Derby Fashion–A Race To Be Chic

While most people think the race is on the track, fashionistas work to give the horses a run for their money.

This weekend marks the 139th year of the Kentucky Derby at Churchill Downs in Louisville, Kentucky–aka the “Run for the Roses” and “the most exciting two minutes in sports”. The Derby is also synonymous with trendy style.

Wearing a hat to the Kentucky Derby is believed to be good luck and though the dresses would have been more demure in the past, the idea of showing off the latest Spring look is still paramount—and it’s all about the hats.

When Colonel M. Lewis Clark Jr., (the founding father of the Kentucky Derby), envisioned a racing environment, he imagined a setting that would feel both comfortable and luxurious, an event harkening back to the days of European horse racing.

Clark sought  to transform American racetracks from places associated with immorality and vice to venues that might attract a wealthier, more noble set. With the help of his wife, he went on a door-to-door campaign throughout Louisville, Ky. to convince his target clientele that the new race track was in fact a place for the well-heeled.

While it would be a few years before the first international celebrity would attend the race, Clark’s wife made an impact and paved the way for the Derby to be as much about the fashion as the racing.

“Women coordinated their hats, dresses, bags, their shoes and their parasols,” said Ellen Goldstein, a professor at the Fashion Institute of Technology.

Today the media takes great interest in who attends the race and what they were wearing. National newspapers publish dizzying lists of the notable spectators and their guests, devoting as much ink to the fashion as to the race itself.