How To Make A Kentucky Derby Hat For Less Than $15

May 3, 2019

DIY Kentucky Derby hat

The moment I found out that I was going to be attending a Kentucky Derby party, my mind went wild with ideas for making my own DIY Kentucky Derby hat. These hats can be very expensive, but I knew I could DIY a Kentucky Derby hat for a fraction of their incredibly high retail price. I seriously had fun making mine on a budget, and you can, too. 

Sam Savitt 1991 horse Kentucky Derby poster

This coming weekend will see the 145th running of the Kentucky Derby in Louisville, Kentucky. The famous annual horse race, held at Churchill Downs racetrack, is steeped in tradition and southern charm. Most notable is the tradition of women attendees wearing outrageous, ornately decorated hats. I couldn't wait to get started making one of my own.

black and white striped straw hat

I picked up this straw beach hat in Target's dollar section the other day for $5.00, and immediately knew that it would make a fabulous Kentucky Derby hat.
straw hat faux peony rooster coque tail feathers black tulle

Here's the hat and the three things I bought to embellish it with. 

faux red peony

With a black and white hat I knew I needed some pop of color. So I added a large, red peony into the mix. It's actually 4 by 4 inches across. I got it at Michael's for 50% off, or $2.50.

red black feathers rooster coque tail craft

And what would a Derby hat be without some rooster coque tail feathers? Again, the red was speaking to me. I purchased the rooster coque tail feathers at Michaels at 40% off for $4.49. 

roll of black tulle

Some styles of Derby hats use netting -- usually the smaller, non-floppy hats -- that partially hangs down over the wearer's face. Since I'm wearing a floppy hat, I opted to go for a touch of tulle instead. I purchased this 6 inch by 20 yard roll of black tulle from Michael's for $2.99. You can find it in the wedding aisle. It comes in many different colors so you have lots of options depending on the color scheme of your hat. I used barely two yards of it, so I have the rest of the roll to use for at least one, if not more, other projects. 


1. hat
2. embellishments - flowers/feathers/netting/tulle
3. hot glue gun
4. scissors
5. wire cutter
6. hat pin (optional)

How To Make Your Own Kentucky Derby Hat

1. Cut some tulle to the length you want, depending how long, or short, you'd like your tulle embellishment to be. Wrap it around the base of the hat, tying it in a knot at the back.

tulle bow tied back of hat

Here's a close-up of the first piece of tulle I used and the knot I made.

double tulle hat tails

2. Then do the same thing again but with a longer piece of tulle, so that you have two "tails" hanging off the back of the hat for the time being. The band they form together around the base of the hat is what you'll ultimately place your feather into. I used an actual hat pin (vintage) to secure the tulle bands together onto the back of the hat. You can always use a bit of hot glue if you don't have a hat pin. You can see where I used my scissors to cut the very ends of the tulle tails at an angle rather than just straight across in order to make them look a bit more finished. 

straw hat red faux pony rooster coque tail feathers

3. Now its time to play around with your embellishments until you get them in place looking just the way you want them. I recommend trying on the hat and looking into a mirror so that you can really get an idea of how the hat is going to look on you. And beware, when the hat is in front of you it will look one way, but when you put it on your head and look in the mirror it will look different -- it will be a "mirror image" and you need to take that into account when designing it. Trust me, I know.

4. Now you're ready to begin the actual DIY part. Beginning with the rooster coque tail, grab some wire cutters and cut the metal stem off, almost to the base of the feathers. You can see how short I cut the wire in the above photo. Be sure to leave enough of the wire stem to be able to insert it into the band of tulle that surrounds the base of the hat. 

You can see here a close up of my feathers inserted into the tulle band, flush against the hat. Once you have it inserted right where you want it, squeeze out some hot glue down in between the tulle and the hat. The glue will form a quick, hard bond that should keep your feather stem in place. I wanted my feathers to be at a jaunty angle, so I was sure to hold them in place with pressure for a few minutes after applying the hot glue just to be safe.   

5. Next up is the flower. You have to cut the stem completely off so that the flower can lay flush against the base of the hat when glued down. CAUTION: When cutting the stem off completely you run the risk of the entire flower falling apart, petal by petal. As you can see from the photo, there's really nothing to prevent the greenery from coming apart so be gentle with it! Once it's actually glued to the hat you won't have to worry about it, although I'd still be gentle with it just in case. 

Here's a side view of the flower after I glued it to the base of the hat, over the tulle band, right next to the spot where I inserted the feather stem. The beauty of using a large flower is that it can mask any imperfections or residual hot glue left behind after gluing the feathers down. 

black tulle hat bows

6. Lastly, you need to turn the hat around to the back and tie both of your "tails" into fluffy bows, one inside the other. The fluffier the better I always say. And you can always tie as many tulle tails around the hat as you want, it's your call. Just be sure to tie them onto the hat before you start gluing down the embellishments.

straw hat red peony red feathers

Here's the finished DIY Kentucky Derby hat from the front. I have to say that it turned out better than I expected.

straw hat red peony red feathers

For the record I have never been a hat-wearer. I think it takes a particular type of person to be able carry off a hat in high style. Even though I've never been able to relate to those hat-wearers, I have to admit that I don't think this one looks half bad. 

woman wearing straw hat with peony and rooster coque tail feathers

What do you think?

I'm very excited for the party. I'll be making a confection that's based on something called a Kentucky Derby Pie. It's an old recipe that involves pecans, chocolate, brown sugar and bourbon. Need I say more? (Details will follow in an upcoming post.) My husband will even be wearing a colorful bow tie (another Kentucky Derby tradition) and who knows? We might even have a mint julep or two.   

Whether you watch the "Run For The Roses," as it's called, or not, I hope you like my DIY Kentucky Derby hat and that I inspired you in some way to be even just a little bit more creative in some way today. Thanks for stopping by! 

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Leave a Comment!

Junkchiccottage said...

How fun is this!!! I love the hat it looks so cute on you. Enjoy the party and festivities.

Debbie-Dabble Blog and A Debbie-Dabble Christmas said...

LOVE your Kentucky Derby hat!! It looks lovely on you and I love the color combination you chose for it! Thanks so much for stopping by and thanks for your well wishes and kind words!!

My thrift store addiction said...

How fun! You look great in hats--me, not so much!

Kathy said...

I love how your hat came out and how you look in it! Great job! I wish we had more excuses to wear hats as I love them, especially ones like yours with great floppy brims. I need hatpins to hold them on due to breezes! I get discouraged as I have a big head and they (esp those made in China!) will not sit down firmly enough for me! said...

You look adorable in your KY hat Kathleen! Hats are so much fun & I do wish they'd really come back into style, but for the Derby, they always are, I know. You're so crafty. I'd say this was a hit!

Anonymous said...

Hi There 👋 I'm trying my hand at making mine today...I'm going with the red , black , gray & white...I'm going to be wearing black pants , a red tank top with a pretty see through blouse over it... I've had a pair of beautiful plaid high heels with the same colors that I've never had a chance to wear...Now's the chance !! Hopefully it all turns out to be smashingly great !! Thanks for your idea...Wish me luck !!

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