May Day! May Day!

What do we do if it rains on Derby Day? (And, I hate to tell you, it’s not looking good for Saturday.) If you ask a horseman, he’ll tell you to re-evaluate your Derby picks. Look for a “mudder”. If you ask a milliner, she’ll fall on her knees and beg you to save the hat.

Something that can make the difference between enduring a rainy day and feeling like singing in the rain is a common plastic bag, the kind dry cleaners carry. We try to pack one with every hat that goes out. A thin plastic bag can be rolled into a miniscule package, stowed in a hand bag and will be a lifesaver if raindrops start falling on your head, or worse yet, falling on your lovely new Derby hat. We always warn our customers not to expose their hats to inclement weather.(See Hat Chat entitled “Hold on to Your Hat”) If it starts to rain, remove your hat and pop it in the plastic bag, saving your hat for fair weather and many more wearings. If space allows, take pack 2 bags. You’re bound to be someone’s hero if the skies open up.

Let me reiterate. Please do not wear your hat in wind or rain. Polly Singer hats are made with great care; they are hand blocked and hand sewn for a reason – a well made, well cared for hat can be enjoyed for decades. A few minutes exposure to wet or windy weather may damage a hat irreparably. We stand by the quality of our hats but cannot be responsible for damage that occurs in bad weather.
So, when you pack your hand bag, don’t forget to pack your little handy-bag. Remember, sometimes discretion is the better part of fashion valor.

More Quick Derby Tips
It’s a Wrap
I can tell from the many emails and phone calls we take each day that most of you are going bare for this year’s Derby. Let me strongly suggest that you take the option of additional coverage. A pashmina or light weight wrap is graceful, easily carried and looks particularly well with the large romantic hats. Pashminas are treasures; they come in an array of delicious colors and are widely available. For another idea, look to our ever stylish First Lady, Michelle Obama. Mrs. Obama, who often wears sleeveless dresses has brought back the cardigan. A fine gauge cotton or cashmere cardigan works well with a tailored sheath or sundress and, again, is easily carried.

Emergency Supplies
I’ll spare you the full tilt nag (Fulltiltnag, great name for a racehorse!). Here is a list of things you might want to add to your hand bag:
Sun block
Rice Paper Sheets or a Compact
Safety Pins
an extra pen or pencil
Energy bar or similar quick snack.
Ballet flats or flip flops

What not to Bring
Weapons of any kind (includes all knives and scissors)
Bottles and cans of any kind (includes all beverage and lotion containers – glass, plastic or metal)
Alcoholic beverages
Backpacks, luggage and duffel bags

One More Thing
We get a vicarious thrill when we see photos and hear stories of the events our hats attend. When the dust settles after Derby, we’ll be delighted if you send photos and anecdotes from your Derby weekend.

Now, go out there and have a wonderful Derby weekend — rain or shine.

by Jan Masters Yon

Derby Tip of the Week

Turnout matters.

To me, a visit to the paddock is worth fighting the crowds, for, in addition to supporting to my persistent (though erroneous) belief that I’m a good judge of horseflesh, I derive pleasure from admiring the grooms’ art. Beautifully conditioned, impeccably turned out thoroughbreds simply radiate breeding and care.

I’m conviced that, with a regime of customized nutrition, daily exercise and the tender ministrations of professional grooms, I too would dazzle . Well, it’s too late to do much about the nutrition and exercise but here are are few grooming tips that will help you sparkle on Derby Day.

Use moisturizer and/or foundation with sunblock. A bright red nose might be attributed to Mint Juleps. ( Juleps bear responsibility for enough shenanigans as it is.) Remember, any sunblock you carry into Churchill Downs must be in a plastic container.

Before Derby Day, apply the cosmetics you plan to use, put on your hat, and step outside with a mirror. Hat color will definitely effect the tone of your complexion. Large areas of color near the face reflect onto and tint the face. Color interaction is also a factor. Do you remember the color wheels we made in middle school art class? When predicting how one hue will affect another, think complements. The complement to purple is yellow, thus a lavender hat will make your face look more sallow. A green hat will bring out warm tones in the skin. Sunlight filtering through the brim of a hat is another factor in how we preceive color. Rose tones is a perfect example. Pink hats do wonderful, age defying things to a woman’s complexion. I still don’t know which color dress I’ll wear to Derby, but I can tell you this, my hat will be pink. Check out your make up with the hat, you may find that some adjustments, a warmer or cooler foundation, more or less blush, may be in order.

