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Derby Delight

Camilla Henderson and Laura Cathcart at the Epsom Derby

I had a very enjoyable day at The Derby as a guest of Johnno Spence. I had never been to the Derby before so I had no idea what to expect. The Derby is just so different from Royal Ascot it is difficult to know how to even compare the two events.


First of all, there was almost no traffic getting there. Whilst I have painful memories of sitting for hours trapped in a car queuing to reach a Royal Enclosure car park, the Derby is more like a travelling circus carnival. We parked in the car-park opposite the entrance  (my husband tipped the attendant £5) and we were inside the race course within 3 minutes. There was not a picnic in site.


Within a few minutes of walking up the steps of The Queen’s Stand, I bumped into some serious racing friends of my brother George who is a point-to-point jockey. It soon became evident that whilst they were enjoying the Pimm’s, they were there for the racing and not social parting. The Derby is more purist racing than Ascot with everybody there primarily for the big race for three year old colts at 4pm.


The atmosphere is more relaxed than Ascot, where style police stand by the entrance to the Royal Enclosure to ensure that ladies hem lines reach the knee and that men do not even think about walking around the Enclosure without their top hat on unless they want to be ejected from the course. Whilst a Morning Suit is required for the Queen’s Stand, nobody was too bothered if you wanted to walk over to the bookies area without your hat on.


Before The Derby, we went to the paddock area to look at the horses being paraded around the ring. In addition to the beautiful horses, I couldn’t take my eyes of the sculptural sea of exquisite Philip Treacy hats worn by the owners and VIPs in the parade ring area. I loved the relaxed way that the Queen – wearing a lilac suit and one of her own lilac and white hats – was chatting with owners in the parade ring.


When the Earl of Derby was introduced to Her Majesty, I noted how swiftly he removed his hat (with his silk top hat lining facing outwards) and simultaneously bowed with the precision of an 18th century Austrian dressage rider. At least Lord Derby knows about formal hat etiquette. You would be amazed how many soi disant ‘well bred’ men and women don’t have a clue.


There was no need for me to check that they were by Philip Treacy  - his unique signature millinery style always stands out in any crowd. Philip is the official milliner of the Derby. He has the dream job of creating a small armada of hats for VIPs such as Jodie Kidd (the face of The Derby) to wear at Epsom.


Coming from a racing family – my grandfather is a racing trainer and my brother a jockey – there is nothing I would love more than to be asked to be an official Milliner for either The Derby or Royal Ascot. I read in the Derby day programme that 2014 was Philip’s third consecutive year as the Derby Milliner so if they are looking for another English milliner to take on the role, I am now officially throwing my hat into the parade ring!


The highlight of the day was seeing my friend Camilla Henderson – daughter of the Queen’s trainer Nicky Henderson – wearing one of my hats in the parade ring just before The Derby.


With Royal Ascot only a week away now, here are my five top tips for getting your summer season hat wearing correct.


1) When choosing a hat I would advise going for one that suits your face shape rather than been drawn toward the one that matches your outfit in colour as you won’t feel great if it doesn’t flatter you. As a rule of thumb, hats should decrease in size the later in the day the events there is no need for a large brim when the suns not out!


2) If you’re going for a tailored look perhaps with a jacket of a frock coat then a larger more structured hat tends to look better. With a dress or something more floaty a smaller cocktail hat or headpiece works well.


3) A hat traditionally should never be removed by a lady in public. She should only remove a hat in the privacy of her own bedroom. If you must remove your hat then take your queue from the Mother of the Bride although technically she should keep it on.


4) If accessorising a hat or a head band women traditionally decorate on the right side and men to the left.


5) When a man doffs (or even removes his hat when inside) make sure that only the outside of the hat is never seen. Men should always remover that hat indoors or in a lunch tent at Ascot but put it straight back on once back outside in the Royal enclosure. Always doff you hat to a lady.


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