The History of Hats

The History of Hats

As everyone is preparing for their Kentucky Derby best, you start to wonder about this iconic tradition. You can’t think of the Derby without thinking of hats. From the simple sunhat to the larger than life fascinator, everyone shows up to Derby in their festive favorite. 

So, how did this famous tradition get started and what made it so big that even Queen Elizabeth II donned one when she attended? 

The idea of the hat has been around since the beginning of the Kentucky Derby, with Col. Meriwether Clark Jr.’s decision to model the races after British horseracing whom had a strict dress code for both men and women, including hats. The first women in attendance to the Derby were socialites so it was no surprise when race day fashion became almost as big as the race itself. 

During the 1960s, the hat fashion grew when people started changing up the typical fashion and televised events encouraged people to stand out. Let’s not forget the 2011 Royal Wedding with all of the hats and fascinators on display, giving hats more popularity than ever. 

Now, both men and women are encouraged to show off their favorite hat and as the years go on, the crazier the hats get! Choose from an extensive collection at the Museum’s Gift Shop  and the Gift Shop's online store.

So, the real question stands, “What comes first, the hat or the dress?”

Abby Chism

Communications Intern for the Kentucky Derby Museum