For many folks headed to Preakness, the focus of the afternoon isn't the race. It's the fashion — and we don't just mean hats. If you're in the grandstands, the Jockey Club area or Corporate Village, you'll want to dress the part.
Betsy Dugan, owner of Bettina Collections in Cross Keys and former co-owner of Octavia in Pikesville, has been dressing women for Preakness for years.
"This is the time ... to dress up," she said. If there's one rule of thumb, it's that ladies and gentlemen at Preakness should look like ...well, ladies and gentlemen.
For women, that means dresses and suits, according to Ray Mitchener, owner of Ruth Shaw at Cross Keys. However, the weather on race day is also a factor.
"You don't know what the weather is going to be like — whether it's going to be 100 degrees, or 60 and cloudy and rainy," said Ilene Garten, of Federal Hill, a Maryland assistant attorney general who has attended Preakness for years. "I pick something that's sleeveless. Usually it's a dress — a shift dress — that's fun with lots of color. …Then you figure out what kind of sweater should accompany it."
Mitchener added: "You definitely don't want anything flowy because if it's breezy, it'll be blowing all over the place. Something a little more fitted, with shape to flatter the figure."
For those who don't want to go the dress route, a suit is another option. "I always want to do a beautiful suit," Dugan said. "I have a pretty top underneath, if I want to take the jacket off [later], due to the weather."
And what about the men? "A jacket and tie for the guys, or a suit," suggested Dugan. Polo shirts and open-neck sports shirts are also popular choices.
Color-wise, this is not the event to go solid black chic. "A lot of people do black and white, and spike it up with a colored hat or a big flower on their jacket," Dugan said.
Many attendees sport the ever-popular Preakness palette. Caryl Siems, of Homeland incorporates Preakness black, white and yellow into her outfit.
"I normally look for something that's comfortable and conservatively stylish, with the Preakness colors; a little nod to that, even if it's just my handbag or bracelets," said Siems, who owns Senior Move Success.
Then there's the great hat debate. Is the big hat a must-have for Preakness? According to Garten, hats are not as important at the second jewel of the Triple Crown as they are at the first, which she has also attended several times.
"The Kentucky Derby is much more formal than Preakness. At the Derby, the hats are the main aspect. You think about the hat first. At Preakness, you think of the dress, and then the shoes or hat," Garten said.
If you wear a hat, go big and bold. "The bigger, the better. The more stuff you can get on it — the feathers, the tulle, the flowers. It's the one time you can go crazy with a hat and not feel foolish," Mitchener said.
There is one accessory that everyone agrees is important on race day: the shoes.
"The shoes are tough because you're on your feet all day, and you don't know if you're going to be walking through mud. So, I usually try to find something with a heel that's comfortable and not too high, and that I can last in for about 18 hours," Garten said.
If you want some height, both Dugan and Mitchener suggest a wedge. The grounds of the Corporate Village are turf, so high heels sink in and take on new duties — as soil aerators.