In Acknowledgement Of An Iconic Tradition & The Grand “Hats” Of The “Kentucky Derby”

An Icon With History:  The Great Kentucky Derby
An Icon With History: The Great Kentucky Derby

As the grand American Equestrian race date swiftly approaches, an acknowledgment of tradition and the assemblages of high style that unite this event of iconic status deserve focus. “The Kentucky Derby”

Louisville, Kentucky. “Home of the Kentucky Derby”. An American cultural event of high stakes and high style. For certain, the Kentucky Derby, held at Churchill Downs racetrack, is one of the most famed horse races in the world. History paired with tradition. Named “The Most Exciting Two Minutes In Sports”, the Kentucky Derby is held on the first Saturday in May. The thrill at stake of the thoroughbred horses that race along the track at high speeds have captivated crowds for generations. With traditions that date back to the late 18th century, it is interesting to note that this premier racetrack was founded by the grandson of William Clark of the Lewis and Clark expedition, Meriwether Lewis Clark, Jr. Who knew? Meriwether Clark organized the Louisville Jockey Club to sponsor funds to build one of the greatest racing facility, Churchill Downs, after being inspired from travels to England and France’s Jockey Clubs and races. (Of note, it was not until 1937 that the name “Churchill Downs” was officially incorporated). The inaugural race was held on May 17th, 1875 with 10,000 spectators. Imagine! With men & women decked in lavish and classic hats paired with and garments of high style, the donning of hats would continue to evolve into an expected, iconic tradition at the races…

Vintage Acknowledgments:  The Kentucky Derby
Vintage Acknowledgments: The Kentucky Derby
“Run For The Roses” Derby Winner & The Draped Horse

Since 1925 the race has been referred to as “The Run for the Roses” which would eventually reference the blanket of 554 roses that grace the winning horse each year. A tradition that endures to be an esteemed honor. What first began as a bouquet presentation would evolve into a blanket bouquet of red. The tradition itself is believed to be linked to a post-Derby party that Meriwether Lewis Clark, Jr. attended in 1883 in which New York socialite E. Berry Wall presented roses to the ladies in attendance. The start of a tradition? Perhaps a perfect recognition that paired with the “romance of the old South”. Enduring appeal, for certain.

From the onset of the inaugural race, spectators ranged from royalty and wealth within the clubhouse to working class revelers celebrating in the infield along the track. All the while, the event would certainly remain an event that created a visual presence. “To see and be seen”, indeed…

At The Races:  The Iconic Kentucky Derby
Elegance At The Races: The Iconic Kentucky Derby
“Run For The Roses”: A Horse Race Of High Style
High Stakes Style:  The Embellishments Of Hats At The Kentucky Derby
High Stakes Style: The Embellishments Of Hats At The Kentucky Derby
“To See And Be Seen”: Run For The Roses In High Style At The Derby

Of course, beyond the graces of hats on women, a homage to the men that have and will don hats at the races and beyond. An accessory of masculine elegance that will visually endure as timeless classics

Masculine Appeal At The Races:  The Enduring Elegance Of Hats
Masculine Appeal At The Races:  The Enduring Elegance Of Hats

One cannot talk of Derby style without referencing the iconic role of Audrey Hepburn as “Eliza Doolittle” in the 1964 film “My Fair Lady” and her transformation hat and gown at the “Derby”. For certain, the fashionable appeal and inspiration from the past history of the Kentucky Derby was captured. And the oversize hat? Hollywood’s extravagance that was quite memorable…

Audrey Hepburn/My Fair Lady/1964- Inspiration From The Kentucky Derby
Audrey Hepburn/My Fair Lady/1964- Inspiration From The Kentucky Derby

And of the hats of massive proportions and impact that have evolved from the gracious, opulent & gentile era of the 1875 Kentucky Derby? Alas, fashion evolves. Said to bring good luck,the long-established fashion tradition at the racetrack endures. The tradition is also linked to the marketing creativity of race promotor Colonel Matt Winn, also known as “Mr. Kentucky Derby” and General Manager of Churchill Downs. Winn, alongside his father, was in attendance at the inaugural race of 1875. Personal history paired with racing enthusiasm and marketing skills . Winn is said to have “worked to create an event of exotic grandeur that women soon flocked to, coming from both fashionable society and the ordinary working classes. Success in creating an event of grand proportion that fashion and society seekers certainly do flock to. Onward! The “aura of romance around the Kentucky Derby” that Winn achieved has continued today. So it is with the hats of today, carrying a tradition of exotic appeal and honoring the enduring romance of the Southern charms of Kentucky. Of course, somewhere along the way, the hats on women would take on an oversized proportion and would be decked with plumage and details of spectacular visual. However, the tradition of the hat continues. In acknowledgement of the classic hats that adorn men and the wide brimmed “Southern Belle” inspired hats of great proportion, style, elegance and dramatic appeal that adorn the women of the Kentucky Derby….Onward!

Lavish Embellishments Of Statement Form & Proportion:  The Hats of The Kentucky Derby
Lavish Embellishments Of Statement Form & Proportion: The Hats of The Kentucky Derby

A nod to icons of fashion and style…

Timeless Inspiration:  The Donning Of Statement Hats
Timeless Fashionable Inspiration: The Donning Of Statement Hats
Vintage Acknowledgements:  The Kentucky Derby
Vintage Acknowledgements: The Kentucky Derby

Consider the history, the race and the iconic social traditions of the Kentucky Derby. And of course, consider the hat. Perhaps alongside the tradition of sipping Mint Juleps at trackside, the glory of the race, fashionably speaking, is perhaps the tradition of dressing to the “nines”. A moment (or two minutes) at the racetrack that beckons celebration and excitement of life. A cause for fashionable statements of style, indeed. My appreciation of the world of the Equestrian life and the elegance of the horse is enduring but is a life I have only appreciated from afar. An event that brings forth further appreciation paired with a history of elegance certainly deserves focus. An acknowledgment of an iconic tradition and the grand hats that proclaim it….

Onward,

Kristin


“The crowd in the grand stand sent out a volume of voice, and the crowd in the field took it up and carried it from boundary to boundary of Churchill Downs.”
-1883 Kentucky Derby article

“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.”
-1901 Louisville Courier-Journal

And from the merchandising windows of Chicago…

Merchandising Windows Of Chicago:  The Derby
Merchandising Windows Of Chicago: The Derby
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