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Curious Louisville: Why Are Derby Hats A Thing?

When you walk into The Mysterious Rack on Fourth Street in downtown Louisville, you are met with an explosion of color. The walls are painted coral, teal and chartreuse. The floor is made up of checkered black and white tiles. And there's a green parrot named Frankie who lives in the back of the shop.

But more importantly, there are rows and rows of brightly colored hats — cloches, fedoras, fascinators and wide-brimmed straw numbers.

Olivia Griffin and Janet Weeden are the owners of The Mysterious Rack. And this time of year, they’re pretty busy prepping for the Kentucky Derby, an event that drives most of their annual sales.

They use classic hatmaking techniques to create new designs.

“We take a little bit of the past and meld it with kinda of our gut feelings about color and fashion and what we think is interesting,” Griffin says.

Their work is built on hundreds of years of tradition, which is what Jenny Pfanenstiel was interested in learning more about.

She submitted her question, “Why are hats so popular to wear to the Kentucky Derby?” to Curious Louisville, and we found the answer.

The story takes us to England, through America in the 1960s and '70s, and into the collections of our own Kentucky Derby Museum.

Listen in the player above, download this story, or subscribe to Curious Louisville wherever you get your podcasts. And submit your own question at curiouslouisville.org.

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