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For those of us who would love a fabulous hat for Derby but can’t stomach the idea of spending upwards of $300 on a designer topper or don’t have time to make a fascinator, there is a new option: Rent the Races. This is similar to Rent the Runway, where you can rent designer dresses for an event, but this concept is just for hats and fascinators.

Based in Lexington, Rent the Races is the brainchild of three friends who came up with this great concept during Derby time a few years ago. All three girls work in the horse business, but they all have a creative side, as well.

Rent the Races carries millinery designs from all over the world, such as England, Ireland and Australia. You’ll find unique designs that you likely won’t see here in Louisville. And they are well stocked on inventory for Derby, with brand new hats and fascinators to choose from.

As if all of that isn’t enticing enough to check it out, here’s one more interesting fact about this company: they donate a portion of their proceeds to charity. At checkout, you can pick if you would like your portion to go to the Bluegrass Conservancy, the Permanently Disabled Jockey Fund or the Thoroughbred Aftercare Alliance. They wanted to cover the “land, the people and the horses” in their giving. Here’s how the process works …

Renting a Hat for Derby

The Ordering Process

In anticipation of Derby — and because we were curious to experience Rent the Races, we recently went through the process of hat rental on their website. The concept is simple. Go online and peruse the inventory. Pick your dates — we recommend getting the hat a couple of days before the event, just to be safe. The hat is then shipped to you. You wear it and return it in the box, with prepaid postage either via regular mail or UPS.

We ordered a hat and a fascinator, shown below, on the website, on a Wednesday morning, and they arrived Thursday afternoon.

rent derby hat

LD Carey, who is based in New York but has Lexington roots, designed this hat. As you can see, the retail cost to purchase is $475; Rent the Races lets you grab the designer look for a limited time and for a fraction of the cost.

rent derby hat

Edel Ramberg is an Irish milliner. We love this fascinator, which retails at $285, but we rented it for $70.

The Arrival and Try-On

Both items arrived together in a large box. Inside that large box was a large hatbox.

rent derby hat

This box has a large hatbox inside.

rent derby hat

The hat is completely protected in this hatbox.

rent derby hat

Here is the blue hat, live and in person, and looking exactly as it does on the Rent the Races website.

rent derby hat

The firecracker fascinator has no headband, just an elastic strap, which was a nice change of pace.

Here’s the hard part about hats — you don’t know exactly how they will fit your head. The blue hat was a little small. I got it on my head, but I would not be able to wear it for any extended period of time. The red fascinator, which I had hesitations about wearing, was so cool. It was very European, where you wear it sticking straight up and on the top of your head. Most of the fascinators we are familiar with are tilted to the side more. Something else I loved about the fascinator was the elastic strap that felt like nothing on my head, very different than a headband.

rent derby hat

Here’s the fascinator and the hat on me.

While this is not my Derby outfit, I wore them both with a white blazer to show them on a neutral background. If you had the right outfit, it would be a definite WOW.

And the Return …

After you’re done wearing your rental, simply place it back in the original hatbox, and then the original shipping box. Rent the Races sends you a prepaid label to affix to the box for return shipping.

Here’s something to consider: You cannot just put this in your mailbox like a Rent the Runway dress. You need to drop it off at a UPS mailing location. Obviously my box was bigger, and I had to take it into the UPS store. If it were smaller, I could have put it in a freestanding UPS dropbox. Just some things to consider for the return.

Also, they have added a Louisville hotel drop off/pickup on the website for $10, for guests traveling into Louisville.

Answers to your burning questions:

Rent the Races has the answers to all their FAQs on a special page on their website, such as damage, fit and cleaning between wears. Click here to assuage your fears. But for now, I will answer what are likely the two most burning questions:

Would I rent my Derby hat or fascinator here?

Yes, but I would pay close attention to sizing if you have a big head like me. Perhaps just opt for a fascinator if you have a bigger or smaller size head. I liked that they had lots of designers I had never seen before.

Was it easy?

It was extremely easy to order and pack up. You need to consider taking it be mailed into your scheduling.

No matter what you decide for your Derby hat, just remember to wear one. It’s a MUST!


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