Long dresses or short hems? Bold colors or pastels? Your fashion guide for Derby 2023
We're off to the races and we all want to look fabulous.
If that means you are currently prepping for the Kentucky Derby by googling "spring fashion trends" and "what to wear to the Derby," we promise you there is an easier way to plan your wardrobe for the 149th Run for the Roses at historic Churchill Downs racetrack.
In the simplest of terms, "dress to impress" is what Kentucky Derby weekend is about.
To show you what that killer outfit can look like for spring 2023, we've enlisted the expertise of Louisville-based fashion consultant Jo Ross who is a pro when it comes to advising women (and men) on their Kentucky Derby Day wardrobe. For more than 25 years, she's been a regular at New York City's iconic Fashion Week and Prêt a Porter in Paris and trackside at Churchill Downs.
With spring fashion in full bloom, Ross met our team at the Kentucky Derby Museum, 704 Central Ave. She arrived with her assistants carrying arm fulls of must-have spring fashions from Von Maur and models from Cosmo Model and Talent Agency.
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From breezy sundresses and dynamic blazers to shorts sets and coordinating outfits for couples attending the races, Ross laid out a visual smorgasbord of this season's silhouettes and colors but said your ensemble really comes down to one prime piece of advice, no matter which year you attend the Kentucky Derby.
"Derby is always colorful and so much fun and your fashion should reflect that mood," Ross told the Courier Journal. "There are so many options, whether you choose to wear a dress, pants suit, jumpsuit or romper. The key is to feel great in what you wear."
Will 2023 will be your first time at the races? Or maybe you are a seasoned pro looking to refresh your trackside look or you plan to watch the Kentucky Derby with family and friends at a Derby-themed party. Wherever you are enjoying "The Most Exciting Two Minutes in Sports" on the first Saturday in May, there is nothing quite as grand as dressing for the "Run for the Roses."
So let's get started. Here are eight tips to help you perfect your winning outfit for this year's Kentucky Oaks and Kentucky Derby.
What colors should I wear to the 2023 Kentucky Derby?
With more than 100,000 fans flooding through the gates at Churchill Downs each day of Derby weekend at Churchill Downs, you're sure to see just about every color under the sun. But if you truly want to be on point, the trending colors for spring 2023 are split into two camps.
"One is the very soft chalk pastel, and I mean the palest powder blue and pink, celery and mint greens, lilac and lemon," Ross told the Courier Journal.
The second color group making a showing in spring 2023 is a bouquet of vibrant brights.
"Some of them are so bright they almost glow," Ross said. "Glowing greens and blues and bold oranges and pinks."
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What types of dresses, hemlines are appropriate for the Kentucky Derby?
Ruffles, mini, maxis and bubble hems will make for an interesting mix at the 149th Kentucky Derby. Last year's idea of "anything goes" in the hemline department continues in 2023.
While you can't go wrong with a floral dress in any length at the Southern-inspired Kentucky Derby, you'll also see fashion-forward jumpsuits, rompers, skorts, and pants suits throughout the track on the first Saturday in May.
"Just be sure you are choosing one in a natural fabric or a blend," said Ross. "If you are wearing a jumpsuit made out of 100% Polyester, you'll roast if it's a very hot day."
Additionally, oversized blazars with matching skorts and mini tuxedo dresses will be popular trends we expect to see making their way to the track this year.
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Do I need to wear a hat to the Kentucky Derby?
A wide-brim hat or a fascinator is without a doubt the most popular accessory at the track each Kentucky Derby season. Trust us, you'll be in the minority if you show up without one. Plus, wearing a hat to the races is considered to be good luck!
Paring your Derby outfit with the perfect headpiece is a rite of spring in Louisville and a process made simpler by the sheer fact that there are more milliners (that's a hatmaker!) than you can shake a feather at in the city the week of the Kentucky Derby.
"It really goes back to comfort when you choose a brimmed hat or a fascinator on a headband," Ross said. "If you'll be moving around and mingling in the crowd a fascinator may be easier than a big brim. Think about your situation at the track on Derby day and that can help you decide which style will be best."
Many women and men will choose their outfits first and work with a milliner to create a coordinated custom headpiece. If you pick this route, contact your favorite milliner as soon as possible. If you find yourself coming down to the wire, gorgeous ready-made hats and fascinators are available in malls, boutiques, hotel lobbies and the gift shops at the Kentucky Derby Museum and Churchill Downs.
