What is a Derby Hat?

What is a Derby Hat?


The term ‘derby hat’ means different things to different people depending where you are born.

The derby hat (USA) known as the bowler hat (UK) is a round felt hat with narrow brim. It was created by London hat-makers Thomas and William Bowler in 1849. Traditionally men wore this type of hat on semi-formal occasions (Wikipedia). It was also made in the US in the 1850’s and it is thought to have been named after the Derby horse race (also known as the Epsom Derby or Derby Stakes) in England. Now that’s enough about men’s hats. We are here to talk fashion ladies so let’s take a world tour of three famous Derby horse races and the associated fashion.

The term Derby has become synonymous with great races around the world. Let’s start with one of my favourites because the ladies’ fashion is completely over the top. The Kentucky Derby horse race is held annually in Louisville, Kentucky on first Saturday in May. The race is for three year olds over a distance of 1 ¼ mile and is part of the two week long Kentucky Derby Festival (Wikipedia). As a general rule, women wear wide-brimmed “Southern Belle’ inspired hats known as Kentucky Derby Hats. These are often decorated with flowers, feathers, bows and ribbons of any colour. It’s all about creativity and individuality. A trip to the Kentucky Derby is definitely on my bucket list.

The Epsom Derby in England (the original Derby) is another Grade 1 stakes horse race limited to three year old colts and fillies (over 1 ½ mile). It is held on the first Saturday in June over 1 ½ mile. For ladies, formal day wear is required, which can include a formal day dress and a tailored trouser suit, with a hat or substantial fascinator. Just make sure your fascinator doesn’t block out anyone else’s view of the race.

The Victorian Derby day heralds the start of the Melbourne Cup Carnival. It will be held on Saturday 4 November, 2023. Mark the date in your calendar. Yet another Grade 1 race for three year olds over a distance of 2500 metres. Ladies embrace a black and white palette. In other words, girls you can wear whatever colour you like providing it’s white or black or both black and white!


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