Interesting Looks From Churchill Downs

9:30 AM

You don’t have to be a major fan of horse racing to appreciate that the major events tend to double as extravagant fashion shows. The horses remain the main attraction, but it’s become a tradition both in the U.S. and abroad for attendees (and usually the women in particular) to show off some bold, bright fashions. Indeed, to give you an idea, the Kentucky Derby’s own website posted a “what to wear” guide ahead of this year’s race! Any way you look at it, at most any major race, fashion is part of the show.

Granted, horse racing fashion can take on a somewhat costume-like look as well. The name of the game is to stand out as much as it is to look your best, but ultimately this makes things more fun and festive than most other events for which people dress up. Additionally, a race like the Kentucky Derby at Churchill Downs possesses a prestige factor that extends beyond the tracks and elevates the spectators, in a way. A preview of the recent race put things in perspective rather nicely in this regard, stating that of 20,000 thoroughbreds born every year only 20 earn the honor to run this race. It truly does represent the peak, not just of racing but of horse culture. And because of this, even somewhat silly fashion can feel oddly extravagant or high-end when it’s seen at Churchill Downs.

Having said all of that, I wanted to take a look at last week’s action from a fashion perspective and point out a few of the most interesting looks from the 2018 Derby.

Extravagant Hats
We have to start with the most obvious fashion note, which is that the hats, as always, were extravagant, over-the-top, and wonderful. If there’s one element of Kentucky Derby fashion, and really horse racing fashion in general, that’s become representative of the culture, it’s the hats. At this year’s Derby we saw a massive purple hat half the size of the woman wearing it, surprisingly understated (by comparison) plumed hats, and others positively bursting with feathers, faux flowers, loops, coils, and just about everything else you can imagine. They’re not the sorts of hats you can incorporate into your everyday wardrobe, but they’re wonderful to look at is you’re a fashion lover (or a designer for that matter).

Off-The-Shoulder, Knee-Length Dresses
Celebrities set the tone at Churchill Downs just like they do most everywhere else, and in this regard it was hard not to take notice of figure skating great Tara Lipinski. Fresh off a return to the public eye after broadcasting the Winter Olympics, Lipinski showed up at the Derby in a perfectly fun navy-and-white knee-length dress with off-the-shoulder straps and a matching fascinatorget. The look was pointed out in a rundown of Derby fashion for the year, and was a nice reminder that summery styles can still embrace the spirit of the event.

Floral Patterns
It should come as no surprise that floral patterns were all the range surrounding the tracks. This is something we see less of at the major European races that happen a little earlier in the year (such as the Cheltenham Festival, which has a whole day devoted to fashion). But in the U.S., with the Derby being held at the height of the spring season, floral patterns are almost always embraced. For that matter a lot of the hats we saw also embraced vaguely floral designs.

A Color Range
The Kentucky Derby is always a brightly colored event, so it should go without saying that there will be a range of colors on display. Typically however, especially due to the aforementioned scheduling during the spring season, those colors are bold and warm and embrace the time of year. We saw plenty of that at this year’s Derby, but there also seemed to be more of a focus on more neutral colors mixed in. I noted navy with regard to Tara Lipinski’s outfit, and she wasn’t the only one. We also saw lots of cream and off-white colors, some muted gold, and even a good deal of black.

Bow Ties For Men
As a quick note on men’s fashion, we also saw a noteworthy focus on bow ties. This is not exactly unusual for an event like this that adds a playful, southern flavor to its fashion vibe, but if anything there seemed to be more than usual this time around! 

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  1. That white hat with the giant display of feathers is gorgeous!

  2. This is such a fun blog post! I love seeing these fashions that are different from my everyday wear. Thanks for highlighting this.


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