A Do's and Dont's List for Dressing for The Kentucky Derby

Kentucky Derby Dress guide

The Kentucky Derby is the first length of the triple crown, a series of 3 races, held at the legendary racetrack Churchill Downs in Louisville, Kentucky, the first saturday in May!  Fancy VIPs will watch the famous race from Millionaire's Row, while 80,000 revelers will party on the infield while the horses do their thing!  And it's not just about horse racing... the Kentucky Derby is well known for being one of the biggest fashion extravaganzas of the year where celebrities and attendees dress to impress in away that can only be seen on this special day!  


Kentucky Derby fashion comes with a lot of expectations, as well as a lot of tradition in what to wear and of course fashion faux pas to avoid!  The strict dresscode is nothing short of glamorous, head-turning and classy.  If you're planning on attending the derby, or even throwing a Kentucky Derby party of your own, we've got a list of the do's and don'ts and all of the coveted secrets to dressing like a star.   




DO dress to impress.  

Fashion for the Kentucky Derby is not for the faint of heart or amateur fashionistas.  The guests attending the event will surely bring their a-game and you need to as well!  You want to make sure you're looking brilliant from head to toe!  Pick out your best dress or suit and make sure it's dry cleaned and pressed.  


DO NOT wear jeans. 

This is not the time to break out your good skinny jeans.  They're just not fancy enough!  Denim is a big NO-NO for this event.  Derby day is a day for spring dresses (both long and short), suits, leather shoes and heels.  If you insist on wearing pants at all, they should be loose, fancy, and paired with eye-catching accessories.  

DO embrace a spring color palette.  

Don't be shy with your colors.  The brighter the better.  Pastels, pinks, yellows, whites, baby blues are all acceptable.  Spring is your canvas.  Avoid wearing all black, or dark fall/winter or neutral colors on this bright fashion showcase.  Look to spring flowers and shades to help find your favorite shades.  Don't forget about bold patterns and fabrics when making your final decision.   


DO wear high heels



Simply because no other shoe is acceptable, especially when you've picked the most extravagant dress and hat to wear to the derby.  You need to be fashionable and elegant from head to toe and high heels are just as important to your outfit choice as your hat!  Flats will take away from your "wow-factor" and wearing sneakers would be a total setback!  


DO NOT forget to get a pair of Solemates for your high heels. 

There is grass, pavement, and dirt on the grounds of the Kentucky Derby (and even at your own Kentucky Derby parties) and your heels need to be able to negotiate all terrain with poise and grace, and stability!   The last thing you want is to ruin your heels, or to fall in your dress.  Struggling to walk in heels is not a good look!   Solemates High Heelers are small plastic heel tips that go on the tip of your high heel that prevent you from sinking in grass, dirt, or getting your high heels caught on cobblestone or pavement cracks.  They are an absolute must for every set of lovely high heels spending a beautiful Saturday afternoon in May, outdoors.   


Solemates sells them in 3-size packs that ensure a perfect fit, no matter what heels you choose to go with your outfit.  You can purchase them here:  SHOP SOLEMATES


DO NOT play it safe. 

The Kentucky Derby gives you an opportunity to take spring fashion to the next level and really push the envelope.  Don't spare any accessories or opportunities to be over the top.  Men will want to choose bow ties over bows, and not be afraid to wear colors and suit patterns they would not wear anywhere else.  Loud and fun socks, well suited hats, and definitely their very best cufflinks!   


As for women, channel your inner Jackie Onassis.  You can show off elegant pearls and costume jewelry, or take your own accessories to the extreme with bows, broaches, scarves, hats, earrings, flowers and more.  You're all on the red carpet today, you will want to give them something to remember!  



DO wear a hat.  

An extravagant and obnoxiously large hat is a right of passage when dressing for the Kentucky Derby.  When most people think about derby fashion, the first thing that they think about are the hats. In fact, many outfits are decided around the hat themselves.  You choose the hat first, and then the dress to match!  Even if you never wear a hat any other day in your life, it is appreciated and encouraged that you wear one to this event.   


Your hat can be both large and over the top, pairing it with a very simple dress, or it can be a well paired and modest accessory to a beautiful dress.  The best part about the Kentucky Derby is that you almost always cannot choose the wrong hat.  



DO have fun with your outfit choice. 

Whether you are looking to make a bold statement the attendees will never forget, or just want to wear your most elegant, sophisticated and classic look, have fun with your choice.  Show off your personality and don't be afraid to turn heads.  While some may think it's really about the horse races, most of us know what comes in second place to determining the next racehorse to be the newest triple crown contender, is the fashion!  



  • Dawn

    Tracey I have attended the derby for the past 9 years. If you are sitting in general admission yes cowboy boots are acceptable but in club/reserved seating you will defiantly feel out of place. Everyone dresses head to toe to impress.

  • Tracey Mattingly

    Can women wear cowboy boots to the Derby


    If you are planning to attend this year in the Kentucky Oaks, we encourage you to wear any color as long as it is PINK to honor of the Oaks official flower. You can follow here the dress code https://www.derbykentucky.com/ and about Kentucky Oaks Fashion Contest, this site will help you. THINK PINK when planning your attire for Kentucky Oaks day. Every Kentucky fan has a great opportunity to attened in the Longines Kentucky Oaks Fashion Contest to win a Longines time piece.

  • wanda

    This article definitely has the right moxy for the Derby. However, as resident Louisvillian, I’ll add a few tips of my own. 1. Make sure to bring a comfortable lightweight wrap or large scarf, especially if you’re ensemble is sleeveless. The weather here in Louisville can be fickle during this time of year: hot with a lot of sunshine (yay) or rainy, with a good dose of wind (boo) Hey, it even snowed on one Derby outing. In any case, you don’t want to be caught unprepared and shivering if it is a little bit on the cool side. 2) While heels are great, make sure you have a requisite pair of flats on hand to put on if you’re walking for any length of time, which at Churchill Downs, could turn into a good mile. And when you get to the area where you’ll be stationed, then put your heels back on and shine. 3) Have a great time and enjoy the city. There are a lot of great events to enjoy before and after the Derby is run.

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