2012 Kentucky Derby

Kentucky Derby Hats: Why Timeless Tradition Will Never Fade

LOUISVILLE, KY - MAY 07:  A fan looks on from the stands while she wears her derby hat during the 137th Kentucky Derby at Churchill Downs on May 7, 2011 in Louisville, Kentucky.  (Photo by Matthew Stockman/Getty Images)
Matthew Stockman/Getty Images
Eric BallFeatured ColumnistMay 5, 2012

The Kentucky Derby is all about horse racing…kind of.

The real reason many patrons attend the event and go to television viewings around the country are for the excuse to wear the most ridiculously looking hat they can find.

Whether you consider them a fashion feat or a fashion flop, the hats at the Kentucky Derby are must-see TV.

LOUISVILLE, KY - MAY 07:  Karen Van Zandt looks on while wearing her derby hat in the paddock area during the 137th Kentucky Derby at Churchill Downs on May 7, 2011 in Louisville, Kentucky.  (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)
Harry How/Getty Images

 

Where Did the Tradition Originate?

A derby hat, or a “bowler,” came from England (big surprise). They first popped up in the mid-19th century by a London hat firm. They wanted to protect the heads of gameskeepers (jockeys) that were riding the horses and risked getting hit with branches from trees.

These commissioned hats quickly became a hit with patrons, as it was less formal and conventional than the top hat so many upper-class people sported during this time period while still providing more class than the soft cap of the working class.

 

LOUISVILLE, KY - MAY 07:  A fan looks on from the stands while she wears her derby hat during the 137th Kentucky Derby at Churchill Downs on May 7, 2011 in Louisville, Kentucky.  (Photo by Matthew Stockman/Getty Images)
Matthew Stockman/Getty Images

Kentucky Derby Hats

Since the race began in 1875, women who attend the race are dressed to impress with all sorts of colors, designs and sizes that make them standout among the crowd.

LOUISVILLE, KY - MAY 07:  A fan looks on from the stands while she wears her derby hat during the 137th Kentucky Derby at Churchill Downs on May 7, 2011 in Louisville, Kentucky.  (Photo by Matthew Stockman/Getty Images)
Matthew Stockman/Getty Images

The goal is creativity, and that’s why this tradition will never go away. Consider it a contest of sorts to see who can create the greatest-looking hat without looking too ridiculous in doing so. It’s a competition, and more than likely the main reason so many women end up attending the festivities at Churchill Downs.

LOUISVILLE, KY - MAY 07:  A fan wears a cheese head hat in the paddock area during the 137th Kentucky Derby at Churchill Downs on May 7, 2011 in Louisville, Kentucky.  (Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images)
Jamie Squire/Getty Images

Let’s be honest, how many women really care about Bodemeister’s ability to run in a slop track?

Every year the hats get more outlandish, more colorful and more expensive. Sounds like an American tradition if I’ve ever heard of one. 

 

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