26 Wacky and Ornate Hat Creations Found at the Kentucky Derby

Published May 7, 2016
Updated November 7, 2023

Though it’s one of the shortest sporting events in existence, what the Kentucky Derby lacks in length it makes up for in hats — lots and lots of hats.

The long-established Southern tradition started with the vision of Col. Meriwether Lewis Clark Jr, the bulder of Churchill Downs, the race’s historic setting. Clark — the grandson of famed adventurer and explorer William Clark — wanted the Derby to be a high-class event similar to the races taking place in Europe, which mandated full morning dress for men and women.

The Derby quickly became just as much about the fashion as the racing. The hats, however, didn’t really start to take center stage until the 1960s, when social fashion norms loosened up and TV gave women a reason to stand out. The hats became larger, brighter, and more extravagant. As the following photos of Kentucky Derby hats show, not much has changed since then:

Horses Kentucky Derby
Jeff Gentner/Getty Images

Flamingo Flowers
Jamie Squire/Getty Images

Roses Horses
Rob Carr/Getty Images

Matthew Stockman/Getty Images

Horse Head
Luke Sharrett/AFP/Getty Images

Eyes Hat
Marwan Naamani/AFP/Getty Images

Luke Sharrett/AFP/Getty Images

Riding Hat Horse
Dylan Buell/Getty Images

Stephen J. Cohen/WireImage/Getty Images

Old Lady Flowers
Jamie Squire/Getty Images

White Watch
Dylan Buell/Getty Images

Tall Hat
Jamey Price/Getty Images

Colorful Sisters
Gustavo Caballero/Getty Images

Flamingo Couple
Dylan Buell/Getty Images

Horse Stable
Dylan Buell/Getty Images

Kentuck Derby
Jamey Price/Getty Images

Rose Hat
Andy Lyons/Getty Images

Mint Julep
Jamie Squire/Getty Images

Miss Usa
Michael Loccisano/Getty Images for Churchill Downs

Chris Graythen/Getty Images

Pink Hat Kentucky Derby
Jamey Price/Getty Images

Coco Rocha
Mike Coppola/Getty Images

Old Man Buttons
Luke Sharrett/AFP/Getty Images

Harry How/Getty Images

Two Hats
Timothy A. Clary/AFP/Getty Images

Big Red
Stephen J. Cohen/Getty Images

Next, let this video history of hats show you 100 years' worth of headwear in just two minutes.

Savannah Cox
Savannah Cox holds a Master's in International Affairs from The New School as well as a PhD from the University of California, Berkeley, and now serves as an Assistant Professor at the University of Sheffield. Her work as a writer has also appeared on DNAinfo.
John Kuroski
John Kuroski is the editorial director of All That's Interesting. He graduated from New York University with a degree in history, earning a place in the Phi Alpha Theta honor society for history students. An editor at All That's Interesting since 2015, his areas of interest include modern history and true crime.
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Cox, Savannah. "26 Wacky and Ornate Hat Creations Found at the Kentucky Derby." AllThatsInteresting.com, May 7, 2016, https://allthatsinteresting.com/kentucky-derby-hats-gallery. Accessed May 19, 2024.