Sunday, May 5, 2013

Of Horses and Hats

Yesterday was the 139th annual “Run for the Roses”: The Kentucky Derby. I’ve never been a follower of horseracing, so to me the two most interesting parts of the Kentucky Derby are the names of the horses and the fantastic (and often fantastical) hats.

Past winners of the Kentucky Derby include horses with such delightful names as I’ll Have Another, Smarty Jones, Real Quiet, Go For Gin, the appropriately named Winning Colors and Spectacular Bid, the ironically named Genuine Risk, and my all-time favorite, Foolish Pleasure. I will admit to being somewhat disappointed that this year’s race was won by the talented but dully named Orb, but at least the field of contenders did include other fun names, like Charming Kitten, Overanalyze, Giant Finish, Falling Sky, Palace Malice, and Will Take Charge.

Even more wild and creative than the horses’ names, however, are the marvelous hats seen at the Derby. Generally, the hats fall into one of four categories: fascinator, classic, gigantic, and wacky.

Fascinators became all the rage at Prince William and Kate Middleton’s 2011 wedding, and they remained prominent at this year’s Derby. A fascinator is a fancy headpiece or miniature hat with elaborate trimmings worn on a headband or attached to the hair by clips, combs, or hairpins. A fascinator may be as simple as a small spray of flowers or feathers, or as elaborate as a tall geometric sculpture.

Classic hats are elegant and proportionate, and would be appropriate at other events besides the Kentucky Derby. Pastels such as pink, peach, mint green, and pale yellow are popular; trimmings include ribbons, small bows, and the occasional tasteful feather. Their colors are subdued, their trimmings are restrained, and their style is timeless.

The third category is the gigantic hat. Over the years, hat brims have grown in size until I wonder how some of these women are able to walk through the crowds wearing these hats. The brim often needs to be pinned back so the lady is able to see the horses, or occasionally a giant hat will be worn at a rakish tilt to make her face accessible for a charming air kiss from a gentleman acquaintance. Naturally, the decorations on a gigantic hat may – and should – be proportionately larger. Multiple foot-long feathers, huge looping bows, knots of fabric, and yards of veiling adorn these spectacular creations.

The final category includes the most fantastical hats of all: Wacky hats. Wacky hats are unique works of art, and can incorporate all kinds of decorations, from horses’ (and jockeys'!) heads to dozens of roses to literally piles of horseracing memorabilia. And naturally, a truly wacky hat calls for additional accessories and costuming, from horseshoe sunglasses to a cutaway tailcoat and matching shorts.

And the best part of Kentucky Derby hats is that you don’t have to go to Kentucky to wear one. My family got into the act this year at a “Run for the Roses” party. We managed to cover all the categories of hats: my sister-in-law, on the left, is sporting a jaunty fascinator; my mother-in-law, at center, is wearing a lovely classic; and yours truly, on the right, is treading the fine line between gigantic and wacky. I give us extra points for both my nephew and my husband in their elegant boaters.

(photo courtesy of

Say what you will about horse racing, but when it comes to the Kentucky Derby, at least you can’t say that it’s dull!!

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