United States, but around the world. Over the years, it's grown beyond horse racing into something of a hat lover’s paradise for both men and women. And why not? Maybe the race track isn't so different from a fashion runway.
After all, if you think about it, the horses aren't the only ones dashing across Churchill Downs to reach the finish line — women and men prance around the grounds hoping to best each other's over-the-top fashion. Whether you're heading down south or just want to play dress up for a day, check out our full selection of Kentucky Derby hats for women and men.