Some come for the horses. Some come for the drinks. Some come for the social scene. But some come for the hats.
Wearing hats to horse races is a tradition that stretches back to the prestigious races of England, such as the Queen's Royal Ascot.
Ladies in attendance at this year's Arkansas Derby upheld this tradition in grand fashion, with plumage, glitter, bows, wide brims, florals, figurines, and more.
Grand Lagniappe Shoppe hattery owner and official hat sponsor of Oaklawn Racing Casino Resort Marcia Dobbs-Smith, also known as the Fab Hatter, shared that this year has been an exceptional one for the accessories.
"Super busy. We've had more custom hats this year than ever before. We've had people from all over the country coming in early, too. People were buying early and wearing early. Even yesterday and the week before and the week before there were people wearing hats. I was surprised. I thought it would've slowed down because of the forecast," she said.
"When I put it on, it just talked to me," said Hot Springs native Barbie Batterton Schultz of her glittery, pink hat from the Grand Lagniappe Shoppe.
"I think it makes it, you know? I mean it's the Derby," she said.
Though Batterton Schultz said she usually matches her flamboyant hats with equally striking shoes, she opted for pink rain boots printed with race horses to better suit the weather.
The weather and last minute wardrobe change did not dampen her day though, because "It's all about the hat on Derby Day."
Hannah Williams, of Nashville in Howard County, also chose a hat from the Grand Lagniappe Shoppe for the special day. Hers featured a vibrant orange butterfly and bows with a large blue hat underneath to match her striped romper of the same colors.
"I actually went to The Grand Lagniappe Shoppe downtown and showed her a picture of my outfit and she customized my hat to match it," she said.
When asked why she chose to wear a large hat, her answer was simple.
"Well, it's the Racing Festival of the South, and the bigger the better."
Judith Honey, of Hot Springs, shared that though she usually shops at the Grand Lagniappe Shoppe as well, she went with a mint green topper with yellow and red feathers from a shop in Kentucky via the online marketplace site Etsy.
As a veteran race day hat wearer of 10 years, she wears them for good luck, and this year's hat in particular because "It's green for money, and that's what counts."
Honey also used the hat as a way to rebel against the soggy weather.
"It just looked vibrant and happy and sunny, and I wanted a sunny day today," she said.
While store-bought hats abounded at Saturday's races, there were plenty of homemade ones, as well.
Felisha Sheppard and Chivas Williams, who both traveled from Mississippi for the race, opted for this. Their hats featured bright florals and feathers on a black fascinator for Sheppard and large brimmed black hat for Williams.
"They're one of a kind because of the fact that we did make them. So we haven't seen them replicated today," Sheppard said.
"This is our first time here, so we kind of thought it was tradition, maybe like the Kentucky Derby. So we weren't sure, but we decided to go all out," Williams said.
First-time Arkansas Derby attendee Jennie Massey of northern Arkansas said her creation with a large, white angled brim, red band, and extensive white and maroon plumage only took her 45 minutes to make.
"Being my first time, my husband said we were going to watch the horse races and that this was my chance. I've gotten a lot of compliments on it. People are more talkative to me since I'm wearing it," she said.
Rachel Freeman, of Harrison, sported a creation made by a friend with a flamingo and pink feathers adorning it.
She has been coming to watch races at Oaklawn since she was a little girl, but this was her first year to don a wide brim -- not just for the Arkansas Derby, but as a celebratory statement for other events in her life.
"Well I've just graduated law school and passed the bar exam and I'm celebrating. I got sworn in yesterday, so go big or go home. I love hats in general, but yes definitely, I think a Derby Day is where you should wear a big hat. So it's been exciting," she said.
For some, big, extravagant, homemade hats are a family affair.
Sisters-in-law Kelly Treadway and Leslie Murray, both of Benton, have a four-year-old annual tradition of making hats for each other and agreeing to wear whatever the other creates.
"We just decided one year that we wanted to make crazy hats, and so we said, 'OK, you make mine and I'll make yours," Murray said.
Treadway's hat made by Murray featured a foam bust wearing sunglasses and playing a bugle, horse figurines, a spate of black and red feathers, and large letters spelling "OAKLAWN."
Murray knew that her sister-in-law was a fan of the track's bugler and felt it would be a perfect element to include.
"Oh my gosh, it's so fun. People will look at us, and you know how you see crazy people at Walmart and want to take their picture but you don't want them to see? You'll see people taking pictures, and when you turn and look they look away. We're just jacked up. We're just here to have a good time," said Treadway.
For Murray's hat, Treadway incorporated her favorite colors: purple and red, into the large, light-up butterfly on the side of her hat.
"I love it this year. She did a really good job. A couple of years ago she did a racetrack, and then last year I had a flamingo on my head. And I did a papier-mache horse last year," Murray said.
Their designs typically take them four to five hours to complete, but the effort is well worth it for the ladies.
"Tacky is our middle name," Treadway said.
Emory Murray, of West Monroe, La., a cousin of Murray and Treadway, also made her own hat.
For her second Arkansas Derby, she designed a topper that reflected her state pride with purple and yellow feathers and a plush tiger wearing purple sunglasses and eating bacon as a reference to the University of Arkansas Razorback mascot.
"I've gotten a lot more people to talk to me. They're nice. It's fun to talk to them and everyone comments on it. It's pretty fun," said Murray.
Local on 04/14/2019
Print Headline: DERBY DAY: Hats, horse races just go together