Why Women Wear Fancy Hats at the Kentucky Derby

The Kentucky Derby is every woman's chance to express her inner Southern belle, according to the annual horse race's website, which provides guidelines and gentle suggestions for women's attire. The crowning glory of a Southern belle's ensemble? A standout hat.

If the Derby headdresses remind you of something you've seen on Kate Middleton, the queen, or Princess Beatrice, perhaps it's because the founder of the Kentucky Derby modeled the race after European-style racing events like the Royal Ascot, which mandates full morning dress for men and hats for women. When the Kentucky Derby began in 1875, both American and British women alike wanted to wear their finest to the races, and in those days that definitely included a hat. While statement headwear is typically not necessary formal attire in America today, the tradition stuck at the Kentucky Derby. There's also a practical concern: the hat keeps the sun out of your eyes.

At Louisville's Churchill Downs, a woman's choice of headwear often depends on where she's watching. In the general admission infield, hats tend to be eccentric, while those in the seated areas verge toward elegant. Almost all come with some combination of feathers, flowers, and ribbon, and the finished product is believed to bring good luck to gamblers at the races. Before this year's big race, check out some headwear highlights from the Derby.

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Three women in suits and hats cheered during the 1977 Kentucky Derby.

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Spectators made their way into the races in 1995.

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A fan drank a mint julep under her pink and black hat in 2006.

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This bright hat made an appearance at the 2006 Derby.

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In 2010, a woman chatted on her phone while wearing her crinkly hat.

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Check out this headband creation at the 2007 Derby.

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This bright hat definitely catches your eye in 2010.

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A fan looked perfectly '80s at the 1988 race.

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Women looked at racing tip sheets on May 6, 1995.

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Women showed off Derby hats in 2006.

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Queen Elizabeth sported this green and red number when she made an appearance at the Derby in 2007.

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In 2011, this woman took the Kentucky Derby as a chance to show her love of cheese.

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Ivana Trump visited Churchill Downs with her eccentric fascinator in 2007.

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A woman matched her hat to her outfit and date in 1995.

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A woman sported a black hat with lots going on in 2010.

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Fans watched with their hats firmly on their heads in 1993.

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Fans looked down at spectators as they gathered in the paddock area at the 2011 race.

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In 2011, this hat would surely block some views.

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In 2011, this hat asked people to "talk Derby to me."

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The pink flowers topped off this outfit sported in 2010.

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A fan at the 2011 race looked on wearing her brown and red hat.

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This hat paired stripes and flowers in 2010.

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A woman was seen in the grandstands wearing a hat prior to the 136th running of the Kentucky Derby on May 1, 2010.

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This hat came with feathers and tassels in 2007.

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A spectator looked on as races were run the day before the running of the 133rd Kentucky Derby on May 4, 2007.

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Singer Jordin Sparks wore a simple white hat at the 2011 race.

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A bumblebee peeked out from this flower hat worn in 1993.

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Do you recognize Jessica Simpson underneath the pink brim at the Derby in 2004?

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This pink flower gave a pop of color to the black hat in 2011.

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Two female spectators dressed in pink suits talked as they watched the track during the Kentucky Derby in 1993.

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A woman wore a bright red hat with a big white flower to the 2011 race.

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A woman was seen in the grandstands wearing a beige and black number in 2010.

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At the 2012 race, a woman wore a pretty cream and red polka-dot hat.

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Flowers decorated this hat at the 2012 Derby.

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You could barely see this spectator under her pile of pink flowers in 2012.

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Blue feathers sprung from this hat at the 2012 Kentucky Derby.

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This black and white hat brought some chicness to the 2012 Derby.

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Ginnifer Goodwin matched her hat to the dress in 2012.

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A woman wore a fancy hat during the morning training for the 2013 race.

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A woman went dramatic with her black and red hat in 2012.

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Feathers, flowers, and gems — oh, my! This woman went big in 2012.

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Three women showed off their large hats in 2012.

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A floppy hat with all the bells and whistles adorned this woman in 2013.

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This lady's 2013 hat looks pretty wild.

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That's a lot of red! A lady showed her dramatic side in 2013.

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I take it back. Now, that's a lot of red! Even in the rain this woman was all smiles in her huge red-flower hat in 2013.

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A woman wore a teeny, tiny hat for morning training in 2014.

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It was a go big or go home hat for this woman in 2014.

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A young woman went with a sweet, pink confection at morning training in 2014.

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A woman went with a feathery topper in 2014.