'The Hat Girls' create Derby fashion through hard work and sleepless nights
It's crunch time for the hat makers who create the beautiful head pieces synonymous with Derby season.
PROSPECT, Ky. (WDRB) -- Pageantry and tradition are on full display the first Saturday in May, as a sea of festive hats surround what many consider to be the most exciting two minutes in sports. But when it comes to the weeks and months leading up, it's complete madness.
Kate Smith and Rachel Bell are "The Hat Girls," two of the many milliners in the area who will spend the next month working tirelessly on the luxurious hats that define the Kentucky Derby. "Every year, we get a little bigger so we're gearing up for a crazy three weeks," said Bell.
Bold, beautiful brims fill their Norton Commons storefront, which is now in its second year. Creating those one of a kind pieces takes time and creativity.
"I think we've proven to ourselves now that we work best under pressure and we really thrive off of the craziness that comes with these last thirty days," said Bell.
By the time Derby Day arrives, the two will have made 500 hats and fascinators. Many of those will be custom designs. A one of a kind "Hat Girl" headpiece starts with a 30 minute consultation to make sure the customer gets exactly what she wants. "We also love to use our creativity and just kind of get the feel for your style and go off of that," said Smith.
Then it can take anywhere from three to 30 hours to get it just right. "We've done a couple that were hand beaded, every feather was hand painted, those are going to be a long process," said Bell. The work often comes with blood, sweat and tears.
"We poke our fingers with needles and if you're working on a white hat then you have to be very careful and get a band-aid on it quick. I'm sure we've all started crying at some point in April during one of these years," said Smith.
April also means very little sleep. "We're starting at about 9 a.m. and we're here until 2 or 3 a.m.," said Bell.
And that's if they go home. "Now [my husband] just knows the month of April, I'm probably not going to be home. I'll be sleeping at the hat shop," said Smith.
The back room doubles as a bedroom. "Right now, it's about two days a week. Come Derby week, it'll be seven days a week for those last two weeks," said Bell.
Come Derby week, they'll be running on fumes. "The week of Derby, I'd say we're lucky to get an hour nap in each day," said Smith.
The hard work often results in hilarity and hijinx, which plays out on their Instagram page. "Rachel is really good at catching me when I'm doing something kind of funny or stupid," said Smith.
They give customers turned viewers a behind the scenes look at what it really takes. "At first I was like don't record that, don't put that on social media and now I'm just like I don't care. Put it all out there," said Smith.
But they will get it all done and when they walk through Churchill Downs on Derby Day, all of their hard work pays off. "It's so exciting to see all of our creations on our clients. I feel like that's really the rewarding part at the end, so it makes it all worth it," said Smith.
The Hat Girls are located at 10708 Meeting Street in Prospect, Kentucky.
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