Make Your Kentucky Derby Party A Winner With These Fashion, Food And Drink Tips

Written By Julie Walker on May 5, 2022 - Last Updated on May 13, 2022
Kentucky Derby party

With the help of Kianna Davis’s 10-year old meme announcing “It’s Gonna Be May,” the calendar has indeed flipped a new page. And every fresh May’s dawn brings the first Saturday of the fifth month, aka Derby Day!

The 148th running of the Kentucky Derby takes place at 6:57 p.m. on Saturday. For those Michiganders not making a run to Louisville or Northville Downs this weekend, perhaps plans include a Derby themed party?

If so, we’ve collected some tips (mostly) from the source itself to help hosts throw an on-point gathering!

How to watch the Kentucky Derby

With a party centered around the “Greatest Two Minutes in Sports” comes great responsibility. While the Kentucky Derby celebrates racing all day, it’s crucial to get guests keyed in on time for the main event.

How to watch the 148th Kentucky Derby

What: 2022 Kentucky Derby
When: Saturday, May 7
Where: Churchill Downs in Louisville, Kentucky
Race Surface: Dirt
Race Distance: 1¼ mile (10 furlongs)
Post Time: 6:57 p.m. ET
Broadcast: NBC
Online viewing: Peacock
Pre-Race coverage: USA Network, 12-2:30 p.m.; NBC 2:30 p.m.
Weather Forecast: Low 70s; 30% chance of showers in the afternoon

And here’s who you will be watching/wagering on

Horse odds often change on race day, but here’s who is scheduled to race on Saturday. Want more intel on wagering? Check out the PlayMichigan Derby guide here.

Post PositionHorseOdds
1Mo Donegal10-1
2Happy Jack30-1
4Summer Is Tomorrow30-1
5Smile Happy20-1
7Crown Pride20-1
8Charge It20-1
9Tiz the Bomb30-1
11Pioneer of Medina30-1
14Barber Road30-1
15White Abarrio10-1
17Classic Causeway30-1
18Tawny Port30-1
20Ethereal Road30-1

And now, onto the party!

Key ingredients for an authentic, winning Derby party include: the outfits, the drinks, the decorations and the food. For those who, like this writer, struggle with deadlines, the time to order cute paper invites has probably passed.

It’s not too late, however, to send an electronic invite. Punchbowl serves up nice variety available online that are free with a trial subscription.

Once the invites and guest list get settled, the main choice looms: To dress code or not to dress code? There’s no pressure to match the fancy duds that will parade around Churchill Downs. But, for those that go with a request for fancy attire, read on.

How to dress for a Kentucky Derby party

According to the Derby website, wearing a hat on Derby Day is thought to bring good luck. With a 50 percent chance of rainsnowarmageddon in the forecast for Michigan and temperatures struggling to get into the mid-50s, make sure guests have a parka, knit cap, hoodie, etc., available, too.

But let’s pretend warmer temps and sunny skies will dominate. Read on for tips on the right fits.

Women’s fashion

  • Wear a dress or pantsuit that is “full of color, or floral or equine patterns”
  • Spring heels are suggested, especially nice for Michigan guests who won’t trot all over Churchill Downs. Though, again, they should pack boots in case it snows
  • Jewelry can stay low-key or non-existent, because the focal point is the hat

The Hats

The classic “Southern Belle” wide-brimmed hat works well and can be decorated with add-ons to showcase one’s creativity. Another style blooming in popularity is the fascinator, helped in popularity by the fashion-forward Duchess of Cambridge. These headpieces technically are not hats and count more as a dressy headpiece.

For men, fedoras or bowler hats make a nice Derby style. Whatever head covering one chooses to rock, this IS the time to go bold!

Men’s fashion

  • Start the look with brightly colored pants, such as blue, pink and green.
  • Pair this with a fun shirt, such as one with stripes or gingham.
  • A navy or chalk stripe blazer is the favorite to finish off the suit
  • A nice necktie or bowtie, along with sock-less loafers, will seal the look

Kentucky Derby party decorations

Think roses, roses, roses. The featured flower of the historical event makes for easy decorating, inside or out.

For those hosting an outside event, have guests bring blankets or lawn chairs. A decorated main table with food or drink supplies and a few lawn signs will easily complete the party.

If you want to to go all out, the Derby’s decorations page has links to buy absolutely anything Derby one can dream up, including rock glasses, paper plates, bar towels, napkins, aprons, even Bourbon & Bluegrass Julep Candles for $29.99.

