Designing Hats for Kentucky’s First Lady Jane Beshear

Kentucky First Lady Jane Beshear in the Winner's Circle at the 2011 Kentucky Derby

I am the luckiest hat designer in America since at least one of my hats always ends up the Winner’s Circle at the Kentucky Derby. My client, Jane Beshear, who also happens to be the First Lady of Kentucky, is naturally always in the Winner’s Circle as she and her husband present the trophy to the Winner of the Kentucky Derby. Each year, 15 million viewers watch the Trophy Presentation at the Kentucky Derby.

Four years ago, I received an email from the First Lady’s office about designing a Kentucky Derby Hat for Mrs. Beshear. Of course, I was nervous about our meeting. Jan and I got dressed up, packed hat supplies and headed for the Governor’s Mansion. Soon any nervousness on my part went away as I met Kentucky’s First Lady and we chatted about her hat. I was made to feel at home, which I found out is part of the First Family’s treatment of all who enter the Governor’s Mansion. Steve and Jane Beshear view the Governor’s Mansion not as their home, but as home to all who enter it.

Kentucky Governor's Mansion in Frankfort

Generally, I get the Mrs. Beshear’s outfit and design the hat around it. We send photos of different ideas for the hat and then once a decision is made, we finish the hat and deliver it.

I must admit that it can be daunting designing a hat that will be seen by 15,000,000 million viewers, not to mention online and in print. This past year, there was a close-up on t.v. of the First Lady’s hat that was a foot wide. You could almost see the stitching, the camera was that close.

The 2008 Kentucky Derby saw Mrs. Beshear in a black hat with turquoise, to work with her suit. The flowers were handmade from fabric we sourced locally. The hat works well with her blue eyes.

First Lady Jane Beshear wears a Polly Singer Original

In 2009, we designed a slightly larger hat in ivory with peach and green trim. The brim was slightly larger than the year before.

Mrs. Beshear's 2009 Kentucky Derby Hat and Outfit

The 2010 Kentucky Derby, we went Green! Mrs. Beshear took the theme of Earth Day, which is Renew, Reuse and Recycle. We redesigned her 2008 hat, re-trimming it to go with her new outfit. At an event at the Kentucky History Center, I was given the opportunity to design on Mrs. Beshear as she talked about the Kentucky Derby and her outfit. As you can see, the 2010 hat looks entirely different from the 2008 hat.

Kentucky History Center - Redesign of Mrs. Beshear's Hat
The Beshears at the 2010 Kentucky Derby

This year, we branched out into a pink hat, which was stunning on Kentucky’s First Lady. She looked elegant and lovely.

The First Lady makes her way to the Winner's Circle
Kentucky First Lady Jane Beshear at the 2011 Kentucky Derby

One of the things that I most admire about Mrs. Beshear is that she promotes Kentucky designers and artisans. Part of the Beshear platform is heavily promoting Kentucky Made/Kentucky Proud items. Years ago when another administration was in office, I was at an event at the Capitol. Imagine my surprise when we were given items with “Made In China” stamped on them. I thought it sad, given how many talented artisans we have in Kentucky who need work. It’s nice when Kentucky artists are given the chance to shine and Mrs. Beshear has certainly had a huge part in that.

I never would have thought when I started designing hats that I would get the opportunity to design for the First Lady of Kentucky. It just shows how you never know where life will take you.

Kate Saunders

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