The Kentucky Derby is the crown jewel in American horse racing and one of the most famous races in the world. Among the many reasons to love the Kentucky Derby is the fashion. Whether you’re into fashion or not, the Kentucky Derby outfits play a big part in the atmosphere surrounding the race. Kentucky Derby fashion has become almost synonymous with the race itself, and year after year, thousands of Derby-goers meticulously plan their Kentucky Derby attire from head to toe.
Planning your Derby outfit is a fun part of the event’s tradition. In fact, Kentucky Derby outfits are often as talked about as the horse racing. With the Kentucky Derby taking place in the spring (with the exception of 2020), it’s the perfect excuse to get dressed up in the latest spring fashions. Wondering what the attire requirements are or if there’s a Kentucky Derby dress code on race day? We’ve compiled some information below to help you out.
Is there a Kentucky Derby Dress Code?
Churchill Downs, home of the Kentucky Derby and the Kentucky Oaks, does have specific dress codes, depending on which part of the venue you will be viewing from. In most areas of the venue, the following items are prohibited:
- Worn or torn garments
- Halter tops
- Athletic wear
- Frayed or torn denim
- Midriff tops
Certain sections of Churchill Downs are subject to a Business Casual or Smart Casual dress code, where further restrictions apply including:
- Tennis shoes
For those watching from the Kentucky Derby infield, the atmosphere is track casual and there is no dress code. Still, you’ll find plenty of people dress up to watch the horse racing. Though there are no specific rules when it comes to Kentucky Derby infield outfits, it is important to note that according to Churchill Downs’ website, “…management reserves the right to deny admission to anyone whose attire they consider to be inappropriate.”
Kentucky Derby Outfits
After you’ve determined whether your section has a dress code, you can start planning what you’re going to wear. The most important thing about your Derby outfit is that it is something that you are comfortable wearing. After all, Derby is a long day and you don’t want the excitement of the event to be dimmed by a poor wardrobe choice.
Women’s Kentucky Derby Outfits
On Derby Day, the hats tend to be the focus. From elaborate wide brimmed headpieces to petite fascinators, many women plan their Derby outfits around their hat. If you fly into Louisville during Derby week, you’re likely to notice an abundance of hat boxes on the flight or being carried around in the airport. Some people even ship their hats to their hotel ahead of time. Many of the high-end hotels, including our lead hotel, The Galt House, have pop-up hat boutiques where you can pick out the perfect hat when you arrive, or add some extra flair to the one you brought.
Many will coordinate their hat with spring dresses or smart casual suits; Kentucky Derby dresses and suits are often in shades of pastel colors. In addition to the much-talked-about Kentucky Derby hats, bold jewelry or other accessories often complete the look. Shoes are important too; you’ll be on your feet a lot during the day so it’s important to either wear something comfortable or bring a pair of comfy flats to change into later.
If you’ve always wanted to dress up like a southern belle, Churchill Downs is the perfect place to don your Kentucky Derby dress and play the role.
Men’s Kentucky Derby Outfits
There aren’t many sporting events where you actually get dressed to the nines but you’ll find plenty of men get dressed up to witness the fastest two minutes in sports. For starters, wearing a Kentucky Derby hat is a tradition that’s not just enjoyed by women. From fedoras to bowlers to top hats, there are plenty of fashionable options. For the rest of the ensemble, pastel colors are just as popular with the guys. If you’ve ever wanted to take a fashion risk with a brightly colored suit, Derby is a perfect opportunity. Seersucker suits are everywhere but you can’t go wrong with a classic navy blazer either. Derby is also an ideal time to dust off the cufflinks and that bowtie you never wear.
If you are planning on attending the Kentucky Oaks on the Friday before Derby Day, you’ll want to make sure you have something pink to wear. Attendees are encouraged to dress up in as much pink as possible. The Kentucky Oaks is not only about horse racing, it’s also a fundraising event that creates awareness for critical women’s health issues, hence the pink theme.
The Most Important Thing to Wear on Derby Day
Choosing an outfit for the Kentucky Derby that shows off your personality is all part of the fun. While we love checking out all the unique and creative attire, there is one thing we recommend everyone wear on Derby Day: sunscreen! Sun protection is also a good reason to choose a wide-brimmed hat to complete your ensemble.
One last thing to consider is the weather forecast for the day. Be sure to come prepared for the conditions. In the off chance it’s a cool day, bringing extra layers is a good idea. If rain is a possibility, ponchos, rain boots, water-proof mascara and a rain cover for your hat may come in handy. Umbrellas are not permitted at the Kentucky Derby.
If you’re still not sure about what to wear, our team is here to help. We’ve been attending the Kentucky Derby for many years and are here to answer any questions you have about your Derby experience.