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Hats on and Off at the 150th Kentucky Derby

There are many associations that come to mind with the Kentucky Derby. Horses, naturally. Mint juleps too. But to be a true participant in the Derby spectacle, one needs a proper Derby hat.

The tradition for wearing eye-catching attire to America’s most famous horse race began in the 1870s. The founder of the Kentucky Derby, Meriwether Lewis Clark Junior, was inspired by the fashionable dress codes at events like Ascot in Britain and Paris’ Grand Prix. Creating his own, he figured, would transform his racetrack from a place of ill-repute to one for well-heeled high society.

On a sunny spring Monday in 1875, more than 10,000 spectators attended the first Kentucky Derby and The New York Times reported on the fashion as well the racing, noting that “the grandstand was thronged by a brilliant assemblage of ladies and gentlemen.” His plan worked, and this collective passion for horses, gambling and to party — even in smart seersucker suits or a spectacular feathered fascinator — has endured as a cornerstone of the Derby to this day.

This year marked the 150th anniversary of the race at Churchill Downs, and as expected nobody held back both on and off the track, from wide-brimmed styles adorned with spring florals and soft feathers paired with tasteful pastel-colored dresses to jockey helmets adorned with plastic stallions and straight up horse heads. Hats off to this crowd.

Can you spot the floral accent in this red, white and blue ensemble?Credit…David Kasnic for The New York Times
A coordinated pair.Credit…David Kasnic for The New York Times
Race day is often a multi-generational family affair (so it’s smart to bring snacks).Credit…David Kasnic for The New York Times
And they’re off! The Kentucky Derby is often described as “the most exciting two minutes in sports.”Credit…David Kasnic for The New York Times
This duo had us at yellow with their coordinating sunny standout looks.Credit…David Kasnic for The New York Times
Pastels for the paddock (and flat shoes for a long day).Credit…David Kasnic for The New York Times
The mad hatter?Credit…David Kasnic for The New York Times
A dapper look for a day at the Derby.Credit…David Kasnic for The New York Times
Wide-brimmed straw hats continue to be a winner for many racegoers — and the bigger the better.Credit…David Kasnic for The New York Times
You can never go wrong with the classic straw hat.Credit…David Kasnic for The New York Times
Thinking pink.Credit…David Kasnic for The New York Times
One fan in full bloom.Credit…David Kasnic for The New York Times
Ahoy sailor!Credit…David Kasnic for The New York Times
It wouldn’t be the Derby without the mint juleps.Credit…David Kasnic for The New York Times
Yay or neigh? This fan was happy to horse around when it came to his head gear. Credit…David Kasnic for The New York Times
An eye-popping race day outfit missing its owner.Credit…David Kasnic for The New York Times

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