Michiganders who may miss the beautiful simplicity of an outdoor hot dog at the now-defunct Hazel Park Raceway, have no fear. Not every party needs a small tree carved into a horse shape.

For less pricey decoration options, Party City has a big selection ranging from paper products to table toppers to photo booth to steel Kentucky Derby cups. Supplies look low at several brick-and-mortar locations, so start ordering now!

How to make a mint julep

We assume anyone fixing to throw a Derby party already knows what the signature drink should be: The Mint Julep! The Derby’s cocktails page lists 20 drinks, including the Southern staple of Sweet Iced Tea, and a few variations of the classic julep drink.

Bourbon makes a strong foundation for Derby beverages, and Kentucky staples Woodford Reserve and Old Forester appear multiple times on the drinks list. This writer respectfully submits the humble Jim Beam, also of Kentucky roots, as a more wallet-friendly alternative.

Party hosts can browse the site for more ideas, including mocktails for those who don’t imbibe.

A new Instagram account called AlcoholFreeDetroit showcases yummy non-alcoholic drinks in metro Detroit. Good mixing ingredients to have are simple syrup, tea, crushed ice and mint leaves.

Here, we share the Derby recipe for a classic mint julep and related mocktail.

Woodford Reserve Classic Mint Julep

  • Two ounces of Woodford Reserve
  • ½ ounce of Simple Syrup
  • Three fresh mint leaves
  • Crushed ice

To make: Rub the mint leaves inside the glass to get it, well, minty. Then add simple syrup, bourbon and the ice. Stir, add more ice and garnish with fresh mint.

Mocktail Mint Julep

  • Five ounces of simple syrup
  • Unsweet tea

To make: Use a tall glass with ice and mix in the two ingredients. Garnish with mint.

Food to serve at a Kentucky Derby party

The Derby’s food recipes page offers superior choices to craft the perfect Southern-style menu. Recipes include everything from bourbon picked peaches to pimento mac and cheese to bourbon rice crispy treats.

Seared chicken breast with Pancetta, Vidalia Onion and fennel cream, short ribs and Woodford Reserve Sweet Potato Casserole headline the official Derby menu that visitors to Millionaires Row at Churchill Downs will enjoy.

That’s probably not you, but if it is, please send us some leftovers.

Luckily for hosts who don’t have a Derby level chef on call, there are six at-home recipes to try from southern chef Kelsey Barnard Clark: Supper Club Smoked wings with White Barbecue sauce, Twinkle Light Succotash, Okra hot fries, Green eggs and ham, Ice Box cookies and Mama Jo’s Pecan Pie.

Here we share the wings recipe because who doesn’t like wings and sauce?! The following makes three to five servings, so make sure to multiply properly. Not feeling the featured recipes? Can’t go wrong with a box of wings!

“Smoked” wings ingredients

  • 1/2 cup light brown sugar
  • 1/4 cup salt
  • 1/4 cup smoked paprika
  • 1 Tbsp onion powder
  • 1 Tbsp garlic powder
  • 1/2 tsp ground ginger
  • 5 pounds of chicken wings, rinsed and patted dry

For wings: Preheat the oven to 425°F. Line a half sheet pan with parchment paper.

In a medium bowl, stir together all dry ingredients. Add wings, toss with the dry rub to coat, patting so rub sticks. Place wings on pan and cook for 12 to 15 minutes, or until golden brown and cooked throughout. Let cool for 10 minutes before serving.

Alabama white barbecue sauce ingredients

  • 1 cup mayonnaise
  • 1/4 cup apple cider vinegar
  • 1 tsp honey
  • 1/2 tsp hot sauce
  • 1/2 tsp smoked paprika
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1/2 tsp garlic powder
  • 1/2 tsp onion powder
  • 1/2 tsp freshly ground black pepper
  • Pinch of cayenne pepper

For the sauce: In a medium mixing bowl, whisk together all the ingredients. Eat immediately or keep refrigerated in an airtight container for up to three months.

Photo by Shutterstock
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Julie Walker

Julie has written, edited and designed words at five Michigan newspapers and websites. She’s worked on two sports desks, including at The Oakland Press and most recently at The Detroit News. Julie has contributed to stories on many big sports moments, from the NFL's 100th season to Super Bowls to Justin Verlander’s trade to the closing of the Palace of Auburn Hills.  Julie loves lakes, bonfires, Dachshunds, coaching Little League and carrying on her Dad’s fantasy football legacy that he started in 1987 — before there was an app for that.

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