Hats are hot at The Kentucky Derby

A woman wears a hat in the paddock prior to the 139th running of the Kentucky Derby at Churchill Downs on May 4, 2013 in Louisville, Kentucky. UPI/Kevin Dietsch

A woman wears a hat in the paddock prior to the 139th running of the Kentucky Derby at Churchill Downs on May 4, 2013 in Louisville, Kentucky. UPI/Kevin Dietsch

Tomorrow, Saturday May 3rd, marks the 140th anniversary of The Run For The RosesThe Kentucky Derby. I may not know the details, but I know one thing: women will be wearing hats, many colorful, some outrageous and all – unique. NBC’s Today Show featured Al Roker with guests and dynamic duo, NBC Sports team Tara Lipinski and Johnny Weir, donning festive hats themselves, and featuring a Kentucky Derby fashion show of hats by designer and owner of Christine A. Moore Millinery. Fascinators, hatinators, and ‘the-go-big-or-go-home’ styles all seem to have a place at The Kentucky Derby.

But, what is the story behind the hats? Forgive me; not just hats – Derby hats. Apparently, hats have been a part of the scene since the race began in 1875, taking a cue from England’s Royal Ascot Races. In that day, men and women were rarely seen in public without a hat. According to Jim Bolus, author of several books about The Kentucky Derby, the tradition may have been the result of some early marketing efforts of Churchill Downs’ founder, Colonel Meriwether Lewis Clark. Says Bolus: “From the very beginning, Colonel Clark did all he could to attract women to the track. The reason was, if women enjoyed themselves at the races, it would naturally follow that they would encourage their husbands to participate in the pastime.”

And except for minor lapses in the 1960s and 1970s (thanks to the big hair dos of the day and a rebellious generation), the Derby hat tradition still endures. And once again, fashion is more than it seems. What will we see tomorrow? I will be tuning in to catch the event. Oh, and maybe the race, too.

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