Derby Event – Day 3 – It’s All About the Hat


Welcome to Day 3 of our Derby Week Event.  If you haven’t been able to follow us, you can catch up here.  On Monday,  The 2 Seasons gave some history and background on the Derby here, and yesterday Carmel at Our Fifth House wrote about the horse in home decor  here.


We all know that the second most important things at the Derby, behind only the horses, are the hats.  Those glorious, flamboyant hats worn at the Derby can be the icing on the cake for an outfit or create a “What was she thinking?” reaction.



The best Derby hats are the ones that complete the outfit.  They are like the icing on the cake or the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow.  They make the outfit make sense.  It’s kind of like that “You complete me” line from Jerry McGuire.



Polly Singer, founder of Polly Singer Couture Hats and Veils lives and works in Lexington, and I was lucky enough to visit her workshop recently.  Right now Polly and her staff are knee-deep in putting the finishing touches on Derby special orders.



Polly’s hats are worn all over the country and world.  They have been worn at major horse events, including races, polo matches, and even England’s Ascot.  They have also been seen in People, Time, Victoria, Tea Time and Today’s Woman magazines, in USA Today, and on The View.


Surprisingly, Polly was a political science major in college. However, she was always crafty and eventually went to the Fashion Institute of Technology in New York City. On her way to starting  her own business, she worked in the music industry and even worked on the Titanic clothing line for the J. Peterman Company.  (Yes, the fictional J. Peterman in the Seinfeld series was based on a real person who also lives in Lexington).


Her hat creations take on the average of five hours to create and range in price from $150 for a fascinator up to $500 for something more elaborate.



Her shop is loaded with supplies.


Her supplies come from different sources.  The hat forms come from one place, the flowers from one place, the feathers from one place, and the ribbons from one place.



The first step in the hat-making process is dying the form. Polly said this step is crucial.  If she gets it wrong, she must start over.  There is no correcting the color.   This photo shows a form before it has been dyed.


These forms have been successfully dyed.




On a custom order, the next step is the sizing.  She said that heads range in sizes from 20  to 24 inches.  (Her website tells how to measure your head correctly).


If a client orders a pre-made hat from her, this is one of the last steps.  By attaching the sizing band last, the pre-made hats will be ready to fit anyone.  By the way, all of the work is done by hand.


The flowers, feathers, and ribbons come next.  Some of the flowers can cost as much as $20 each.



Then the hats are checked and tweaked to make sure everything is perfect.



Lots of Polly’s hats have stories attached to them.  For instance, a soldier in Afghanistan ordered a hat for his wife to be delivered on Derby day.  It will be accompanied by a message from him that promises they will go to the Derby together next year.



She was making two hats for twins who will be celebrating their fiftieth birthdays at the Derby.  One of the sisters is surprising the other one with hats that are complementary to each other.



Polly said she isn’t surprised when she gets a phone call from a lady who is in a panic because her husband or boyfriend waited till the last minute to “surprise” her with tickets to the Derby.  She said she often has to calm the person down and let her know everything will work out.  The men often have great intentions but don’t have a clue about how time consuming it can be to put the right outfit together.



Of course I couldn’t visit Polly’s shop without trying on at least one hat.  I liked this pale yellow hat with the white feathers and lime green flowers.   I won’t be going to the Derby, but Mr. Autumn and I will have fun watching it at our friends’ Derby/pool/Cinco de Mayo party.


I couldn’t leave before showing you an iphone photo of Gracie’s Derby horse and jockey outfit.  Jordan and Mr. Spring are having a Derby party (we’ll give you the details next week), and Gracie will be making a brief appearance, in her Derby outfit, of course.


Tomorrow the featured blog will be Thistlewood Farm.  We’ll learn how to make a nice mint tea and how to etch some glasses for your Derby drink of choice.  Be sure to join us.

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  1. says

    What gorgeous hats! I’ve always wanted to wear one like that and they remind me so much of that horse race scene from My Fair Lady. I’m having so much fun being a wannabe Kentucky gal this week! 🙂

  2. Pondside says

    I love an excuse to wear a hat. We have a wonderful milliner here in Victoria – Roberta’s Hats. At one time there were five such shops, but times have changed. When I was choosing an ensemble for my daughter’s upcoming wedding I’d decided that I’d not wear a hat, but a fascinator really was needed to complete the look!

  3. says

    Love the hats. Too bad they are not worn that much outside of Derby Day. Am enjoying hearing about all the Derby Traditions. Best, Lisa