Kentucky Derby Fashion: History & Celebrity Inspiration (PHOTOS, POLL)

While most think the competition is on the track, those in the know would say the fashionistas in the stand always give the horses a run for their money.
This post was published on the now-closed HuffPost Contributor platform. Contributors control their own work and posted freely to our site. If you need to flag this entry as abusive, send us an email.

Tomorrow marks the 136th running of the Kentucky Derby at Churchill Downs in Louisville, Kentucky. Also known as the "Run for the Roses" and "The most exciting two minutes in sports," the Derby is synonymous with red carpet style as well as the official start of the summer social season.

Each year, the race draws locals, out-of-towners, celebrities and royalty alike. While most think the competition is on the track, those in the know would say the fashionistas in the stand always give the horses a run for their money.

Here's a little celebrity style from past Kentucky Derbys to get you in the mood. Scroll down for the history of Kentucky Derby fashion.


The Kentucky Derby has seen its fair share of unforgettable fashion over the decades. Women in ribbon brimmed hats and fur wraps. Men in dapper three-piece pinstriped suits, polished with boutonnières, handkerchiefs, and cigars. Even the infield spectators were dressed in topcoats, dresses, and true Derby style in the beginning. Today, the look in the infield is anything goes -- with jeans, shorts, t-shirts filling the modern mosh pit. It's a far cry from the refined fashion parade that still exists today on Millionaire's Row.

In the 20s, stylish flappers wore flowers as corsages on their jacket lapels; it was in the 40s and 50s that they made the migration to the hats.

It's hard to think about the Derby without thinking about hats. Hats have played an important part in horse-racing history, starting with the Royal Ascot in the UK, where full morning dress was a must-do. With men sporting top hats and ladies wearing hats too. The Derby hat parade takes place inside Churchill Downs and refers to the thousands of stylish hats worn by men and women alike. The key to a great Derby hat is one being original - the more outlandish the better!

Roses have also played a starring role in the pageantry of the Derby, both on the track and in Millionaire's Row, becoming the official flower in 1925. In 1932 the first red rose garland was given to the winning jockey. As such, look for red roses to continue to dot the crowd.

Post-war prosperity in the '50s brought a renewed love of fashion to the grandstands, with chic skirts and petticoats and beautiful hats and gloves de rigueur. Pill box hats, smart Jackie O suits, thin ties and sunglasses for the men were all the rage in the 60s, with tradition holding strong despite the onslaught of anti-fashion sweeping the country.

The 70s brought the debut of mini dresses and bold patterns everywhere: stripes, checks, and seersucker. The bolder the better. It was truly a parade of plaid. Hemlines went up and continued even higher in the wild and crazy 80s. Hats got more outlandish and whimsical too. Madonna's video for "Strike A Pose" should have been shot in the stands!

Today, Derby Divas compete off the track for the title of best-dressed spectator in this glitzy glamorous, red carpet moment of the South. This weekend, look for great sundresses, chic suits and stellar hats to fill the grandstands. After all, Derby will always be a leading playground for the fashion forward.

But you don't have to be at Churchill Downs to show some southern Derby style this weekend. Wear a stylish outfit topped off with a whimsical matching hat, and you're off to the races. Men can wear seersucker, madras plaids, or anything light and breezy. Don't be afraid to mix it up.

No matter where you watch the race, don't forget the ultimate accessory -- a classic mint julep! For a great recipe and a few twists you'll love, check out