As mentioned above, step out in the sunlight with your mirror. Yes, I know this can be painful for a woman of a certain age, I recommended it all the same. We’re all hoping Derby Day will be sunny and clear. However the kind of day that brings us a fast track also has unforgiving lighting. Strong natural light calls for the sheerest foundation possible. If you need more coverage, make sure the finish is well blended, flawless. I’m younger than Dracula yet still at an age where I’d rather avoid mirrors and sunlight altogether, however, I do want to see the make-up, flaws and all, before anyone else does. Be brave, move toward the light.

By the same token, work with your hair and your hat before the morning of the Derby. Experiment with pinning bangs out of the way, straightening or curling the hair that shows beneath your hat. This is a good place to mention that, while the label sewn inside your hat band indicates what the milliner considers to be the back of the hat, don’t be a slave to labels, experiment, often the hat will look better rotated. Anyway, what do milliners know? By the time Derby rolls around,they’re all mad as hatters anyway.

In the realms of thoroughbred racing and ballet, two of my favorite worlds, turnout matters.

by Jan Masters Yon

Kentucky Monthly Magazine

Kentucky Monthly

I was asked to submit a few hats for Kentucky Monthly Magazine’s April issue. They were doing an article on Kentucky Derby fashion history. I love vintage fashion and assignments such as this. Most of the pieces that I submitted were the smaller headpieces.

I was also asked to write a 100 word essay on what I liked about Kentucky. It was hard to narrow it down, but in the end, I focused on the fact that Kentucky was home to me. I’ve lived other places, many of which I enjoyed, but home is home.

There was a photoshoot to go along with the essay. Jan and I had fun brainstorming for it. Where to have it, what to do? In the end, we decided on doing the shoot at my family’s farm in Georgetown, Kentucky. The photographer ended up being Ed Boden, who took photos of me and my brothers when I was in my teens. Thirty years later, we worked together again.

I had to go shopping for a dress to wear. Most of my dresses are black and we thought that black just would not show up well in an outdoor setting. I found a purple dress at Ann Taylor that I fell in love with. Purple always works well in photos. Then to put a hat with it. I did an all black with fuschia and lime accents. Jan is a huge help in putting colors together and thinks of great combinations.

By: Polly Singer

Derby tip of the Week

Pack the Right Tack

No well managed horse goes to the track without a foot box or tack box. A tack box, the equivalent of a ladies handbag, is stocked with all the equipment and emergency supplies that may be required for a day at the races.

Tack boxes contain everything from safety pins to shipping boots and are generously proportioned. Our handbags, not so generously proportioned, will never contain everything we want, but with judicial packing may contain everything we need. Let me take this opportunity to remind you of a few things you might want to toss in your clutch.

Plastic bag:
Warning, the Kentucky Derby is held in Kentucky, state motto: Unbridled Weather Conditions. Umbrellas are on the taboo list at the security gate, so, In the event of a rainy event having a bag, a dry cleaner’s bag will do, will save your charming Derby Hat (see blogs Hold on to Your Hat and Derby Tip of the Week- April 6 ). If you have room, pack two or three — be someone’s hero.

Sun block:
Kentucky weather, who knows? My parents-in-law were married here in May. Family lore has it the day was so hot that candles melted and drooped in the church. If the sun shines too bright on the Old Kentucky Home you’ll want sun block. Your big ol’ Derby Hat will provide protection for your face but bare shoulders call for SP 30 at least. Note: make sure your sunblock is in a plastic bottle. No glass allowed past the front gate.

Minimal Cosmetics:
Don’t pack the entire collection of war paint. Think damage control. A lipstick and compact should do for repairs. Troweling make-up on top of make-up is never a good idea unless you share a box with Cirque de Soeil. A couple of cotton swabs or cotton balls will be sufficient for cosmetic wear and tear. Here’s a handy and space saving product; rice paper sheets, available at most cosmetic counters will knock down any unwanted shine and take up very little space.

All right, I admit it. Horse races and curtain calls make me teary. These days one can’t always count on a gentleman to have a hanky at the ready. Stow a few Kleenex.

