Why Do Ladies Wear Big Hats To The Kentucky Derby?

The tradition of ladies wearing big hats to the Kentucky Derby goes way back to when the race started in 1875. The founder set up the Kentucky Derby to be like the fancy horse races in England. In those races, ladies always wore their finest hats.

At the first Kentucky Derby, ladies recruited others to come by showing off their nice outfits, including stylish hats. Ever since, wearing a hat became a big part of going to the race. Ladies would pick hats that match their whole look from head to toe.

Over 100 years later, the tradition of ladies wearing hats continues on Derby Day. Now, though, the hats have more crazy colors and wild designs than before. No matter how that style changes, ladies keeping up this tradition links to history in a fun way.

Why do ladies wear big hats to the Kentucky Derby?

Tradition and Southern Culture

Ladies wear big hats to the Kentucky Derby to follow a southern tradition. The tradition of wearing hats to formal events has been part of Southern culture for a long time.

Back then, hats were important to a well-dressed lady’s outfit. They would wear hats to church and other special gatherings.

The Kentucky Derby started copying fancy European horse races. In those races, people had to wear their best clothes, including hats. So, the ladies began wearing hats to the Kentucky Derby, too.

It became as much about fashion as the horses. They thought hats brought good luck. Ladies would pick hats, dresses, and other things that match.

This hat tradition has mostly disappeared but is still big at the Kentucky Derby. It lets the ladies feel connected to their Southern heritage. They get to show off their unique style, too.

Today, the ladies’ big fancy hats are newer from the 1960s. That’s when fashion rules relaxed more. The women celebrate history at the Kentucky Derby by choosing large, elaborate hats.

Elegant lady at horse racing

British Influence

The ladies wear big hats to the Kentucky Derby because of British influence. The founder, Col. Meriwether Lewis Clark Jr., went to horse races in England and thought their hats were nice.

He wanted to make the Kentucky Derby like those British races. So when he started the Kentucky Derby, he had the ladies wear their best outfits and hats, too.

Even today, you can see the British influence in the hats. Many are like hats from Britain, like the bowler hat. It’s rounded on top with a short edge all around.

Other hats copied from Britain are the pillbox, which is tiny and flat, and fascinators, a little decoration clipped to your head. Wide-brimmed hats that keep the sun off your face are also popular.

The Kentucky Derby mixes Southern tradition with British style. In the South, ladies love to wear fancy hats to special events. With the British horse races as an example, hats also became a big part of the Kentucky Derby.

Both cultures coming together is why hat-wearing at the race has lasted so long. The ladies sure do get creative in choosing their elaborate headpieces each year!

Fashion and Style

The ladies like to wear big fancy hats to the Kentucky Derby because it’s as much a fashion show as a horse race. The hats let them show off their nice spring outfits.

When the Derby started long ago, people had to dress up really nicely like they did for horse races in England. Over time, the hats became fun for ladies to stand out from the crowd and try different styles.

Depending on their taste, they can pick hats in many bright colors or more plain colors. Different shapes are also popular, like wide-brim hats or tiny round hats.

Many ladies decorate their hats with flowers, feathers, or other cool things. This lets them highlight their personality. No matter their style, the big hats make a bold statement.

The ladies sure do put in work choosing the perfect hat to match their outfit for Derby Day. They want all eyes on their lovely hats and costumes as they dress to impress at this stylish horse race. It’s easy to see why big hats are an important part of the Kentucky Derby tradition.

Sun Protection

The ladies know to wear big hats to the Kentucky Derby because it can be sunny. The Derby always happens in early May when it’s warm.

With the big hats, the wide brims help keep the sun off their face and neck. This protects their skin so they don’t get burnt.

Staying in the shade under the hat also helps keep them cooler on hot days. The flowing air and blocking sun’s heat stop ladies from feeling too warm.

Experts say to wear sunscreen with at least SPF 15, too. But even with sunscreen, big hats provide extra protection from getting sunburns.

The brim keeps sunlight from making direct contact with the head. They can feel more comfortable without worrying about getting overheated. No one wants to get a sunburn or heat sickness at such a fun event.

The big hats are fashionable and practical to wear when watching horses run on sunny spring days.

Young lady in hat

Good Luck

Many ladies think big hats bring good luck at the Kentucky Derby. Some people believe wearing any hat means good luck, but folks say the bigger the hat, the better. This started long ago when races in England saw ladies in hats, seeing them as good fortune.

It’s thought hats symbolized wealth and status before. Wearing a fancy big hat showed how rich you were. Now, they think these large, amazing hats will make their bets lucky at the Derby. Traditions from overseas and old-time beliefs ended up in the race today.

