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There are many associations that come to mind with the Kentucky Derby. Horses, naturally. Mint juleps too. But to be a true participant in the Derby spectacle, one needs a proper Derby hat.

The tradition for wearing eye-catching attire to America’s most famous horse race began in the 1870s. The founder of the Kentucky Derby, Meriwether Lewis Clark Junior, was inspired by the fashionable dress codes at events like Ascot in Britain and Paris’ Grand Prix. Creating his own, he figured, would transform his racetrack from a place of ill-repute to one for well-heeled high society.

On a sunny spring Monday in 1875, more than 10,000 spectators attended the first Kentucky Derby and The New York Times reported on the fashion as well the racing, noting that “the grandstand was thronged by a brilliant assemblage of ladies and gentlemen.” His plan worked, and this collective passion for horses, gambling and to party — even in smart seersucker suits or a spectacular feathered fascinator — has endured as a cornerstone of the Derby to this day.

This year marked the 150th anniversary of the race at Churchill Downs, and as expected nobody held back both on and off the track, from wide-brimmed styles adorned with spring florals and soft feathers paired with tasteful pastel-colored dresses to jockey helmets adorned with plastic stallions and straight up horse heads. Hats off to this crowd.

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