Kentucky Derby hats through the years, from the boldest to brightest

It’s off to the races for Kentucky Derby fans. And those truly committed to the May event know that the fashion -- particularly women’s hats -- is just as important as the thoroughbreds racing.

From the beginning, fashion was associated with the Kentucky Derby as Col. Meriwether Lewis Clark Jr., who founded Churchill Downs, hoped to make the race a high-class event, according to the Kentucky Derby notes on its website. But the hats didn’t really come into play until about the 1960s “when social fashion norms loosened up and the presence of television gave women a reason to stand out,” the Derby said.

Hats are also supposed to bring good luck.

The Kentucky Derby says it doesn’t have any “hard and fast rules” when it comes to apparel, but the event is a chance for every woman’s Southern belle to come out with pastel dresses, bows and Lilly Pulitzer prints. For the hats, the Kentucky Derby suggests those in seated areas of Churchill Downs wear more traditionally southern, wide-brimmed hats. But in the infield area, where the parties happen, hats tend to be a little more curious.

Recently, thanks in part to Kate Middleton, fascinators have also become a trend at the Kentucky Derby.

Men, too, typically, don their best pastels, seersucker and floral print bow ties. But the gentlemen can wear hats as well.

Here’s a look at some of the more extravagant -- and unusual -- hats worn at the famous horse race.

A patron wears a derby hat before the 2017 Kentucky Oaks at Churchill Downs.

A patron wears a derby hat before the 2017 Kentucky Oaks at Churchill Downs. (Reuters/Mark Zerof - USA Today Sports)

Horse racing fan Ellen Palmer wears a derby hat in the infield during the 142nd running of the Kentucky Derby at Churchill Downs.

Horse racing fan Ellen Palmer wears a derby hat in the infield during the 142nd running of the Kentucky Derby at Churchill Downs. (Reuters/Aaron Borton/Louisville Courier-Journal)

Monique Rosteing poses with her derby hat before the 142nd running of the Kentucky Derby at Churchill Downs.

Monique Rosteing poses with her derby hat before the 142nd running of the Kentucky Derby at Churchill Downs. (Reuters/David Lee Hartlage/Louisville Courier-Journal)

A patron wears a decorated derby hat before the 142nd running of the Kentucky Derby at Churchill Downs.

A patron wears a decorated derby hat before the 142nd running of the Kentucky Derby at Churchill Downs. (Reuters/Mark Zerof - USA Today Sports)

Ashley Cebak wears a derby hat before the 2014 Kentucky Derby at Churchill Downs.

Ashley Cebak wears a derby hat before the 2014 Kentucky Derby at Churchill Downs. (Reuters/Jamie Rhodes - USA Today Sports)

Attendees wear matching elaborate hats before the running of the 139th Kentucky Derby horse race at Churchill Downs.

Attendees wear matching elaborate hats before the running of the 139th Kentucky Derby horse race at Churchill Downs. (Reuters/Jeff Haynes)

A race fan displays his hat before the 134th running of the Kentucky Derby horse race at Churchill Downs.

A race fan displays his hat before the 134th running of the Kentucky Derby horse race at Churchill Downs. (Reuters/Jeff Haynes)

Race fan Julie Casteel displays her hat before the 134th running of the Kentucky Derby horse race.

Race fan Julie Casteel displays her hat before the 134th running of the Kentucky Derby horse race. (Reuters/Jeff Haynes)