Kentucky Derby Dress Code (2024)


The Kentucky Derby is one of the biggest sporting events in the horse racing industry attracting more than 150,000 people every year. Why? Well, here we have the best of the best.

Some of the fastest horses in the world are trying their hand at winning the Kentucky Derby. Since we are talking about “the best” you should also add this principle when choosing your derby outfit.

Over the years, horse racing as a sport grew to become more than just a social event sprinkled with some adrenaline rush. It evolved into a big fashion runway, where you cannot turn up with your favorite comfortable trainers.

No, you are required to wear your best attire, go outside of your comfort zone, and try to look as stylish as possible. After all, you don’t want to be the one that everybody points their finger at for being underdressed.

We will take a look at Kentucky Derby’s dress code and give you a few points to consider before choosing your outfit.

Kentucky Derby History

The man responsible for bringing the best horse race to the United States is Colonel M. Lewis Clark Jr. who was actually inspired by the Epsom derby and wanted to bring that European elegance back to Louisville.

But it didn’t start as a high-class event. This was a regular race more focused on gambling than fashion. Kentucky Derby has a rich history with some amazing hoses that managed to get blisteringly fast times. The Secretariat and Monarchos were the only two horses that managed to finish the race in under two minutes.

If you want to learn more about previous Kentucky Derby appearances, check out the link below:

However, the Clarks managed to rebrand the Kentucky Derby into a high-society event by necessitating “full morning dress” and high fashion.

This made the Kentucky Derby more of a high-class event reserved for the elite. Fashion continued to evolve at the Kentucky Derby every year, and it wasn’t until the 1960s that the iconic derby hats started to dominate the race.

Since then, fashion become a symbol for the Kentucky Derby.

Kentucky Derby Dress Code

Unlike other races, most people are surprised to find out that the Kentucky Derby doesn’t have an official dress code. So, how and why are all people dressed up so nicely? And why aren’t there individuals who turn up in basic T-shirts and trainers?

Well, even though the Kentucky Derby doesn’t have a strict dress code, there are some fashion items that you are not allowed to wear. In other words, you won’t be given access to the race if you wear:

  • Denim jeans
  • Shorts
  • Tennis shoes
  • Backpack
  • Bags that go against their bag policy
  • Umbrellas

Fashion Guide for Ladies

Kentucky Derby fashion for women? Think Easter Sunday on steroids. It’s all about “go big or go home” with your hat, a tradition that has become the crown jewel of Derby attire.

When selecting your dress, the sky (or the hem) is the limit. From the floor-sweeping elegance of an A-line chiffon to the playful charm of a ruffled midi, the key is vibrant colors and bold prints. Brands like Azazie offer a plethora of options, from the demure to the daring​​.


Shoes are where the practical meets the posh. Given the turf and terrain at Churchill Downs, a chunky heel might save you from a fashion faux pas (or a twisted ankle), but if you must go with stilettos, packing a pair of emergency flats is a wise wager​​.

Gentleman’s Fashion Gude

For the gents, it’s an opportunity to break from the monotony of monochromes. Pastels, plaid, and bold stripes take center stage. While a classic seersucker suit screams Derby, don’t shy away from mixing in some tropical hues or eye-catching patterns.

Accessories like bow ties, suspenders, and the right hat can elevate your ensemble from mere attendee to mane attraction​​.

Dressing for Derby Day’s Dualities

The Derby can be a marathon, not a sprint, especially when it comes to comfort and climate. Layers are your friend, given the fluctuating forecast of Louisville in May. Rain or shine, your outfit should be as adaptable as it is admirable. And yes, sunscreen is non-negotiable​​.

Where to Shop for Show-Stopping Styles

Your Derby outfit can come from anywhere—from the heights of haute couture to the depths of your grandparents’ closet. The trick is to embody spring in every stitch, embracing confidence and creativity in your choices. For those looking to invest, bespoke hats and attire are always an option, but so is DIY for the crafty contenders​​.

Final Words

So, if you are one of the lucky ones who managed to get a ticket for the Kentucky Derby, try to make the most out of this experience by choosing the right outfit. There are no limits to Kentucky Derby fashion, especially if you want to stand out from the crowd.


Therefore, do some research on previous Kentucky Derby red carpet appearances and try to inspire yourself to choose the right outfit for the Derby.

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