Story by Jessica De Vault and Mercedes Nieves
**Find a gallery of Derby hats in Elite photos.
Whether you're watching the 61st Stoneybrook Steeplechase or the Kentucky Derby, there's no denying that the main attraction is the hats.
Headpieces are often a reflection of their owner. A woman with a traditional aesthetic may prefer a big brim Panama with a bow or flower. A trendy choice is a spunky fascinator with lots of feathers and beads.
The options are surprisingly endless, but we narrowed down the selection to a few standouts that are worthy of your horse race debut.
- Big-brim silhouettes are always a hit at the horse races. And nothing could be more customary than topping the hat off with a pink stargazer lily, the signature flower at the Kentucky Oaks at Churchill Downs. Faux Lily Panama Brim, HatsintheBelfry.com $318
- Feeling a little adventurous? If you prefer your hats the bigger, the better, you'll likely be the star of the horse races with the attention-grabbing Rio. LadyDianeHats.com, $315
- The online one-stop shop of everything handcrafted known as Etsy.com is a good place to look for unique hats. Hats by Cressida are among our favorites, especially the fascinators secured by a comb or headband. Perfect for a windy spring day. Etsy.com, $100
High-fashion hats are all the rage at the Stoneybrook Steeplechase, but true bragging rights go to the homemade variety.
About 9,000 people attended last year's race at the Carolina Horse Park between Raeford and Aberdeen, many of them wearing creations that would make Minnie Pearl proud.
The Hawkins and Harkness hat contest is as much a tradition as the horses. Mark Hawkins and Paul Harkness - the Hawkins and Harkness behind the contest and owners of the Southern Pines jewelry store of the same name - are loathe to give away any trade secrets or even reveal the judges' identities until race day. But we did consult a few past winners to give you a leg up.
Andy Pellegrino of Pinehurst begins his hat preparations right after Christmas, enlisting friends to evaluate and approve (or reject) new designs. The hard work has paid off; Pellegrino is a two-time Breath of Spring and Show Stopper winner. "The bigger and the crazier the hat, the better," he says. "You need to catch the judges' eyes."
So get started.
In addition to a competition for children 12 and younger and another for kids "of all ages," here are the categories:
- Spirit of Stoney
- Breath of Spring
- Most Creative
- Show Stopper
- Most Original
Wear it out
Between the hats, dresses and seersucker suits, you may never see a horse at the Stoneybrook Steeplechase on April 7 at the Carolina Horse Park.
Active and retired military receive 20 percent off prior to race day. carolina horsepark.com.