Every year, on the first Saturday in May, the Kentucky Derby offers an opportunity for fashion-minded folks to display their flashiest attire. From Millionaire’s Row to the infield at Louisville’s Churchill Downs, fashion is fun at the Kentucky Derby.
Celebrities, dignitaries, politicians, star athletes and others don fancy attire, topping their ensembles with festive hats for the Kentucky Derby, the Run for the Roses, on the first Saturday in May.
In fact, some of the Kentucky Derby guests may draw nearly as much attention as the perfectly polished star race horses on the track.
What do folks wear to the Kentucky Derby?
Like much of modern society, the choice of fashion attire by Kentucky Derby guests may be perceived as a matter of social status. Right or wrong, the Churchill Downs visitors with tickets to the priciest spots in the historic Louisville horse racing venue generally pull out all the stops for Derby Day style. Down on the infield, a more casual approach to fashion may be seen.
What is the common denominator in Kentucky Derby fashions?
No matter where a Kentucky Derby guest may be headed, within the boundaries of Churchill Downs, he or she will likely sport a hat of some sort. From fancy plumed chapeaux to spiffy derbies to wide-brimmed straw hats to sporty baseball caps, festive headwear is the order of Derby Day.
Here’s a basic guide to the traditional dress codes for the Kentucky Derby.
Kentucky Derby fashion guide: Churchill Downs private seating areas
Churchill Downs guests possessing tickets for reserved seating areas (such as the clubhouse, dining rooms, grandstand, hospitality sections and private suites) are expected to dress up for Derby Day.
Ladies may wear fancy dresses, separates or suits. Although black-tie formality is not needed, Derby Day fashions may be bright, festive and stylish. From sundresses to skirt sets, women’s Kentucky Derby fashions tend to be cheery, colorful and classy.
Women may choose stylish high heel shoes for the Kentucky Derby, although many veteran Derby Day attendees suggest that they pack an extra pair of comfortable shoes for the day as well.
Fashion accessories add interest to Derby Day styles for women. Blingy bangles, bright brooches, beautiful beads and other adornments are popular at Churchill Downs.
Of course, a lady’s Kentucky Derby outfit is not complete without a hat, which may be quite ornate or simply frilly and feminine. In fact, plenty of Derby Day guests spend more money on their hats than on the rest of their fashion ensembles – or build their entire outfits to go with their hats. Feather plumes, flowers, scarves, sequins and other adornments are the usual fare for ladies’ Kentucky Derby hats.
Some Derby Day hats are outright outrageous, making demonstrative fashion statements.
Men may don suits, or they may select blazers or sport coats with trousers for the Kentucky Derby. Collared dress shirts are appropriate for Derby Day, usually with bow ties, ascots or traditional neckties. Gentlemen will generally top off their Kentucky Derby fashions with hats, either classic or custom.
Kentucky Derby fashion guide: Churchill Downs infield
The infield at Churchill Downs is considerably more informal than the reserved seating areas. Comfortable spring clothing is the key. Blue jeans or casual pants with polo shirts or tees are ideal for men or women in the infield at the Kentucky Derby. Ladies may wear dresses or pants. Capris or crop pants are acceptable as well.
Comfortable footwear is essential for the Churchill Downs infield. Sturdy shoes are ideal, particularly for walking in dusty, grassy or muddy areas.
And, of course, a hat is nearly a requirement for Kentucky Derby Day – for men and women alike. Besides, appropriate headwear offers great sun protection out in the infield.
Kentucky Derby fashion guide: Basic rules
Kentucky Derby tradition includes a few rather precise fashion restrictions. In particular, certain apparel standards apply to such Churchill Downs areas as the Aristides Room, Jockey Club Suites, Finish Line Suites, the Grandstand, the Stakes Room, the Track Side Village, the Trophy Room, the Turf Club, the Turf Suites and the famous Millionaire’s Row.
Churchill Downs guests will not be admitted to these sections, if they are wearing athletic wear, denim clothing, halter tops, jeans, shorts, tank tops, tee shirts or tennis shoes. Also, no frayed or torn clothing is allowed in these areas, and midriff-baring tops are banned.
Early May daytime temperatures in Louisville, Kentucky, generally average in 60s and 70s (Fahrenheit), but the weather can certainly fluctuate on Derby Day. Rain gear (such as a raincoat or poncho) is always a good idea, although umbrellas are forbidden at Churchill Downs on Kentucky Derby Day (as well as on Kentucky Oaks Day).
Sunscreen and sunglasses are also recommended for Kentucky Derby guests in all outdoor sections of Churchill Downs.
With a bit of fashion sense and practical planning, Kentucky Derby attendees in all areas of Churchill Downs can be appropriately attired for the occasion.