Hosting a Kentucky Derby Party? Some tips for a splendid gathering

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A statue of Barbaro is seen at the entrance of Churchill Downs Tuesday, April 30, 2019, in Louisville, Ky. The 145th running of the Kentucky Derby is scheduled for Saturday, May 4. | AP Photo/Gregory Payan

Preparing for a Kentucky Derby party isn’t like the Oscars parties you have with friends. You can’t just wear a fancy gown and call it a day.

Sure, the horse races are important, but it’s the fashion that catches everyone’s eyes, and more specifically, the hats. As the Official Milliner of the Kentucky Derby Christine A. Moore describes it, “The Derby motto will always be ‘Go big or go home.’” So if you want to step out in style this weekend, check out some fashionable tips.

Hats, Hats, Hats

Are you even going to a Kentucky Derby party if you don’t have a hat?

“For the perfect derby party there are only a few must-haves,” says the Food Network’s Giada de Laurentiis. “Great food, strong cocktails and hats. Lots of hats.”

Women traditionally dressed up for events, and they continued this tradition when they were allowed to attend the Derby, Moore explains. It doesn’t look like that iconic trend is going away any time soon.

Carson Finkle, CEO at Tenth Street Hats, which sells official Derby head gear, suggests wearing the fascinator, a “classic, timeless and understated” hat for women. He also adds that the hatinator, a mix between a hat and fascinator, and sinamay are both great options as well.

For men, Finkle advises the boater, which he says is a classic for the Derby. The fedora is also a very popular option, and Finkle says those types of hats are currently flying off the shelves. The bowler is also “timeless for the racetrack” and the ivy is the “gentleman’s look.”

You can also get some extra inspiration by looking back towards last year’s Royal Wedding of Prince Harry and his wife, Meghan, Moore suggests..

“This year, you will see more beautiful clean disc style fascinators elegantly perched as well as the always popular southern belle large brimmed hats,” she says.

What else to wear

Don’t stress over your outfit. The most important thing to remember is to have fun and stay true to your own style while still sticking to the theme of the party. But in general, think about bright colors and pastels.

“Derby tends to be more preppy, so a traditional event might see women wearing spring dresses and wild hats while men stick to morning suits or seersucker with bow ties,” says Beth Kormanik, editor-in-chief of BizBash Media.

Take some time to think about your outfit from the hat to the dress to the shoes and wearing whatever you decide on with confidence, Moore suggests. Think bright colors, flowers and a very spring feel.

“Fresh flowers, whether worn in hats or in boutonnieres, are always a good choice,” Kormanik says.

A classic mint julep is the perfect beverage for a Kentucky Derby party. | PRNewsFoto/Levy Restaurants/File

A classic mint julep is the perfect beverage for a Kentucky Derby party. | PRNewsFoto/Levy Restaurants/File

What to serve

Whether you decide to go elegant or casual, always serve food that has staying power, says Peggy Noe Stevens, founder of Bourbon Women Association and frequent Kentucky Derby attendee. In other words, pick dishes and bites that won’t go bad if they’re left out at room temperature for too long.

She suggests serving traditional country ham and biscuits, beef tenderloin, steamed asparagus and burgoo, a traditional Kentucky stew. Seasonal dishes like chocolate-dipped strawberries and spring corn pudding are also a favorite.

Southern finger foods are also a good way to go at a Derby party, says Annie Pettry, owner of Decca restaurant in Kentucky and previous “Top Chef” contestant. And what if you have a big crowd?

“Go big like they do on Millionaires Row at Churchill Downs and set up a buffet line with a roast beef carving station and all the fix-ins,” Pettry suggests.

What to drink

Two words: mint julep.

But what if you want to try something else? While the julep may be the traditional drink of the Kentucky Derby, there are plenty of other cocktails you can have as well and still remain in theme.

Since most Derby parties start in the early afternoon, Stevens advises serving mimosas and bloody marys. She also says lily cocktails, which are a fancier take on the vodka and cranberry, are a new thing for the Derby.

You can also kick the mint julep up a notch by trying different versions with blueberry jam and basil leaves or blackberry sauce, Kormanik says.

And when all of that is done, it will finally be time to watch the race. Catch the Kentucky Derby Saturday at 1:30 p.m. on NBC.

Rasha Ali, USA TODAY


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