Women attending the Kentucky Oaks or Kentucky Derby know that one accessory is more important than any other for the day — the one they choose for the top of their head. The horse racing at Churchill Downs is important, but the hats are what many are there to see.
Lee Hall knows this and has been designing her own creations since attending her first Kentucky Derby at 19 years old. That year she was in the infield, but has gone to the Oaks or Derby every year since.
“My first trip to the Turf Club, I had an outfit with birds on it and a great hat,” Hall said. “Out on the veranda, I saw Melania Trump and studied her outfit.”
Hall has always made her own hats. She searches designs of both the hat and what is on it for embellishment and then adds to it. Her hat was even photographed for the Courier-Journal.
Friends began noticing the unique hats she was wearing for the races so Hall began helping other women with their hats for the horseracing events.
“It just began out of my Derby love and hat designs,” Hall said.
An interior designer by trade, Hall decided to purchase a sewing machine and began making silk sashes, something she was able to order because of her access to fabrics. She would use the sashes on the hat and attach flowers that complimented the outfit. After a few, she began incorporating brooches, something that adds a different flair to the typical Derby hat.
Her name was spread by word of mouth when women were looking for designs to wear with their specially-chosen outfits. It was then that Hall began “ripping off” flowers from one hat and changing it to match another outfit for someone. In fact, Hall even began loaning out her dresses and outfits she had in her closet for acquaintances attending the two days of events.
“I have such a collection and so does my mom. Between us we probably have 20 to 30 hats,” Hall said.
Hall said that four of the hats are staples and have gone to the Derby several times on the heads of different women.
“A straw hat, black hat, white hat and grass green hat are the ones I use most, and I can mix with those all day,” Hall said.
Fascinators, defined as a decorative headpiece that is attached to a headband or clip, are becoming more popular at the events as women realize that the larger-brimmed hats aren’t as easy to wear and take up a lot of space.
“It is just history repeating itself, just as it is in fashion,” Hall said of the prominence of fascinators at Churchill Downs.
Hall wore a fascinator last year and is working on the one she will wear this year, if she can carve out the time from her freelance interior design company, Inside Out.
“I am so busy that I just can’t get my act together to get my outfit and fascinator chosen,” Hall said.
The idea of incorporating brooches into her designs is not new to Hall who used to make purses under the business LeeBee C. She would add an antique brooch that she had gotten at antique shows to the purse’s design. Hall said that although she enjoyed making purses, it was time consuming and she wanted to get back to her college major, so she quit making purses.
Hall studied interior design at the University of Kentucky and in London under famed interior designer Anthony Feldman. She enjoys working on kitchen and bathroom design and additions the most and said that her business is “in full-swing.” Her interior design work has been published multiple times in Kentucky Home and Garden magazine.
If Hall can find the time, and she certainly will, be on the lookout for her original fascinator at the 145th Kentucky Derby this Saturday. It will be the one with the three-inch dragonfly brooch, large flower and peacock feathers.