In the year In 2023, fashion will once again take center stage at the Kentucky Derby for men and women.
Sure, we all come to historic Churchill Downs to watch the thoroughbreds race, but make no mistake, looking the part is right up there with the day at the track.
Here’s a quick list of what to wear and what not to wear during Kentucky Derby weekend in Louisville.
What Hat Should I Wear to the Kentucky Derby?
Hats aren’t technically mandatory in the Kentucky Derby and Kentucky Oaks, but they might as well be. Most derby-goers attend the races sporting some type of headgear.
While men don’t have as many style options as women, a lightweight straw bowler or fedora is always popular and in style.
You’ll see a little bit of everything from the cute to the rugged on Women’s Horse Racing. Many seasoned Kentucky Derby fans have chosen a style that fits best in the ticket section.
If you’re living in a home on Millionaire’s Row, large curbs or elegant curb appeal are great choices. Because you don’t have to worry about the rain ruining your investment (yes, Kentucky Derby hats are expensive) or the wind blowing it away.
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In other “non-dressy” areas, smaller fashions may be a better bet. Wherever you sit, mind you, you’ll be wearing your headscarf all day long – so make sure it’s stylish.
As we mentioned, hats are expensive and cost hundreds of dollars, but it’s okay to swap hats with friends and family. Trust us, if you’re having a good time, no one will remember which hat you wore last year. You can also do it yourself. D’s Crafts in St. Matthews is a great place to start, or you can scroll through ideas on Pinterest around Kentucky Derby time for inspiration.
Pro tip: You can easily clean the inner ribbon soaked in last year’s sweat with a toothbrush and Woolite. You can also clean dirt and stains from the straw hat.
What should I wear to the Kentucky Derby?
The Kentucky Derby is a fashion show. You’ll see women in everything from spring dresses to fitted dresses. It will vary depending on where you sit, so check your ticket and make sure the clothing you choose will be appropriate. (That is, in the field – or anywhere, really, you’ll regret your hiking heels. It’s been a long day on your feet, ladies!)
Men want to “go all out” in lightweight sports jackets and pants. Bermuda shorts and a sports jacket can be chosen in the field for pre-match and everyone wears sunglasses. A statement necktie is the easiest way to make your Kentucky Derby outfit as unique as you are, whether it’s a luxurious silk traditional tie or a Southern-inspired bow tie.
Also, this event takes place in spring, so think about pastels for your outfit to capture some red-carpet Instagram-worthy pictures.
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A word of warning, ladies. While you see fashionable jumpsuits and rompers at every turn, is that what you want to struggle through in a public restroom where the waiting line is 15 minutes or more?
Tip: Try renting out the park for a designer dress that won’t cost you a month’s rent to buy. You’ve got the dress (and/or accessories) for four days and you have to give it back, but it’s so worth it. Insurance is included just in case you get stuck in muddy conditions.
Is there a dress code for the Kentucky Derby at Churchill Downs?
yes. There is an official dress code in some areas of Churchill Downs, depending on where you purchased your tickets.
If you are a first timer, make sure you understand your seating area. Are you in an air conditioner on Millionaire’s Row? On a picnic that wears the elements in the inner field? In a covered clubhouse box… or uncovered? If you don’t know, look it up and dress it up like that.
Here is a brief description of the different dress codes in the boxes on the track:
Business casual wear (That means collared shirts for men; no denim, athletic shoes, or “inappropriate” clothing.) In the Turf Club, Trophy Room, and Millionaires Row, you can split your time between air-conditioned dining rooms and outdoor terraces. Some are covered. Guys, a jacket is required in the derby room and the mansion.
Churchill Downs’ website details what is appropriate in each section of the track, as well as areas where “worn or torn clothing, hoodies, athletic clothing, ripped or torn denim and midriffs are considered inappropriate.”
If you have tickets to the clubhouse or Christmas seats (also reserved), casual dress is allowed, even if you can’t see.
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And if you’re in the inner lane, there’s no dress code, but most people do. Remember, you’ll be walking a ton and sitting on the grass…or mud. Therefore, if you insist on heels, they should not be practical wedges and crazy-high. Or skip them altogether for cute shoes or flats. There are also foldable flats if you can hide them in your bag.
In fact, no matter how high-fashion you dress, most women end up walking back to the car with two pairs of flip-flops to walk back to the car at the end of the race. There is no shame in that.
Tip: If it’s going to rain, choose a pair of cute rain boots that match your outfit. Be sure to pack a poncho as umbrellas are not allowed on the track.
What are some other fashion tips for the Kentucky Derby?
First, don’t forget to bring sunscreen. If the weather is good, they will burn. After all, you are out for 12 hours. Sunscreen is smart, even under your makeup, ladies and gents.
Second, invest in a makeup setting spray. This is great for women who don’t want to ruin the makeup they applied in the morning. Keeps your makeup fresh for hours – if you’re worried about mascara streaks when you’re sweating or raining.
Third, reduce the size of your wallet. Trust us, you don’t want to mix a giant bag of mint juleps with your racing schedule. Utility restrictions prohibit bags larger than 12 inches in any direction.
A small purse size means you can only carry the essentials (cardigan, sunscreen, flip flops, lipstick, sunglasses, etc.).
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Four, be prepared for any weather. You never really know what the weather will be like in early May in Kentucky, so dress for whatever Mother Nature can throw at you – snow, rain, humidity or cold. A cardigan or wrap is great for covering your shoulders, cold or sunburned skin.
You’re not allowed to carry an umbrella, so pack a light poncho for those unexpected showers. It does not take up much space, and you can use it to cover wet seats.
Tip: Keep a close eye on the weather forecast until you hit the track. If you’re traveling to Louisville from out of town, come prepared in costume – just in case.
What should I not wear to the Kentucky Derby?
stylists. We cannot stress this fashion tip enough. If you have to make those babies a little taller, we recommend that you throw them only for the first pictures, then leave them at home. Consider something a little lower with more surface area and less chance of getting caught between cobblestones. If you love heels, try a sneaker block version that offers stability and style.
Avoid jeans or athletic shoes. You can technically wear them in the field, but shoes, loafers, flats or driving moccasins are all better low-key options.
Ladies, skip your shapewear. While they may be casual clothes for such events, if it’s hot, you might want to reconsider. Try a soft dress for an often uncomfortable Kentucky Derby day.
Reach Kirby Adams at firstname.lastname@example.org or Twitter @kirbylouisville.