The very first Kentucky Derby was inspired by top-tier races in England and France, so it’s no surprise that the upscale dress codes of European horse racing also came across the pond with Derby creator Meriwether Lewis Clark (the grandson of William Clark, as in Lewis and Clark).
In the early days of the Derby, Gilded Age styles were front and center, including corsets and long dresses for women. Hats were seen as a status symbol, and the tradition of wearing lavished hats continues to this day from elegant fascinators to wild, themed hats.
Fashion trends at the Kentucky Derby continued to follow whatever was the latest and greatest style in the U.S. at the time, from more simple attire throughout the Great Depression to glamorous outfits in a post-war America ready to party.
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Today, the more unique your fit, the better. Bright colors, bold prints and innovative designs are all the rage, and hats and fascinators are still front and center.
“The Kentucky Derby is such an iconic American event where fashion, fun, sports and tradition meet,” says Shep Murray, co-founder of Vineyard Vines, the official style of the Run for the Roses for over a decade.
Ian Murray, the other co-founder behind Vineyard Vines, says that while styles at the Derby tend to be timeless and classic, he’s noticed a welcomed increase in vibrant prints, especially within men’s fashion. He’s also seen a growing demand for more versatile clothing, from dresses that can be worn to events long after the Derby to sports coats with an emphasis on performance and comfort.
The 2021 Kentucky Derby will air on May 1 from 12:30 to 2:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN and from 2:30 to 7:30 p.m. ET on NBC. Coverage is also available to stream live on NBCSports.com and on the NBC Sports app. Post time for the 2021 Kentucky Derby is set for approximately 6:57 p.m. ET.
Related: How to watch the 2021 Kentucky Derby
Bright and colorful outfits have been the norm for women at the Derby for years now. So whether you’re making the trip to Louisville or celebrating from your house, look for exciting prints that scream spring and summer.
Keep the warm weather in mind (Saturday’s forecast in Louisville is a sunny 73) when picking a fit and material weight. Go for a classic dress or buck tradition with a romper or suit.
Vineyard Vines’ Shep Murray says their gingham floral dress, which combines a summery gingham in pastel blue with a floral pattern reminiscent of the Derby’s garland of roses, is one of their biggest sellers.
Men’s fashion at the Kentucky Derby range from casual to formal to flashy. A popular look is dressy pants, a vibrant shirt or sport coat and fun accents like sunglasses or bold bowties, but anything goes on the First Saturday in May.
If you can’t make it to the store in time for the mane event, take a spin through your closet and upcycle your own outfit. Most importantly, don’t be afraid to take a risk with breezy pastels or bright colors.
Related: Enter to win a #DerbyAtHome Mint Julep kit
Keep the kids festive yet cool with summery styles like patterned dresses and shorts. Like the adults, pastels and vibrant colors make for great Derby outfits. You also can’t go wrong with sporting matching styles on one of the biggest fashion days of the year. If junior is too young for a Derby-caliber hat, opt for a headband or child’s baseball cap for a winning combo of style and sensibility.
The Kentucky Derby is synonymous with colorful and creative hats and fascinators. Make your own at home using an old hat or headband and whatever materials around the house inspire you, like NBC Sports’ DIY Paper Flower Fascinator.
If you’re pressed for time or creativity (hey, no judgement), there are also many options available online. The Spring 2021 line from Kentucky Derby 147 Featured Milliner Christine A. Moore Millinery includes an array of hats and fascinators in neutrals, reds, pinks and cool tones.
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From pink suits, dresses and hats to pink trim or accents, pinks of all shades dominate at Churchill Downs on Kentucky Oaks Day (Friday, April 30, 12-6 p.m. ET, NBCSN) when a field of fillies compete in the marquee race of the day.
Those who think their pink styles out-do the rest can enter the Longiness Fashion Contest, which will be virtual this year due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Aside from celebrating the female horses running in the Oaks, the day is also dedicated to raising awareness about breast and ovarian cancer (including the Survivors Parade, made up of breast and ovarian cancer survivors) and fundraising for charities.
Related: Recipes for traditional Mint Julep and other Kentucky Derby drinks
Watch the 147th running of the Kentucky Derby on Saturday, May 1 from 12:30 to 2:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN and from 2:30 to 7:30 p.m. ET on NBC. Full coverage is also available on NBCSports.com and the NBC Sports app.