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Proper Attire at the Kentucky Derby

by Tom Ryan, studioD

The Kentucky Derby has long been an institution that encourages and celebrates opulent style. The race was first conceived as an event where attendees could indulge in luxurious, ostentatious comfort and style, and that emphasis lives on more than a century later. While Derby attire consistently reflects the style of the time period, a look that combines timeless appeal and a little showiness gives you just the right amount of flair.

Show Your Colors

The Kentucky Derby takes place in Louisville in the heart of spring on the first Saturday in May, so it's the ideal time to shed cool-weather colors and show off a lighter, brighter look. Both men and women are free to indulge in richer, louder color combinations than they would choose on any other day -- from bright and vibrant oranges and blues to casual pastel patterns, virtually nothing is off-limits as long as it's colorful. For a look that isn't so loud, stick to white with a few splashes of color, like a white suit with baby blue pinstripes.

Be Weather-Wise

The weather at the Kentucky Derby can be unpredictable -- some years the temperatures are frigid, while other times, they climb to higher than 80 degrees Fahrenheit. Tailor your outfit based on the weather predictions so that you're prepared. If the weather looks sweltering, go with fewer layers, like an unlined seersucker suit or a dress with a higher hemline. If the day looks a bit chillier, warm up with classic Derby accessories, like elbow-length gloves for women or a colorful sweater vest for men.

The Hat's the Thing

One staple of the Kentucky Derby that no woman should be without is the traditional hat. Though wearing a hat is traditional, the hat's style is anything but -- in some cases, the more ostentatious, the better. Large, colorful and wide-brimmed hats are a Kentucky Derby icon, and many women choose to customize their look by adorning their hats with accessories like bows, ribbons, feathers and flowers. While you don't have to make such a bold statement with your hat -- a simple wide-brimmed style will do the trick-- don't be surprised if you see some larger-than-life head gear at Churchill Downs.

Go Light on Extras

Don't forget to accessorize for your day at the Kentucky Derby. For men, classic accessories include thick-woven belts and neckties or even a bow tie. Women have more options but generally should let the dress and the hat do the majority of the work. Keep jewelry to a minimum so as not to distract from your other accessories, but it's smart to carry a canvas tote bag to carry the day's essentials -- including a pair of flats, in case you have difficulty navigating the downs in heels.

About the Author

Tom Ryan is a freelance writer, editor and English tutor. He graduated from the University of Pittsburgh with a degree in English writing, and has also worked as an arts and entertainment reporter with "The Pitt News" and a public relations and advertising copywriter with the Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh.

Photo Credits

  • Stephen Cohen/Getty Images Entertainment/Getty Images