Arts & Culture

The Making of a Derby Hat

Milliner Gigi Burris takes us behind-the-scenes of a custom creation 

Like mint juleps, seersucker, and all things bourbon, a Kentucky Derby hat is a longstanding Southern tradition synonymous with the Run for the Roses. It is without a doubt the quintessential occasion to take a fashion risk and don a statement piece. To help make that decision easier, we teamed up with sixth-generation Floridian and 2015 CFDA finalist, milliner Gigi Burris, to create a stylish and very Southern topper exclusively for Garden & Gun readers.

Photo: Tara Donne

Gigi Burris in her Manhattan studio.

“I knew I wanted to do something with Southern spirit that had a playful elegance,” Burris says. So she turned to her roots, sketching out a breezy straw braid luncheon-style hat set off by a single handmade silk magnolia bloom, structural pheasant and goose feathers, and dramatic ostrich plumes. The pheasant feathers are prizes from her father’s hunts, and the magnolia is also a sentimental family reference. “We have magnolias in my backyard in Florida and I have always loved them and their beautiful fragrance,” she says.

An illustration of the Derby hat by Gigi Burris.

Next, Burris began finishing the design. Using the age-old millinery technique of hand-blocking, Burris sewed the neutral straw braid into a cone-like shape, and used a soft mallet and hat form to set it. From there, she hand-trimmed the ribbon, flowers, and feathers using tonal thread and millinery glue to hold the embellishments firmly in place.

The design process.

Wearing a hat this stunning on the big day (the most important part!) simply takes confidence, according to Burris. “I believe that as long as a woman feels beautiful she will wear her hat well and be appropriate for the occasion, whatever that type of hat might be,” she says. “The key is wearing it with grace—something that is easy for any Southern woman.”

The hat is exclusively available at G&G Mercantile + Co in three sizes and custom sizing is available as well. Order by Sunday, April 10 to receive before Derby day.