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What to Wear to a Kentucky Derby Party

What to Wear to a Kentucky Derby Party

So you’ve been invited to a Kentucky Derby party, but don’t know what to wear. As tempting as it may be to cosplay like an 1870s affluent horse owner, you should think about where the party will take place and how to dress appropriately while keeping comfort in mind.

What you wear to a Kentucky Derby party depends on when and what kind of party it is, though it is common for attendees to at least wear a derby hat.

Continue reading to learn more about what to wear to a Kentucky Derby party and how you can look good while feeling comfortable!

The Kentucky Derby Dress Code

The Kentucky Derby actually has something of a “dress code” when it comes to hosting parties. It notes that any Kentucky Derby party requires “formal, but casual” clothes. This is extremely open to interpretation. After all, you don’t want to show up in a tank top and flip-flops if everyone else’s wearing their Sunday’s best.

The Kentucky Derby provides the following base guidelines:

Everyone Should Wear a Derby Hat

Contrary to popular belief, women actually started the trend of wearing derby hats to the Kentucky Derby. But these hats’ styles depend on whether the hat is for a man or woman. Consider the following:

  • Women’s derby hats look like ornate sunhats. They’re usually decorated with lace and flowers. They’re asymmetrical, leaning more to one side than another, and have wide, flat brims.
  • Men’s derby hats are less ornate. They’re usually neutral-colored and look a lot like bowler hats. It’s actually considered good luck for a man to wear a derby hat the day of the Kentucky Derby.

Sport Formal Wear for Brunch

A Kentucky Derby-style brunch is a southern tradition. As such, you want to look your best. In the vein of tradition, the Kentucky Derby recommends:

  • Women wear cocktail dresses. Remember: it’s not enough to wear a pretty dress. You’ll need to accessorize accordingly with pearls, flowers, a derby hat, and a clutch.
  • Men should wear formal business attire. Again, remember it’s not enough to wear a suit. You’ll need to think about southern tradition when selecting your pants and jacket. Think Easter Sunday vibes. Pastel-colored jackets with soft pinks and blues should do the trick.

Look Casual at a Garden Party

The key to looking “casual” largely depends on where you live. For instance, if you live in Kentucky, in May, you’ll usually experience temperatures in the mid-70s to mid-50s. Garden parties are usually outside, as the name suggests. So:

  • Women should wear sundresses paired with a derby hat. No clutch is necessary here; you can carry your belongings in a chic, small purse.
  • Men should look business casual. You don’t need to break out the suit you wore to your Easter Sunday brunch. Instead, think along the lines of well-fitted slacks and a collared shirt. You can even accessorize with a bow tie, just like a traditional Derby goer.

Wear Whatever at a Backyard Party

This does not mean roll out of bed, put on your shoes, and head out the door. A Kentucky Derby party is the chance to make a real statement––even at something simple like a backyard barbeque. Here are some options:

  • Women can wear “downplayed” sundresses. Wear a sundress that you can wear for hours at a time outside. You might accessorize with flat sandals or closed-toe shoes that you can walk in comfortably.
  • Men can wear jeans. Again, this does not mean your every day, raggedy jeans. Think Levi’s straight-cut jeans (in either dark or light blue) accompanied by a polo shirt. You might even wear boots or neutral-colored sneakers.

What Should I Wear to the Kentucky Derby?

The Kentucky Derby isn’t your average sporting event. You don’t sit down most of the time and only get on your feet to cheer. In fact, the race itself lasts two minutes, which some sports commentators call “the best two minutes in sports.” For the remainder of the event, you’ll be walking around the grounds, tasting bourbon, doing meet-and-greets with the horses, and watching shows.

With this in mind, you should consider wearing:

  • Comfortable shoes you can walk in for long periods
  • Long-sleeved shirts or blouses made of light material
  • Properly hemmed dresses and pants; after all, you don’t want to stain your hems with dust and dirt!
  • Your favorite derby hat

Note: Per the Kentucky Derby’s website, while most vendors take credit cards, “cash is king.” Be sure to plan accordingly. This could involve transferring your belongings into a slender wallet or carrying a smaller purse.

Final Thoughts

The Kentucky Derby is more than a horse race; it’s an opportunity to dress up and really feel part of the event—even if you’re doing so from the comfort of your living room. You should always dress with your comfort in mind. However, it’s good to know that the Kentucky Derby is a southern tradition, and, as such, you want to play the part.