The Kentucky Derby, “Grace,” and Hat-Making Classes

It’s a hat trick for those who love milliners’ masterpieces
Southern-inspired wide-brimmed hats are often Kentucky Derby picks, but anything goes. These hat selections are from local milliners Karen Morris and Celina Kane.
Southern-inspired wide-brimmed hats are often Kentucky Derby picks, but anything goes. These hat selections are from local milliners Karen Morris and Celina Kane.

Clockwise, from above left: Celina Kane, Karen Morris, Celina Kane, Karen Morris (2)

The Kentucky Derby

The end of April and the beginning of May is often the busiest time for milliners because of the Kentucky Derby. While the wide-brimmed, southern belle-inspired hats are popular in the seated sections of Churchill Downs racecourse, increasingly, anything goes for those sitting in the infield. For we folks watching in Minnesota, well, I like to think that we also like to take up the creative challenge.

The tradition to wear hats and fascinators started back in the 1960s when fashion strictures loosened up a bit and women wanted to stand out more. (The official reason was that the hats brought good luck.) However, the race itself has been tied to style since it began in 1875. For that, you have Colonel Meriwether Lewis Clark Jr., the founder of the derby himself, to thank. He saw that to get the most publicity and profit out of the event, he would have to make racing appeal to the most affluent people. To do that, Clark literally went door to door with high society women and invited everyone to a picnic. It worked, and here we are more than 125 years later, cheering on horses.

So consider hats from milliners like Karen Morris and Celina Kane. (Featured hats, from above left, clockwise, are “Kite Boater,”  “Delphine,” La Jardiniere,” “Evelyne,” and “Alicia.”) Then swing by places and events like Betty Danger’s Fifth Annual Kentucky Debutante, the University Club of St. Paul, Ninetwentyfive, Hazeltine, and Talk Derby to Me on the Lake

Grace Church Hat Exhibit

"Frankie," one of the hats Angie Hall Sandith contributed to "Grace."
“Frankie,” one of the hats Angie Hall Sandifer contributed to “Grace.”

Angie Hall Sandifer

Hats are also the feature of one of 900 Hennepin’s first joint galleries. For Grace, the event venue has partnered with the Minnesota African American Heritage Museum to tell the significance of church hats through May 31.

Before you go, read a few thoughts from Angie Hall Sandifer of Angie’s Hats, the milliner who contributed hats to the fee-to-enter exhibit:

“I grew up in the south, and I attended the Baptist church, and my grandmother and mother wore hats to church Every Sunday. They come from that era where you dressed up—hat, gloves, the purse, the matching shoes—so it was always a treat to go to church just to see what fabulous hats people were wearing. … The church was the place where you were reveled and people looked at you and respected you; [the hat] was sort of like a status symbol. It was that and more.

“Any hat could be a church hat, but it was typically a wide-brimmed one with nice feathers, flowers—whatever you wanted on that particular hat, but it usually matched your outfit.

“I do know in the south, a lot of women still wear their church hats. It’s just part of who they are and the church and the community they live in. There are certain expectations. [On the other hand,] Minnesota seems to be sensible when it comes to fashion. They’re not so extravagant. A lot of people who do love hats, when I talk to them, they always say they wish people wore more hats or they don’t have the confidence to wear a hat.

“It’s your crown and glory—that’s really what it is.”

This interview has been edited for length, clarity, and style.

Hat Making Classes

If you’re feeling inspired, here are some hat making classes offered in the Twin Cities and near Duluth:

Sinamay Wonders with Karen Morris. June 8 & 9 @ Textile Center, 3000 University Ave. SE, Minneapolis,

Millinery: Blocking the Straw Hat with Emily Moe. June 13 & 14 @ North House Folk School, 500 W Highway 61, Grand Marais,

Millinery Feather Flowers with Karen Morris. July 27 @ Textile Center, 3000 University Ave. SE, Minneapolis,

You can also find dozens of online hat making courses at