In Pursuit of Life's Purpose

Kentucky Derby Hat Tradition

This weekend is the 142nd Kentucky Derby at Churchill Downs in Louisville, Kentucky. The first race took place on May 17, 1875. The winner was Aristides and his rider was Oliver Lewis.

The Kentucky Derby has become a grand tradition and is the first race in what is known as the Triple Crown. The Triple Crown  is a series of three thoroughbred horse races for three-year-old horses..  It is considered one of the most difficult and prestigious accomplishments in horse racing.  The grueling schedule requires a three-year-old horse to win the Kentucky Derby, then two weeks later win the Preakness Stakes, and then three weeks later win the Belmont Stakes.  In all of racing history, only twelve horses have achieved the Triple Crown. They are:

1919 Sir Barton
1930 Gallant Fox
1935 Omaha
1937 War Admiral
1941 Whirlaway
1943 Count Fleet
1946 Assault
1948 Citation
1973 Secretariat
1977 Seattle Slew
1978 Affirmed
2015 American Pharoah

Along with the Kentucky Derby comes the tradition and spectacle of the  Kentucky Derby Hat Parade. It is part of what makes the derby one of the greatest people-watching events in the world!

The fashion tradition was started by Colonel Meriwether Lewis Clark Jr.  It was his vision for the Derby to be an event that the high-class would attend, similar to European-style racing events, which mandated full morning dress for men and women.

The pre-Kentucky Derby racetrack was not considered a place for women and  children because of the gambling and drinking that took place there.

The Colonel was inspired by his trips to London’s Epsom Derby and Paris’ Grand Prix. These were elegant and stylish events that attracted an upper-class crowd. Clark’s intention was to transform American racetracks from places associated with immorality and vice to places that would attract a wealthier crowd.

With the help of his wife, they were able to enlist a full wagon of high society women to go door to door telling their friends they were going to have a picnic at the racetrack. The event quickly became just as much about the fashion as the racing. Going to a horse racing event became an opportunity to show off the latest in spring fashion and women were known to coordinate their hats, dresses, bags, shoes, and even parasols.

That tradition lives on today with women’s hats being even larger, brighter, and more extravagant than ever!

For more in-depth information about the weekends events go to


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