Steeplechase fashion: Hats an important part of horse racing fashion

March 19, 2019 GMT

The cherry on top of the grandeur of Aiken’s Triple Crown is the hat.

Fascinators, top hats and fedoras and more adorn the heads of Aikenites attending the events, and have become a business for Ladonna Armstrong, who creates hats as art pieces, as well as race attire.

Armstrong started her business, Aiken Hattery, in August and sells her creations at the Aiken Center for the Arts.

“Meriwether Lewis Clark Jr. is the one who started the Kentucky Derby at Churchill Downs in 1875,” Armstrong said. “And he didn’t want it to be a drinking and gambling atmosphere so he actually approached high society women to gather their friends to attend the races in morning dress, which of course included a hat.”

Armstrong said horse races are a “day of excellence” and an amazing experience to be a part of.

She and her four daughters usually dress in all white to the races, and said the hats are the “punch of color” in the outfit.

When finding materials for hats, Armstrong is a gatherer. “I keep my eye out for items – feathers, butterflies, you know, this and that,” she said.

When she wants to put together a hat, she begins grouping her supplies together, and then sews and affixes them to the hat.

Armstrong said she puts all her hopes and dreams into the hats, plus a little bit of magic. When someone wears one of her hats, those dreams come true, she said.

Tips for creating a hat

Armstrong gave a few tips about the hat making craft, as well as what to add to make it your own.

The first step, of course, is the hat, which Armstrong says many people have around their homes, such as a garden hat.

She said the main hat seen around the races is a straw hat, which has wide, floppy brims for shade and keeping the sun off the wearer’s face.

Sinamay, a woven and starched material which is light and airy, is another hat option, which Armstrong said is well known in millinery – the art of making hats – and horse racing. If choosing sinamay for a hat base, keep in mind that you don’t want to get it wet or add as many items to it.

Along with wide brimmed and floppy, other hat types are a top hat, fedora or fascinator.

Armstrong’s best tip? Be passionate about the hat.