The Kentucky Derby is the southern event of the spring. Since 1872, twenty jockeys have competed in Louisville, Kentucky for a top four finish, attracting thousands of visitors from across the country every year. One of the timeless traditions of the Derby is the elaborate hats crafted with southern flair, worn by ladies who dress to impress. Whether feathered or floral, these hats are as much a part of the Derby as the horses, and come with their own set of manners and etiquette. Sunglasses are another popular Derby accessory, letting spectators watch the excitement without squinting or shielding their eyes, but there’s a time and place for summer shades.
If you’re attending this year’s Derby on May 5-6 and wish to make an elegant impression, or are simply debuting a new summer headpiece, our Derby modern manners and etiquette tips will let you sport your summer hat and sunglasses in style.
1. Hats off: If you notice that your wide-brimmed hat is blocking the view of fellow Derby attendees, remove your hat and opt for shades to keep the sun out of your eyes. This goes for other outdoor formal occasions, such as weddings or baptisms- remove your hat at the appropriate moment, and don’t obstruct another guest’s line of vision.
2. Don’t Hide the Eyes: Choose a hat that makes a fashion statement without overshadowing your eyes. Think of the hat as a picture frame that accentuates your features rather than hiding them beneath a wide brim.
3. Confidence is Key: The most important thing when wearing your Derby hat is to sport your chapeau with grace. This means no tugging, fidgeting, or constant adjusting of your hat- make sure it’s sitting securely and comfortably, and enjoy the event in style. Own your fashion choice by wearing your Derby masterpiece with elegance and confidence.
4. Practical Purpose: Sunglasses are worn to protect your eyes from harmful UV radiation and to help you see in bright light- not to keep your hair out of your face or as an accessory. If you’re not wearing your shades over your eyes, keep them in the case until you’re braving the noonday glare.
5. Resist the Reflection: It is impolite and tacky to use someone else’s sunglasses as a mirror to check your appearance. Although the reflective surface and lack of eye contact can be distracting, try and maintain your focus at their eye level without checking to see if that mint julep left a leaf between your teeth.
6. Stepping into Shade: When indoors or after sunset, remove your sunglasses so that you can make real eye contact with those around you. Exceptions would be for those who have a medical condition that renders them sensitive to strong light. Otherwise, place the glasses in their case when you’re out of the sun or enjoying a post-Derby dinner.
If you’re one of the lucky attendees of this year’s Kentucky Derby, keep these tips in mind for maintaining good Southern manners. Whether you’re wearing your favorite feathered sunhat or classic tortoiseshell shades, keep cool and enjoy this classic Kentucky tradition!
Sharon Schweitzer, J.D., is a cross-cultural trainer, modern manners expert, and the founder of Protocol & Etiquette Worldwide. In addition to her accreditation in intercultural management from the HOFSTEDE centre, she serves as a Chinese Ceremonial Dining Etiquette Specialist in the documentary series Confucius was a Foodie, on Nat Geo People. She is the resident etiquette expert on two popular lifestyle shows: ABC Tampa Bay’s Morning Blend and CBS Austin’s We Are Austin. She is regularly quoted by BBC Capital, Investor’s Business Daily, Fortune, and the National Business Journals. Her Amazon #1 Best Selling book in International Business, Access to Asia: Your Multicultural Business Guide, now in its third printing, was named to Kirkus Reviews’ Best Books of 2015. She’s a winner of the British Airways International Trade Award at the 2016 Greater Austin Business Awards.