The first Kentucky Derby was held in 1875, in what is referred to as the mid-Victorian period. During that time, a woman was not considered to be appropriately dressed if she left her home without a hat on her head and gloves on her hands. Heaven only knew who she might see and be seen by, so she had to be properly attired! Men were not appropriately dressed without a top hat. Even little babies and children wore bonnets. Only beggars went without hats!
Hat styles for women ranged from simple straw or cloth bonnets to wide brimmed hats with short crowns. Plumes were considered status symbols. To wear a hat with a plume made the statement that one was financially well-to-do. So prized were plumes that rare birds were being sought purely for their feathers, and this drew the concern of groups in both the United States and England, especially when whole stuffed birds began being used to embellish women’s dress hats. Shortly thereafter, only feathers from certain common birds could legally be used on hats. All other feathers were banned from use.
The traditional women’s derby hat is a wide brim hat (the Southern Belle look) adorned with feathers or a plume, ribbons, bows, and flowers, usually in spring colors. Today, there are hats embellished with other items, too, such as beads, butterflies, and birds. And some people are breaking from the traditional wide-brimmed hat style. Ladies derby hats now also include bucket, kettle, and sinamay style hats embellished with all sorts of things from feathers and boas, to flowers, bows, birds in a nest, and even little plastic horses. A gorgeous hat not only exudes class, it makes the wearer feel beautiful. When you really want to look your best, the right hat can truly make a difference.