Safety Pins:
My friend P. dines out on her “Derby From Hell” story. She tells it so much better than I ever could. Suffice it to say, the punch line is “a kind woman in the ladies room had safety pins.” A word to the wise…

Pens or Pencils:
If you’re serious about your wagers, you’d best take notes. Since I’m indecisive by nature and prone to sudden hunches and handicapping epiphanies, I like mechanical pencils — the ones with erasers. If I erase my initial picks, I don’t have to face the “shoulda dones” when the long shot comes in. By the way, bring several pens or pencils but leave the Cartier fountain pen at home. An elegant writing instrument may finish off your look but nothing kills a good time like losing a cherished objet d’art.

Emergency Chocolate:
I’ve always included horse yummies in Tophat’s tack box, why not treat myself as well? The food at Churchill is good and plentiful but not always easily accessible. Anyway, sometime, say after 4 races and not a horse in the money, a girl needs a pick me up. My favorite, a local product, caramel and sea salt truffles and bourbon truffles are almost as good as hitting an exacta. Pack plenty, you’ll win friends even if you don’t win races.

As usual, I’m sure I’ve forgotten something. Oh yeah, be sure to bring your patience, humor and good nature. Every woman has a secret stash of the aforementioned. In a crowd of 150,000, It’ll come in handy and just may make your day.

For complete list of what you can and cannot bring into churchill, see Churchill Downs Hospitality and Security Procedures.

by Jan Masters Yon

Derby Tip of the Week

Condsider the footing

As any horseman knows, 90% of lameness originates in the foot. For this reason we tend to treat our farriers as visiting royalty . We treat our horses to custom shoes, expertly fitted to the beast and the terrain. Unfortuately, few of us can afford custom footwear for ourselves. Personally, I find myself between hell and highwater or rather hell and high heels when shoe shopping. I love strappy, sexy high heels and what they do for my legs. I hate the discomfort and what they do for my personality. If my feet aren’t happy, I’m no fun to be with. Here’s the compromise that works for me and this week’s Derby Tip. Ballroom Dancing Shoes.

During a period often referred to as “a misspent youth” one of my chief activities was competitive ballroom dancing. It was at Roseland that I discovered the comfort and stability of ball room dancing shoes. They’re designed to make the most of your legs and are engineered to provide the best possible base for fast changes of direction, multiple turns and sassy tango stamps. I think it’s the undercut heel but they really are an asset when spending a day on your feet. They come in a variety of styles and colors and, if you order them early enough, (see Derby Tip 1) can be dyed to any color.

Here are a few websites of companies that carry ball room gear. You may find more or better sites by googling “ball room dance shoes” or “tango shoes”.

Derby Day is a long day. While one never chooses to sacrifice fashion, comfortable footwear can be crucial to the all over enjoyment of the event. You need shoes that will enable you to hike to your seat, make flying lead changes on a dash to the betting window, turn on a dime when a hunch strikes and allow you to move like a Samba dancer on fire when your horse starts to move up; and, if it’s a really good day at the Derby, sensible footwear can be there for you when it’s time to dance the night away.

by Jan Masters Yon

Perserverance Pays In Hat Design

When I was a little girl, my mother read many books to me. My favorite, “Toodles and Her Friends”, had a cat that went through obstacles, but would always persevere and come out on top. She would always say “Perseverance Pays”. That has always stuck with me.

In designing hats, I am always the most proud of the hats that were the most difficult to design. I will generally design whatever the client requests, even though at the beginning of the project, I have no idea how to “work” the hat.

Victoria at Ascot
Victoria at Ascot

The hat pictured above was designed by me for a client who attending Royal Ascot. We had an idea of what we wanted, but getting the final design and feather color was difficult. She was located on the West Coast, so we never met in person. We would email ideas and photos back and forth. Both she and I ended up being very pleased with the hat. It was one of those that I hated to let leave the studio.

Double Layer Hat
Double Layer Hat

The double brimmed hat pictured was done for a client in Chicago. It was a project that I had never attempted, a fabric covered double brim. We had a difficult time matching up the fabric and getting the right fabric weight. At times, I didn’t know if the project would work, but I perservered on and it did. In part, I knew it had to work because my client is really great and I couldn’t let her down.

Peacock Hat
Peacock Hat

What usually happens is that I fall madly in love with the hats that are the most challenging for me to finish. The hat pictured was done for the Kentucky Derby. We knew we wanted to incorporate peacock feathers, but how? They are notorious to work with since they are flat. I worked day and night on this hat, until it finally came together. The client loved it and said it received rave reviews from everyone she met at the Derby.

What made these difficult hats work was not only effort, but working with great clients. The three mentioned in this article were patient and a had vision of what they wanted. I am lucky to work with such wonderful ladies.

By: Polly Singer