The Kentucky Derby is right up there with some of the most fashionable events of the year, but unlike the Met Gala, which centers around couture gowns, or the Oscars, which stars those dresses and million dollar jewels, the Derby is all about one particular accessory — hats. And this year the hats, fascinators, and “hatinators” promise to be bigger and better than ever.
It’s hard to believe the 144-year-old sporting event had not designated an “Official Milliner” (considering the popularity of the post at counterpart races), but times are a changing. The first-ever featured milliner is Christine. A. Moore, who has designed over-the-top toppers for Jennifer Lopez, Katy Perry, Mary J. Blige, and more. Her creations will be all over that Churchill Downs turf this weekend. Another designer to know? Gigi Burris, who has been designing for the rich and famous (including Rita Ora and Taylor Swift) for years, also will create a slew of celebrity chapeaus for the Derby (keep an eye out for Victoria Justice’s look in addition to others).
The hat-making mavens recently dished on their favorite famous clients as well as a few tips to keep in mind for your Kentucky Derby weekend plans. Keep reading for each of the designer’s insider’s tips and tricks.
Christine A. Moore
Brit + Co: What’s the secret to mastering a Kentucky Derby hat?
Christine A. Moore: Going to the Kentucky Derby is such a bucket-list event so you want to choose a style that’s comfortable to wear all-day and frames your face well. If you choose a large style (the motto for the Derby is “go big or go home,” mind you) think about how you will transport it, like shipping it directly to your hotel.
B+C: What exactly is the difference between a fascinator, a hat, and a hatinator?
CM: A hat has a brim around it and can be short or long and is blocked on a wooden form to give it shape and structure. A fascinator (or a cocktail hat as it has always been known in America) is a small accent piece that perches on your head — usually at an angle — and has a headband inside or an elastic band or comb to keep it in place. A hatinator is a larger headpiece that is a combination of a fascinator and hat and can also be held in place by a headband, elastic, and/or comb.
B+C: What are your favorite designs you’ve made for celebrities?
CM: I love the hat I designed for Mary J. Blige to sing the National Anthem at the Kentucky Derby in 2012 and the pieces I’ve done for Tara Lipinski. She loves fascinators and I love how she wears them. They look so light and airy on her like she could get right on the ice and dance.
B+C: Should you choose your outfit around your hat or the other way around?
CM: I am asked this often. If you are having a hat custom made you can buy the dress first because a milliner can match the colors well from a photograph. If you find the hat you absolutely love, buy it and find the dress to match. There are many more dresses out there then there are hats.
B+C: How do Derby trends differ from year to year?
CM: Big is always popular and so is red for the Derby roses. Lots of feathers come and go, but the fun thing about the Derby is that hats and styles run from the fantastical to the elegant.
B+C: What do you think the big trends will be this year?
CM: When there is a royal wedding on the horizon, fascinators become more popular, so I expect to see many and bright colors like aqua, teal, and green more than pastels.
Brit + Co: How long does it take you to make a hat?
Gigi Burris: It depends on the level of intricacy and material. Some of the most elaborate couture Derby hats take 18-26 hours and pass through the hands of six local artisans.
B+C: What’s the most over-the-top request you’ve gotten for a hat?
GB: I once got a request for a 12-inch brim with dozens of feathers hand tacked around the brim. Another client wanted a very elaborate hat with five alternating stripes of colors. The sewing process alone took about 30 hours.
B+C: What are your best tips for selecting your first Derby hat?
GB: If you’re attending the Derby in Louisville, you will most like need two hats: One for Oaks Day that is pink to match the traditional color for the occasion and one for the Derby. This unique deeply-rooted American tradition is a perfect opportunity to get out of your fashion comfort zone and wear a one-of-a-kind headpiece.
B+C: What are your favorite designs you’ve made for celebs?
GB:We loved working with Hailey Baldwin’s team on her  Met Gala look.
B+C: How do the Derby trends differ from year to year?
GB: The overall style remains consistent, although we do see micro trends emerge based on what ready-to-wear fashion people are gravitating towards. For example, last year we received a good amount of requests for neon.
B+C: What are your best tips for DIY-ing a Derby hat?
GB: Throw caution to the wind! It’s a very special occasion and you want a statement, so add feathers, flowers, and jewelry, but keep it chic and don’t go kitsch. You could even add a bit of mint from the garden to be cheeky in a nod to the julep!
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(Photos via Michael Loccisano/Getty, Joey Foley/FilmMagic, Dimitrios Kambouris/WireImage, Karwai Tang/WireImage)
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