Arts and Culture

Walk past the old video games, refurbished stereo equipment, gas masks and the rows of used vinyl at POPS Resale Shop in Lexington and you’ll find a little bit of Kentucky history — part of the wardrobe of legendary Derby Party Queen Anita Madden.

Madden died in 2018 at age 85 following a lifetime of philanthropy, public service and over-the-top revelries that brought celebrities from around the world to Lexington on the eve of the Kentucky Derby.

Madden was famous for her extravagant fashion sense and now much of her wardrobe has been acquired by POPS, a Lexington thrift shop, with part of the proceeds going to Madden’s favorite charity, the Bluegrass Boys Ranch Scholars Program.

Shortly after a new batch of extravagant kimono-style robes, sequined dresses and chiffon are put out on the rack on a Friday morning, Lexington resident Connie Bell peruses.

“As you can see you’ve got gold and silver moons and sparkles and silk and anything you can possibly want, this lady had,” Bell said.

“I feel really lucky to be able to enjoy part of her things.”

Bell never got to go to one of Madden’s parties, but the events were seismic in Lexington and beyond — even if you weren’t there, you knew something was going on.

“When I was little I remember watching TV and all these stars coming in,” Bell said.

Born Anita Myers, Madden hailed from Ashland, Kentucky but married into a legendary horse breeding family — the Maddens, owners of Hamburg Place farm, which produced the first Triple Crown champion Sir Barton and five other Kentucky Derby winners.

She made her mark on the family business by throwing massive parties on the eve of the Kentucky Derby: star studded events that attracted governors, titans of industry and movie icons from Zsa Zsa Gabor to Chuck Norris.

Dan Shorr, better known as “Pop,” the owner of POPS Resale, says the Madden family contacted him to help sell off Madden’s wardrobe.

“She was just such an incredible figure in Lexington and central Kentucky and the horse world, it was really hard to pass up,” Pop said.

“A lot of spangles, a lot of fur and a lot of feathers. She really did like her sparkles.”

Lucy Jones is a collector and founder of Lexington’s Mid-Century Society. She’s picking through Madden’s collection.

“I am a vintage clothing enthusiast in general and a big fan of Pop’s, so when I found out the Anita Madden collection was coming here, it was a must experience,” Jones said.

She says she came to POPS the first time they had Madden’s collection and bought a bedazzled tank top, which she later noticed had a battery pack.

“I did not realize that when I purchased it, but when I got home I realized that the whole thing could be illuminated. That is the style of Anita Madden,” Jones said.

POPS is putting out a portion of Madden’s wardrobe every Friday, though Pop himself says he might have to buy another round in order to keep the sale going.

Until then, all that’s left might be the items no one has had the courage to pick up—like a tiny tan leather dress complete with beads and feathers that Connie Bell is eyeing.

“Who’s going to wear that, you know…where are you going to go? Unless you’re going to go to a costume party,” Bell said.

Ryland Barton is the Capitol bureau chief for Kentucky Public Radio.