What Do Women Wear To The Kentucky Derby?

What Do Women Wear To The Kentucky Derby

The Kentucky Derby represents the epitome of upscale spring fashion, and women’s fashion is no exception, so what do women wear to this event? Typically, this event is known for fashion statements. Therefore, it is important to plan your outfit accordingly. Read more below to learn about the customary outfits, how to accessorize, and the history of women’s wear at the Kentucky Derby.

The Outfit: Hats & Dresses

kentucky derby hats

While there are many elements to a woman’s Kentucky Derby outfit, the main components revolve around the dress and the hat. Women typically wear a simple, colorful dress that does not distract from the most important element: the hat. No Kentucky Derby outfit is complete without the perfect hat, and this is often the most publicized aspect of the event, at times even more than the horses. 

Hats worn at the Kentucky Derby are outrageous and over-the-top, often adorned with flowers, feathers, polka dots, and more. The hats are also known to be good luck; therefore, the “Southern Belle” hat has become a Derby tradition. While the outfit elements are key, understanding the event's color scheme also contributes to the ideal outfit. As a spring event, the colors consist of pastels, such as pinks, light greens, light blues, purple, and yellow. In the end, the hat is the most important element for the Kentucky Derby outfit.


While the dress and hat are the main components, many accessories help to spruce up a woman’s Kentucky Derby outfit. As a long outdoor event with unpredictable weather, a bag or clutch can be a useful, trendy piece. According to the Kentucky Derby, the coordinators even recommend bringing a bag with necessary amenities, such as sunscreen, sunglasses, and water. 

Another smaller aspect to add to the outfit is jewelry. Since the hat and dress remain the primary aspects, jewelry should be smaller with no chunky or statement pieces. For instance, some smaller pieces that adhere to the theme of the event could be horseshoe earrings or a small bracelet. Lastly, shoes are the final detail to finish the outfit. Heels are a common choice, but flats are also recommended as a backup. These smaller elements to the outfit can elevate an outfit, making it perfect for the Derby.

The History

Starting in the late 1800s, the Kentucky Derby ushered in a new wave of women’s event fashion that has established itself as a tradition for hundreds of years. Over time, this fashion has certainly changed from longer dresses with gloves, hats, and chic umbrellas in the early 1900s to the current day attire.

Hats became particularly popular in the 1950s and 1960s, along with extravagant colors and patterns. Some other trends throughout the Derby’s history include longer skirts in the 1970s and 1980s, as well as suits in the 1920s. Throughout time, societal shifts have been influential in the changing style of the Kentucky Derby, but the event has always remained high-class and its attire has matched.