Curious Louisville

Tyler Franklin, Louisville Public Media’s visual media producer, describes his personal style as “effortless.”

“In that, I put no effort into it,” he clarifies.

He’s also a lifelong Louisvillian who describes himself as something of a “Derby cynic,” someone who thinks Hunter S. Thompson had the right idea when he wrote the event was “decadent and depraved.”

When wandering Churchill Downs for photographs between races, Tyler captures the predictable scenes — over-the-top women’s hats, people rushing to the betting windows for their winnings, maybe some public drunkenness.

But last time Tyler attended the Derby, he noticed something else: all the men seem to dress the same. Pastels, linen, seersucker, and pops of wild color.

J. Tyler Franklin

Inside Forme Millinery.

So he submitted (slightly facetious) questions to Curious Louisville: “Why do men at the Derby dress the way they do? Where does the fashion come from?”

“Though I have to say, I was genuinely curious,” Tyler says. “There are no rules to the fashion trends at Derby, they just simply are. As far as I know, there’s not a manual that comes out saying, ‘These are the colors and these are the types of hats to wear.’ It’s just something that has seemingly come from years and years of tradition, and I was curious where that started.”

These mannequins are ready to hit the track.

To answer Tyler’s question, we paired him up with WFPL reporter Ryan Van Velzer. Ryan is from Phoenix, Arizona, and just recently moved to Louisville. This year will be his first time attending the Derby, and he had to Google “men’s Derby fashion” to get an idea of what Tyler was talking about.

Together, they visited a hat historian, Louisville’s Nitty Gritty vintage clothing shop, and a pair of “fashion philosophers,” to find out how track fashion came to be.

Have a question of your own about the Derby, or a general question about Louisville? Let us know in the form below, or at curiouslouisville.org.

Ryan Van Velzer is WFPL's Energy and Environment Reporter.
Ashlie Stevens is WFPL's Arts & Culture Reporter.