Big hats and horse racing go together like a cold drink on a hot summer day. You may have even seen some at Ellis Park Racing. But why? There’s a history behind women’s derby hats that is still carried on today. Whether women spend big bucks on their race day headgear or weeks designing their own, they always make a statement.

The History behind Big Hats and Horse Racing

Dress to impress

Why do women wear hats to the racetrack? We need to go back to when the Kentucky Derby was established. Back in 1875, the initial Kentucky Derby visitors wanted to dress to the nines. The fashion at the time was large hats.

In the expensive seats at the Churchill Downs, ladies wore classic wide-brimmed southern belle hats, similar to the ones Scarlett O’Hara wore. Men also wore hats; however, theirs were more demure.

The bigger the hat, the bigger your fortune

Horse racing used to be a sport for the rich and elite. In the early 1900s, Col. Meriweather Lewis Clark, Jr. wanted to add some royal flair to the Kentucky Derby by making the races a fashion event for women. During this time, a hat was considered a “must have” accessory. The more affluent the woman, the more extravagant the hat.

As is common in fashion today, it’s not enough to be in style but ahead of new fashion trends, too. Women’s derby hats were an opportunity to show off how cutting edge their sense of personal style was. Don’t be fooled, horse racing hats for men were just as important a fashion statement in the early days.

Video livened the hat stars

Unlike gloves and parasols, big hats never went out of fashion at horse races. The presence of cameras in the early 70s only gave the trend new life. Hats were no longer for the upper-class attendees of the races but a tradition all women participated in. Unique hats were a way to stand out from the crowd on millions of black and white screens across the country.

At this time in horse race hats history, women started to be more playful and sometimes downright silly with their hat designs. Traditionalists still aimed for classy, fashion forward headpieces.

Winna, winna chicken dinna

Whether you think big hats and horse racing is a silly tradition or not, it’s here to stay. Del Mar awards a prize to the attendee with the most unique hat every year. As the years go on, the hats are only getting bigger and better.

Wear Your Best Hat at Ellis Park Racing

If you’ve never looked good in hats, don’t worry. The racehorses and wagers don’t mind what you look like or put on your head. From big hats to jockey fashion, there’s plenty of sights to see at Ellis Park Racing. Opening day is on July 2, so get your hats ready to enjoy some live horse racing.