Pink sports coats, bow ties made of feathers and classic fedoras with satin ribbon accents.
How men dress for a day at the historic Churchill Downs racetrack has become every bit as fashionable as their female counterparts. While we know some women who start planning next year’s Kentucky Derby outfits almost as soon as the winning thoroughbred crosses the finish line, over the past decade or so, men have also begun putting in the time (just maybe not 365-days worth) to create a stylish look worthy of the most exciting two minutes in sports.
“Besides being the world’s most famous horse race, The Kentucky Derby is also a giant fashion show,” fashion expert Jo Ross told The Courier Journal. “The men are showing up every bit as much as the ladies in the fashion department.”
Having dressed Kentucky Derby-going women, men and couples for decades, Ross expects the 148th running of the Kentucky Derby to produce more eye-candy than ever now that fans are returning in droves to Churchill Downs, which is allowing a full captivity crowd for the first time in two years due to the pandemic.
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Based on Kentucky traditions and designer trends from New York Fashion Week, Ross and Christine Moore, a five-time Featured Milliner of the Kentucky Derby, weigh in on top trends for men ahead of the Run for the Roses.
The difference between fedoras, boaters and Panama hats
The well-dressed gentleman understands that a hat is more than just an accessory to keep the sun out of your eyes.
“Men’s hats are extremely popular at the races whether in Louisville, Lexington, Del Mar Pimlico, or Belmont,” Moore told the Courier Journal. “I travel to racetracks throughout the year and today men are buying hats as a fashion accessory with ribbons around the crown that tie into their bow tie, their sports coat or shirt. They also accent their hats with small feathers tucked into the ribbon to add a little extra pizzazz.”
The straw fedora is the most popular style you’ll see around Churchill Downs. This type of hat is typically creased lengthwise down the middle of the crown, then “pinched” near the front on both sides.
You can break the fedora down further to the wide brim, regular and “stingy” brim. The “trilby” has a narrower brim often curled up on the edges, along with a more compact but taller crown. The “pork pie” is a rounder hat with a turned-up brim and a flat crown.
Some men will opt for a boater. This style is a men’s summer formal hat made of stiff sennit straw. It’s characterized by its inflexible brim, flat top, and wide grosgrain band which is often striped, or solid black for traditional summer formal occasions.
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Moore suggests trying on several styles to determine which is your best look and coordinates with the rest of your outfit.
What colors should men wear to the Kentucky Derby?
The weather is usually starting to warm up when the Kentucky Derby takes place on the first Saturday in May, so you will want to dress for the occasion. Swap your suit pants for something more lightweight and breathable in hotter temperatures, like white chinos or linen pants.
Once you’ve got the comfortable fabrics nailed down, it’s time to add in the vibrant color trends of spring 2022.
“I have never seen so much fun bright color in the stores,” Ross told the Courier Journal. Designers are not shy with their color palate for 2022. You may find suit jackets or slacks in brilliant pinks, lime green, purples, popping blue, sunset orange, and electric yellow.
All-white is another popular trend for 2022. If you think you can keep your whites white throughout the day, Ross suggests paring a jacket and pants with a floral or paisley shirt, a pocket square, and a pair of festive socks for a pop of color.
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“There are so many bright socks in the stores right now, you might as well have fun and wear a pair that will add some color,” Ross said. “In Louisville, you can find socks with horseshoes, mint juleps, and red roses in a rainbow of colors.”
Why men can’t go wrong with a seersucker suit at the Kentucky Derby
Expect to see a sea of this quintessential southern fabric at the track. Seersucker suits in baby blue, sage green, soft yellow, pink or red with white stripes are a comfortably lightweight tradition that you’ll also find in shorts, pants and jackets.
Alternatively, swap your traditional seersucker for something eye-catching like a patterned jacket and pants. You can also add a fresh twist to your Kentucky Derby ensemble with bright slacks in coral, blues or purple paired with horse-themed or patterned sports coat.
“Designers are offering so much detail in patterns and accents this year in their fashion,” Ross told the Courier Journal. “It’s almost as if anything goes and where better to embrace that fashion than at the Kentucky Derby where the sky is the limit.”
Coordinate your Kentucky Derby outfit with a partner or friend
Coordinating components of your outfit with your partner is a trend that continues to gain in popularity at the Kentucky Derby.
“People are getting into dressing as a couple,” said Moore. “The man’s bow tie might match his wife’s hat or his fedora may coordinate with her fascinator, which is a good choice because they’re both small.”
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The milliner said bow ties continue to be a huge trend in race day style and have become a fashion staple at Churchill Downs year-round.
Headed to the races with a group of friends or your family? It’s not uncommon to see well-dressed packs of race fans roaming the Paddock, infield, and seated together in a trackside box. Friends are communicating in advance of the races, making outfit choices based on color themes and accessories.
“People count on the Kentucky Derby being a fashion show and part of the fun of the day is seeing how everyone else is dressed,” Moore said.
How to shop for your Kentucky Derby outfit without spending a ton of money
Not everyone wants to invest several hundred dollars in a bright sports coat they will probably only wear once a year. You can still dress stylishly for much less by simply accessorizing with a fun bow tie, lapel boutonnieres, embroidered belt, pocket squares, or a lighted weight floral or patterned shirt. All of which can cost much less than an $800 sports jacket or suit.
Whether you are dressing to sit in a box at Churchill Downs or to attend a themed party at someone’s home, what you wear should reflect your personality. Above all else, remember that the Kentucky Derby is an event where you can have fun putting your outfit together, and the rest of your day will fall into place.