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Can I bring a purse to the Kentucky Derby?
After your headpiece, another important accessory is the purse you'll carry to the racetrack. This is your must-have fashion statement that also is extremely important because of its function.
Of course, you'll coordinate your handbag to your ensemble but you'll also need to carefully think through what you carry inside. This is because Churchill Downs does not allow large handbags. Your purse can not be larger than 12 inches in any direction, so before you shop, you'll want to read Churchill Downs' Derby Week Bag Policy.
The size restriction shouldn't cramp your style, though. You can absolutely carry a pretty purse or one with a splash of pizzazz. Just be sure that you take the time to go through the items you'll need for a long day at the races and be certain they'll fit in your bag.
Start with necessities like your ticket, sunglasses, band-aids (it's a long day on your feet,) a pen (for marking your program,) a tiny tube of sunscreen, a phone, and a charger. Be sure to leave room for plenty of cash because you can't use a credit card at the betting windows.
Seasoned fans also carry a wrap for the late afternoon when temperatures can turn cool and foldable flip flops for the long walk back to the car.
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Consider an outfit with pockets at the Kentucky Derby
This is more of a pro tip than a necessity but considering the size of your handbag can be no larger than 12 inches in any direction, Ross selected pretty spring coats, blazers and sundresses which include pockets.
"It's a simple detail that can make a big difference if you can't fit all that you need into your purse," she said. "A small bottle of aspirin, lipstick and a poncho, because it has been known to rain at the Kentucky Derby, can be slipped into your pockets until you arrive at your seat."
What should men wear to the Kentucky Derby?
Just like their female counterparts, men dress to impress at the Kentucky Derby. Since this is the one day of the year when more is better, expect to see a lot of vibrant colored slacks in sun-drenched colors like Bermuda Pink, Key Lime, Ocean, and Citron paired with equally bright sports jackets and coordinating neckwear.
Try to stick with lightweight suits since we all pray for warm weather at the racetrack the week of the races. Warm temperatures are why seersucker suits are so popular at the Kentucky Derby. This is also the perfect event to wear a straw fedora, bowler or newsboy knit cap.
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"To freshen your look for 2023, add a patterned shirt. It can steal the show," said Ross. "Another fun touch is a bright coordinating pocket square and some fun socks."
For men who are comfortable with a more polished look, a classic navy or seersucker blazer is always in style.
What kind of coordinated, couple outfits work for the Kentucky Derby?
We've noticed a growing number of couples coordinating their outfits in small touches of color and texture when attending the Kentucky Derby.
"This is not matching outfits. It's subtly coordinated garments," Ross said. "His pocket square and bow tie could match her dress or a ribbon in her hat."
And it's not only couples in relationships who are discussing what to wear before attending the event. Friends headed to the Kentucky Derby are creatively coordinating their ensembles, too.
Why you should have alternate Kentucky Derby outfits picked out
Let's face it, Kentucky Derby weekend in Louisville isn't just about the horses — it's an annual fashion event with few rivals. But make no mistake. You can plan your outfit for months and in the end but it's the weather that will play the most prominent role in your enjoyment of the day.
You should be prepared with three different wardrobe options because we never know exactly what the weather will dish up on Kentucky Derby Day. While it has snowed on Derby Day before, the heat or rain should be your primary focus
"Option one is your dress, pantsuit, jumpsuit or romper," said Ross. "Option two is adding a shrug or wrap if the forecast calls for morning or evening temperatures to drop — and if you have tickets in an air-conditioned section of the track."
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Dressing for rainy weather should be your third option. Be prepared with a clear rain jacket or poncho in your closet. These are great choices because your Kentucky Derby outfit is still visible through the plastic. And remember, no umbrellas are allowed inside Churchill Downs.
One more note on the rainy weather wardrobe. Women may want to have cute coordinating rainboots on hand and men can also find waterproof versions of their more formal footwear.
Your goal on Kentucky Oaks and Kentucky Derby Day is to look like a million bucks, no matter if you're sitting in the Grandstand, the illustrious Millionaire's Row, in the infield or at your at-home party. But of course, you can spend much less than a millionaire if you use these tips as inspiration.
Reach features reporter Kirby Adams at firstname.lastname@example.org.
This article originally appeared on Louisville Courier Journal: Kentucky Derby fashion: What to wear at Churchill Downs in 2023