Why Do Women Wear Wild Hats to the Kentucky Derby?

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The attendees of Kate and William's nuptials received a lot of attention for their choice of fanciful headwear, but the royal wedding isn't the only event known for its display of wild hats. The flashy, colorful hats that women don at the Kentucky Derby are a part of the annual horse race's tradition -- and the bigger and bolder the hat, the better.

"We don't have a lot of documented history on the hats, but speculation has it that when the derby was first brought here, they wanted it to be a social affair," Courtney Stinson, a public relations manager for the Kentucky Derby Museum, told usatoday.com.

"They went around to all of the women's clubs in town and invited the women to dress up in their finest to come to the Derby," Stinson said.

When the Kentucky Derby was first held at the Churchill Downs racetrack in Louisville, Ky., 137 years ago, hats were all the rage and regarded as an essential everyday accessory -- for those who could afford them. At special events such as the horse races, women wore fancy and extravagant hats to broadcast their social status and show off their expensive style. Men simply wore top hats. [Why Is the Mint Julep the Official Drink of the Kentucky Derby? ]

Over the years, the Churchill Downs hat tradition has remained for women and continues to be a Kentucky Derby staple. Although women aren't required to wear a hat to the races, most do. One common theme among Kentucky Derby hats is roses, since the race is known as the "run for the roses" because the winning horse receives a blanket made of more than 500 of the blossoms.

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Remy Melina was a staff writer for Live Science from 2010 to 2012. She holds a bachelor’s degree in Communication from Hofstra University where she graduated with honors.