Economy

If this were any other year, Derby-goers would be spending this week putting the final touches on their outfits for Derby Day. The centerpiece is, of course, the Derby hat. Hat-makers, or milliners, have a special place in Louisville’s culture and economy. But with the Run for the Roses postponed until September because of the coronavirus pandemic, at some Louisville hat-makers are spending this week making face masks, instead of selling hats. This would normally be game time for Louisville hat-maker Jenny Pfanenstiel. Pfanenstiel started the hat shop Forme Millinery in Butchertown. She’s the featured milliner of the 146th Kentucky Derby, and has created hats for some very famous people, including Michelle Obama, Oprah Winfrey and Madonna. But hat sales are down, so she’s switched to making fashion-forward face-masks. “I think in the beginning people were getting masks for safety, and just quickly,” Pfanenstiel said. “Now it’s, ‘What goes with my outfit?'”

One of Pfanenstiels face masks.Courtesy of Jenny Pfanenstiel

One of Pfanenstiels face masks.

Pfanenstiel isn’t the only Louisville milliner who has started making masks. The Mysterious Rack is also making masks for children and adults. According the the company’s website, Mysterious Rack is using money from mask sales to make more masks it’s donating to nursing homes. Pfanenstiel’s masks, which range from $15 to $40 are not nearly as lucrative as her hats – which are works of art really, and can cost thousands of dollars. “Financially my year is usually very different,” she said. She says the mask making and virtual hat-making workshops are helping her keep the lights on. The six sewers she normally employs as contract workers are applying for unemployment insurance. “It’s been rough,” she said. “But I am confident that Derby will happen in September and so I just look it as revenues just being shifted just a little bit. She’s still making hats for a September Derby, and has even started creating face masks to match clients’ hats. Even though she won’t be at the track this weekend, she will make the best of a virtual Derby, complete with a mint julep and, of course, a Derby hat. “Why not still wear that dress you had planned and hat that you had planned, and make the best of it?” she said

Jess Clark is WFPL's Education and Learning Reporter.