Head-to-Toe Kentucky Derby Fashion Guide

The Kentucky Derby isn't all about the horses. It has become a place to see and be seen. Follow our guide on Kentucky Derby fashion so you'll fit right in.

The Kentucky Derby Fashion Guide
A fashionable new hat is a necessity at the Kentucky Derby. Photo: Gary Clark

The Derby Hat
Whether you're in the infield or a box in Millionaire's Row, hats are a must at the Derby. They can be simple or grandiose, custom-made or off the rack, just make sure to have one perched atop your head.

"If you don't wear a hat to the Kentucky Derby," says Sheila Nobles of C.K. Nobles, the official milllinery designer for the Kentucky Derby Museum at Churchill Downs, "you'll feel like the woman who wears jeans to a little black dress party."

Trend Alert: This year look for the fascinator, a hot new trend from across the pond, to be all the rage at Churchill Downs. Popularized by royal bride Kate Middleton, these chic, dainty headpieces are made from a simple woven disc topped with feathers and netting and secured in your hair with a comb. One more reason to love a fascinator—they won't leave you with dreaded hat hair at the end of the day.

The Dress
Like hats, dresses are a given at the Derby. But the interpretation can vary, with attendees sporting everything from strapless sundresses to more formal day suits. Your best bet is to keep the silhouette simple, as to not detract from your exquisite hat. And remember to think in terms of layers. The first Saturday in May has seen everything from snowfall to 80-degree scorchers at Churchill Downs.

The Shoes
Churchill Downs's cobblestone pathways and unpredictable May weather can make Derby footwear tricky. The solution? Go ahead and sport those sexy heels, but pack a backup pair of cute flats, too. They'll be a perfectly acceptable alternative.

The Jewelry
Since the hat is the crowning jewel at the Derby, there's no need for large, statement jewelry. Our advice: Let your hat shine as the primary accessory and opt for simple pieces such as an understated strand of pearls or delicate bangles.

The Bag
Derby veterans actually carry two bags the day of the event. One: A sleek clutch for placing bets and mingling. Two: A stylish tote to house all those just-in-case items including the aforementioned flats.

Bonus: The Guys
While some men adorn their heads with 1920s-style hats, at the Derby headgear isn't as popular for men as it is for women. What is in is eye-catching color. Classic seersucker suits, pants in shades of red, green, yellow, and orange, and dress shirts in bright hues are all perfectly fitting for the occasion. Help your handsome fella pull the look together with a colorful bow tie or tie from Vineyard Vines, the official tie maker of the Kentucky Derby.

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