In 1960, things changed, and social rules were relaxed. This lets hats get more over-the-top crazy. Even now, ladies flock to get the most eye-catching wacky hats that will stand out.

They believe the wilder the design, the better the odds of picking the winning horse. The Derby superstitions have been part of the racetrack for over 100 years.

Fun and Festive Atmosphere

The ladies love wearing big crazy hats to the Kentucky Derby because it’s such a fun, festive day. They get to show their personality through unique hat designs.

Some hats are simple, while others are very loud and colorful. It’s a creative way for ladies to dress up and add flair to the exciting event.

The hats with bright and airy designs really stand out in the crowd. This helps make the atmosphere feel more joyous and energetic. Many hats spark conversations, too.

Folks enjoy meeting others and giving compliments on such amazing hats. It’s also nice being able to participate in Derby traditions. The ladies sure do feel confident wearing their big statement pieces.

Ladies feel happy expressing themselves, whether the hats are simple or over-the-top. They can feel bold, making their styles seen. Most importantly, ladies love being a fun part of this memorable Southern horse race with fabulous hats and smiles all around.

Historical Significance

The tradition of ladies wearing big hats to the Kentucky Derby goes way back. It started in 1875 when the first Derby happened.

Back then, hats showed how classy a lady was. They wanted to look their best for such an important horse race. Over time, hat styles changed, but ladies kept wearing them.

Even now, ladies wear different hats, like big wide-brim or tiny round ones. Their hats might look simple or over-the-top unique. By choosing a big hat, ladies connect to history.

They remember the early days when hats were a key part of the Derby. Back in 1875, ladies felt they needed a hat to enjoy the race properly.

Today, ladies still feel this tradition is important. Their hats are a way to respect the past. And they also like showing support for all the Kentucky Derby stands for.

Whether styles were simple long ago or crazy colors now, ladies bonding over hats has lasted over 100 years. That’s pretty amazing!

Charity Support

Some ladies like using their big hats to raise money for good causes. They put fancy hats up for silent auctions where folks can bid without saying anything. All the money then goes to charities.

Ladies love showing their style while also helping others with this. Another idea some hat makers have is giving part of what they earn from Derby hats to charities too. This supports local artists and businesses in Kentucky.

A few groups that have received donations are Kosair Charities (helping kids), animal shelters, cancer research centers, and more. Just by wearing creative hats and bidding at auctions, ladies feel good taking part in fundraising.

They know the Derby is supposed to be fun, but adding a charitable element deepens the impact. Ladies feel proud helping sickness fighters and local charities within their community.

Sporting chic hats go hand-in-hand with giving back on Kentucky’s biggest horse day.

Ladies watching horses racing on the Kentucky Derby


In the end, there are many reasons why ladies continue wearing big fancy hats to the Kentucky Derby each year. The tradition can be traced back over 100 years to when the race started.

Back then, hats were an important part of looking stylish. Today, ladies carry on this tradition while expressing their personalities. Whether for tradition, British influence, fashion, sun protection, or even good luck – hats remain central to the ladies’ Derby experience.

Through the changing styles over generations, ladies also connect to history. Plus, some ladies creatively use their hats now to raise charity funds, too.

Overall, hats allow ladies to celebrate this historic horse event in a fun, festive way each spring in Kentucky. The big hats will remain a key part of the Derby experience for many ladies.


When did the hat tradition begin at the Kentucky Derby?

The hat tradition at the Kentucky Derby began in 1875 when the first Kentucky Derby race was held. The founder, Col. Meriwether Lewis Clark Jr., modeled the event after horse races in England, where women wore elaborate hats, so he also encouraged American women to don their finest hats.

What are the big hats worn at horse races?

The big hats women traditionally wear to horse races like the Kentucky Derby include wide-brimmed hats, fascinators, elaborate headpieces with flowers or feathers, bowler-style hats, and hats in fun and bold patterns or bright colors. Their large size provides coverage from the sun.

What is Derby Day fashion?

Derby Day fashion refers to the stylish and formal attire worn by women and men to the Kentucky Derby. This includes dresses, hats, gloves, and colorful or patterned outfits for women. Large, elaborate hats are a signature part of Derby Day fashion for women.

What is the difference between a derby hat and a fascinator?

A derby hat typically has a rounded crown and narrow brim that wraps all the way around. A fascinator is a small hat or headpiece, usually adorned with flowers, feathers, beads, or other decorations. It is secured without a hat band and perched on top of styled hair rather than worn and pulled down over the forehead.

What are women’s derby hats called?

Women’s derby hats worn to events like the Kentucky Derby are typically just called derby hats. Some other common terms include picture hats, rose-garden hats, bridal-garden hats, chapeaux, confections, or headpieces. Milliners (hat makers) also have their own names for different styles of derby hats.