Large women's bright pink hat with feathers worn at horse races.
Milliners traditionally made hats for women, but modern millinery businesses craft ready-to-wear and custom-made hats for anyone. — Getty Images | stocknshares

From the casual game-goer representing a favorite team with a cap to the Easter bonnets seen in church crowds, donning a hat is a prominent ritual in society. However, one event calls for ensembles more elegant and extravagant than the rest: the Kentucky Derby.

The Derby has long been an epicenter for fashion. Grand hats and outfits reminiscent of Southern belle elegance blend historical charm with contemporary flair — and it’s inspired some businesses to launch Derby-inspired collections.

For instance, Brackish, a Charleston, South Carolina–based artisan accessory brand and an official partner of this year’s Derby, released the 150th Anniversary Bow Tie Collection, the four-piece Jockey Club Collection, the pink Oaks Night Collection, and the Turf Club Collection to celebrate the event. The trend toward more elaborate ensembles sets the stage for milliners, or hat makers specializing in women’s headwear, to showcase their skills and creativity like never before.

Ahead of Derby Day on May 6, attendees are racing to milliners to find the perfect hat to celebrate the 150th run. Below, we highlight five small milliners who have a passion for the hat-making craft and made a name for themselves in this specialized industry — even when the horses aren’t running.

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Madge & Me

As a lifelong resident of San Anselmo, California, Laurie Berliner started Madge & Me in 2020 in the heart of her city after leaving her law career. A lover of clothing design and tailoring, Berliner happened upon a weekend hat-making workshop, which ultimately led her to pursue a career in millinery.

Alongside her four-legged milliner assistant, a Cardigan Welsh Corgi named Madge, Berliner handcrafts all of the store’s headwear in-house. Her specialty is creating hats from Milan-style braided wheat straw using an antique braiding machine. Berliner offers an assortment of ready-to-wear options in store ranging from daily wear to bridal and special occasions. She even has bespoke options to suit any individual’s needs.

Maria Etkind Millinery

New Orleans–based Maria Etkind Millinery prides itself on being different. With the slogan, “These aren’t your grandmother’s hats,” Etkind has been creating one-of-a-kind headwear for people of all ages for over five years.

Formerly a graphic designer, the Panamanian milliner discovered the millinery trade while living in The Netherlands — a time she now draws inspiration from in her designs. Today, Etkind captures her clients’ personalities in her unique creations, pairing a contemporary style with vintage inspiration and a modern flair. Headpieces, hats, and fascinations are carefully crafted using felt and straw, boasting vivid colors and sharp lines.

Etkind and her designs are highly acclaimed, garnering many accomplishments including the opportunity to create hats for New Orleans’ 2024 Mardi Gras Court.

The Hat Shop focuses on five core principles: quality, honesty, expertise, customer service, and a passion for hats.

Silverhill Creative Millinery

For an old-school hat that celebrates the period fashions of the 1920s through the 1940s, Silverhill Creative Millinery is the place to go. Located in Vermont, owner Kristin Silverman has operated Silverhill Creative Millinery since 2012 out of her home studio. The designer creates handmade hats and headpieces using traditional millinery methods.

Mainly a self-taught milliner, Silverman offers a variety of ready-to-wear seasonal and couture options, along with custom offerings, all of which are designed for everyday use. She is known for her attention to detail, meticulously hand-sewing finishing details like trim rather than opting for glue. Silverman’s vintage-inspired collection, from fedoras to berets and cloches, is distinguished by pleated ribbons and bead embroidery — signature features on many of her pieces.

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The Hat Shop

Since 1995, The Hat Shop has catered to the residents of New York City and beyond. Owner Linda Pagan draws in customers from all over the world to adorn their heads with her designs. The Hat Shop is home to Pagan’s label, Chapeau Chateau, along with designs from up to 15 local milliners. The shop offers an extensive range of choices akin to those in department stores, coupled with the personalized service of a boutique.

Named “one of the ten best hat shops in America” by USA Today, The Hat Shop focuses on five core principles: quality, honesty, expertise, customer service, and a passion for hats. They promise to match customers with the right hats based on their face shape, occasion, and lifestyle.

The House of MacGregor

Cassie MacGregor discovered her passion for hat-making more than 20 years ago when she made her first fabric beret in the millinery program at the Fashion Institute of Technology (FIT) in New York City. This passion paved the way for The House of MacGregor to open in 2002.

Today, MacGregor provides a traditional millinery experience with high-quality service. She helps clients discover the perfect fit and firmly believes millinery is an art, not a science. The Dallas-based milliner uses luxury materials including organza, silk taffeta, and handcrafted roses to create beautiful Derby Day–ready hats. With both custom options and off-the-shelf selection hat wearers’ personalities can shine outward for the world to see.

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