The Courier Journal’s Kirby Adams and Kathryn Gregory walk you through everything you need to know about the Kentucky Derby.
Kirby Adams and Kathryn Gregory and Alton Strupp and Jeff Faughender, Louisville Courier Journal
Side by side on the red carpet at Churchill Downs, a pair of famous foodies showed off two extremes of how men dress for the Kentucky Derby.
Before taping Season 16 of Bravo’s “Top Chef” in Kentucky, chefs Graham Elliot and Tom Colicchio visited the iconic horse race on the first Saturday in May.
Colicchio, who prefers a polished classic approach to dressing, sported a cream-colored light cotton suit with a navy bow tie and pale blue shirt to accent his intense blue eyes. He wore a white straw fedora with a dark ribbon perched on his head.
Elliott worked with “Top Chef” stylist Charlotte Rose Coleman to create a more adventurous look for his 2018 Kentucky Derby attire.
Coleman dressed him in a splashy “purple-red sports jacket” and a baby blue and navy floral shirt with a bow tie, then topped off the look — like an ornate pastry — with the snazzy straw hat Elliot selected for the races.
Top Chef guest judge Graham Elliot and head judge Tom Colicchio talked with Courier Journal’s Kirby Adams on the red carpet at Kentucky Derby 2018.
Frankie Steele/Special to Courier Journal
Both chefs looked amazing and both did it right, according to the guidelines for men’s attire on the Churchill Downs website.
“The most important thing about your Derby outfit for men is to be confident. No matter what you wear, it’s how you wear it,” said Jo Ross, a Louisville fashion consultant.
That means whether you choose to craft a classic Kentucky Derby look or opt for impactful accessories — lean into your look, gentlemen.
“From a seersucker suit to colorful neckwear, men’s clothes have gotten so much more fun at the Kentucky Derby,” Ross said. “In Kentucky, we love bow ties, mixing patterns, maybe a little lapel boutonniere and patterned jackets.”
So guys, what are you wearing to the racetrack on Thurby, Kentucky Oaks or the Kentucky Derby? Or maybe you’re headed to a house party to celebrate one of the fanciest sporting events on the planet.
Wherever you end up on Kentucky Derby day, we’ve got tips for creating a polished outfit with minimal effort — guaranteed to be a big payoff in the looks department.
That Classic Kentucky Derby Feel
If your style leans toward classic, you’ll want to strive for the ideal amount of festive, without going overboard at the Kentucky Derby.
“Dress like you’ve been there before,” said Bob Bayersdorfer, owner The Fashion Post, a Louisville-owned menswear store at 2420 Lime Kiln Lane. “Which leads to ‘How do I do that? I’ve never been there before.'”
Bayersdorfer’s thoughts on creating a classic look for Derby are as simple as they are refined.
“The Kentucky Derby is a historical event full of tradition so most of the locals and horsemen dress in classic attire,” Bayersdorfer said.
He likes sports coats for most areas at Churchill Downs, even the infield.
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“It is a sporting event, after all,” he said. But remember that “suits, other than seersucker or cotton poplin, are best left for the boardroom.”
To avoid seeing the spitting image of yourself coming and going in the massive crowd at the track, he recommends men avoid mass produced and over distributed brands. Add a splash of color to any outfit with a pocket square or fancy, colorful socks and learn to tie a bow tie.
“Bow ties are always a popular choice at Churchill Downs,” Bayersdorfer said. “Best to tie it yourself so it doesn’t look pretied. Your local men’s store (or YouTube) can teach you how.”
(The Courier Journal did a hands-on ‘how to tie a bow tie’ video with Churchill Downs’ own Kevin Kerstein to help you achieve the perfect look!)
Bright and Bold like a jockey
Jockeys streak by the grandstands on Kentucky Derby day wearing a sea of color.
Silks, the traditional jockey uniforms, are made from bright fabric using accents in deep pink, vibrant blue, kelly green, deep purple and more.
The jockey silks may influence the less traditional Kentucky Derby crowd who prefer creating a vibrant race day look. Think Elliott rather than Colicchio at the 2018 Kentucky Derby.
“You can have a lot of fun with how you dress and get completely out of your normal comfort zone,” said fashion expert Ross. “On Derby weekend you’ll see men dressed in great prints, fun jackets and Derby-themed socks. There is something for everybody.”
It can be a day to break out your nontraditional workday colors, maybe even got out on a limb.
“Many men will be dressed in colorful trousers in colors like aqua, lime, coral, lavender and, of course, white,” Ross said.
For the truly adventurous, Ross turns to Jimbo’s Custom Blazers, a Kentucky-based business that creates custom jackets for men. From a rose print to horse race scenes, if you want to get noticed, these blazers will do the trick.
Other companies, such as Vineyard Vines, which has its own Kentucky Derby collection and is the Official Style of the Kentucky Derby, sell over-the-top blazers plus colorful slacks and accessories.
Add a pair of socks in a mint julep or other Derby pattern, jazzy bow tie, a straw fedora, bowler or newsboy cap and you’ll fit right in but with your own special twist.
“It’s true that if you wear something that is quite unique you are more likely to attract attention — if that’s what you want, maybe even from the sea of photographers who are at the track, ” said Ross. “The point is, the Kentucky Derby is fun and your outfit can be too, so why not?”
Whatever style you choose, be it classic or bold, keep in mind that even if you plan to bet a long shot at the Kentucky Derby, it’s not a day to take a chance on your wardrobe.
You be you and when you do, do it with panache.
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