What Your Derby Hat Says About You

Bernie Carducci

Bernie Carducci

Yes, picking the perfect Derby hat can be a test of mental acuity, but who knew there is actually a bit of science that goes along with the head topper you choose.

Which chapeau you select for the Run for the Roses actually conveys cues about your personality to others, said Bernie Carducci, professor of psychology and director of the Shyness Research Institute at Indiana University Southeast. “The act of deciding upon a hat and wearing it to the Kentucky Derby essentially turns up the volume on your original personality.”

Psychologists call the phenomenon identity intensity. “(Wearing the hat) just intensifies who you are,” Carducci explained. “You want to get noticed in the field – you want to be the favorite. It’s the idea that when you’re in a crowded field, what do you have to do to stand out. You’re going to tend to accent and intensify who you are.”

To help you figure out what your fellow hat wearer is really trying to articulate, Carducci analyzed what our Derby hats say about us – with a side of humor – but not before offering this advice: “What is more important than the hat on your head is the smile on your face. Your smile should always be bigger and prettier than your hat.”

Huge Hat

At first glance, a humongous hat can appear to take over the individual. But, said Carducci, that’s not exactly the case. “It’s not so much that you’re hiding behind the hat, but you want that hat to take over the event. It’s all about the hat. The event is secondary. The hat is the event.”

Our Take: A ginormous hat makes you feel all Southern Belle and celebrity-like. It’s also so perfect for avoiding people, not that we plan on that happening, but you never know.

Female Fedora Wearers

Women who wear fedoras or hats typically worn by men are making “a sort of stylish, chic, gender-bending move,” said Carducci. “Act like a woman, think like a man, that’s what the fedora says when a woman wears one – and that’s really, really sexy.”

Our Take: Girls just want to have fun – and wear fedoras. So we do.


Not everyone gets the fascinator, but Carducci does. “It’s the sort of subtle overstatement. You’re speaking softly but carrying a big stick. It says look at me, but I’m not trying to be too outrageous – but let’s talk.” The good professor, who is a rather dapper dresser and appreciates good fashion, also thinks “those are darling. When you see people put those things on, the moment they do that, you can see that their face lights up. They feel like a princess.”

Our Take: We find the fascinator an item worn most by the fashion-forward (there is nothing demure about having a bunch of feathers or flowers protruding out of your head). It’s also worn by the weather savvy. No windstorm can defeat a fascinator affixed to the hair with a comb, bobby pins and a mass of hairspray.

WTH?! Hats

You know the hats that make people stop in their tracks because they’re so unbelievably outlandish, huge, unwearable or, well, ugly? “Those are your exhibitionists,” said Carducci. Go figure. “Those people are saying, ‘I don’t take the Derby – or myself – too seriously.’ This is really all about fun. These are your comedians. These are the first ones on the dance floor.”

Our Take: We’re first on the dance floor, too, but we’re not into wearing WTH?! hats. But we sure do love those who do … from a distance, please.

Group Hats

When groups of people or couples put on identical hats, they’re trying to convey they’re a team. “This says we’re together,” explained Carducci. “This is our collective identity. There’s power in numbers. It’s valuing your posse, if you will. I think that’s particularly endearing when you see couples do this. That says these people are really together. They have a strong relationship.”

Our Take: We have matching t-shirts we wear on occasion ourselves, so we get the group hat phenomenon, and we give it two thumbs up.

Men In Hats

Plenty of men wear hats to Derby, and those who do are your tried and true traditionalists, Carducci said. “I always wear a hat. I wear one almost every day. What it does is make me feel more like a traditional man. It makes me feel like a guy. A guy’s guy. When you put on a hat, you feel differently.”

Our Take: We love a fella in a Derby hat, but we won’t hold it against you if you refrain.


People who opt not to wear a hat to Derby are like the guests who show up to a costume party without a costume. We call that being a party pooper, but Carducci said, “It’s not a matter of defiance; it’s a matter of being a little bit too afraid to step out of yourself.”

Only problem is, quite the opposite occurs, he said. “You’re actually calling attention to yourself because you don’t wear a hat.” And perhaps that was the point after all.

Our Take: Touché, hatless people. Now we understand you.