Kentucky Derby Outfits: What To Wear To The Most Fashionable Horse Racing Event 

By  Emily Konatella

LAST UPDATED - December 11, 2023

The Kentucky Derby at Churchill Downs is a world-famous horse racing event with thrilling wagering involved, yes. But it has become all about fashion in recent years, and we're so here for it. The event is the picture of inclusivity, so you can expect male and female attendees to dress their best.

The Kentucky Derby is more than just a horse racing event. It's a social hub for fashion and culture, and people's outfits keep gossip mills and fashion magazines running editions long after the winning horse is crowned.

So if you are planning on attending this year's Kentucky Derby or Kentucky Oaks, be sure to gear up with stunning Derby outfit ideas below. From stylish hats to dapper attire, we've got you covered. So grab a refreshing mint julep, sit back, and revel in the festivities in style.

What To Wear For Her 

Ladies, this is the time to channel the inner Southern Belle in you.

Our most important tip? Monitor the weather updates closely to understand what you have to pack for rain, hail, or humidity.


You can go for several elegant, easy-to-wear, attention-grabbing options, but you can't go wrong with a simple fit that allows your hat to shine. For example, a fit and flare dress is vibrant, flattering, and, most importantly, comfortable. We also can't deny the appeal of a zesty-hued halter dress with ruffles. 

Solids reign supreme, but no rules are set in stone. Don't be afraid to try out new colors, styles, and patterns that make you feel confident and attractive.


Extravagant hats, part-southern, part spectacle, make the Kentucky Derby one of the most intriguing people-watching events in the world. Hats are said to bear good luck; attendees have complete freedom to go as simple or over-the-top as they want. 

Many women wear wide-brimmed hats, but you don't have to. You could just as easily rock oversized headwear with flowers, feathers, bows, or an eye-catching ribbon in an elegant way. 

If you design or choose your Derby hat before you have an outfit, you may have more freedom over the dress style you can shop for. You can match patterns, rock a combination of the two, or keep the dress simple to highlight the hat.

What About Fascinators? Will They Work?

If you are more comfortable with fascinators, why not? 

If hats are not your style but you still want to emulate the derby spirit, take inspiration from Kate Middleton. The Princess of Wales popularized the fascinator, a formal headpiece that consists of a woven disc attached to a band or clip. It's easier to wear than a hat, plus you get to stay en vogue as you mingle in the Southern world. 


Shoes can be the defining element that ties your whole look together. For Derby fashion, you won't go wrong with heels or sandals. We recommend bringing something with a little less height and a lot more stability (perhaps a pair of flats) so you don't have trouble at the race track.


Keep your jewelry relatively low-key; let your hat and dress do most of the talking. 


While you may be tempted to wing it with a sling, you will regret this decision on Derby Day.

The Kentucky Derby is a long event; you must prepare accordingly.

Carry a large bag, although not larger than 12 inches long or wide. Bring a water bottle, sunglasses, sunscreen, a light poncho, a cardigan or wrap, lipstick, flip-flops, a small clutch, your phone, cash, and other essentials for the day. 

What To Wear For Him

The Derby may seem to be an event centered on women's fashion alone, but that's definitely not the case. Many men dress up at their finest according to Derby's color palette—think bright pastels and tropical colors. 

Go for a lightweight classic blazer or a sports jacket. Complete the unique ensemble with vibrant pants in hues like Citron and Key Lime to stand out from the crowd. 

It also wouldn't hurt to experiment with pinstripes or gingham. Patterns can inject energy and excitement into your outfit, elevating it from ordinary to extraordinary.


Women may have started the hat-wearing tradition, but many men have taken part in it over the years. A stylish fedora, especially one crafted from straw, can instantly elevate your look.

You can also experiment with bowler hats and other fun accessories. 


The Derby is a largely casual event, but there's no denying a tie will give most outfits an extra bit of pizzazz. 

Express yourself with a silk tie and marvel at how dapper the sensational neckwear makes you look.


Loafers keep things minimalist yet trendy. 

Make sure to wear them sockless. They look better this way and provide a clean and distinguished profile. 

Derby Dress Code: Uncode 

Derby attendees have complete freedom over their fashion choices. But if you're seated in certain sections, you'll likely have to follow a dress code. 

The official website offers helpful pointers about what you should wear depending on your tickets. 

If you're in Aristides Lounge, Champions Bar and Balcony, First Turn Club Dining, Gold Room, Homestretch Club, Loft at Aristides Lounge, Millionaire's Row, Skye Terrace, Stakes Room, and Balcony, or Winner's Circle Suites Track, casual will be your best choice. Jackets, blazers, pantsuits, dresses, and slacks will be appropriate.

If you're in the Derby Room, Grand Foyer, Jockey Club Suites, Matt Winn's Steakhouse, Oaks Room, Roses Lounge, Starting Gate Suites, Triple Crown Room and Balcony, or Turf Club Boxes, smart casual outfits are perfect. Vests, dresses, and slacks will be appropriate here. 

If you're in the Director's Room, Finish Line Suites and Balcony, Spires Terrace and Suits, Trophy Room, or Turf Club, Terrace, and Balcony, business casual will make a statement. You can wear jackets, blazers, sweaters, slacks, and dresses.

Style Ideas

Pick bold, bright colors for your Kentucky Derby outfit

The colors are crazy at the Derby. Don't shy away from bold and vibrant colors. Embrace the festive spirit of the event by opting for eye-catching hues that exude energy and excitement. Think of various shades of pink, yellow, red, blue, or even dazzling patterns that make a statement.

Kentucky Derby hats are a must

The hat is an essential accessory during Kentucky Derby Weekend. Opt for classic colors like ivory, pastel shades, or even daring black-and-white combinations. The right hat will add a touch of sophistication and make a statement as you exude grace and style.

Consider the weather of derby day

When planning your Kentucky Derby outfit, it's crucial to consider the weather conditions. Check the forecast and adapt your attire accordingly. On sun-kissed days, prioritize comfort by choosing breathable fabrics like linen or cotton that keep you cool. Safeguard your skin with sunscreen, and top off your ensemble with a fashionable wide-brimmed hat that shields you from the sun's rays. On cooler days, layer your outfit with a stylish jacket or cardigan. Be prepared for potential rain by bringing a waterproof jacket or umbrella. 

Accessorize with statement pieces

Choose bold and unique pieces that draw attention and add a touch of glamour. Consider oversized sunglasses, statement earrings, chunky bracelets, or a dazzling clutch to make a statement. Incorporate pops of color, metallic accents, or intricate designs that complement your ensemble and showcase your personal flair.

About the author

Emily is a fashion consultant, designer and creative director with more than 15 years experience creating, designing and developing clothing & jewelry. From managing pageant shows to turning concepts into actual designs, she has experience with almost all fabric types and jewelry designs and is in touch with the latest fashion trends.