About those fancy hats...

kate welshofer fancy track hats horseheads

The Saratoga Race Course draws people in all sorts of headwear.

By Kate Welshofer

"Let me ask you a question."

Two beers were sweating through their glass bottles last summer on a cold, metal, patio table when a man I barely knew put me on the spot. The style of his delivery fell somewhere between Dennis Miller and The Grinch Who Stole Christmas, so I knew it was trouble. All I could think was, "Here we go."

Instead, what I said was: "Go ahead!"


"It's... about the hats..."

We'd previously been discussing Saratoga and, more specifically, "The Track." It was about that time I realized I wasn't going to be part of a conversation but rather the involuntary straight man in an impromptu comedy act. I decided to skip straight to the punchline.

"You think they're stupid," I said.

Clearly a bit deflated, he tried recalculating -- visually sifting through any still-usable material in his head -- trying to salvage the routine.

"Weeeellll," he said, drawing out the word for effect before, "I just don't get it. I mean, what's the point?"

I wondered the same thing about the conversation.

I looked, blinked, and answered.

"They're fun," I deadpanned.

He looked at me, waiting for me to continue. I looked at him, producing little more than a half shrug.

"OK!" He said. "That's it?"

That was pretty much it.

This was nothing I hadn't heard before. Usually, though, the mockery comes with mimicry, like raising a glass, pinky up -- the widely-accepted symbol of snooty absurdity.

It's a whole thing. I get it. The whole fancy hat side of Saratoga can be a little much for some people, but the truth is -- and what I didn't tell him -- is that, in the end, everybody loves a fancy hat.

kate welshofer fascinator with horse statue

The Saratoga meet is the centerpiece of summer in the Spa City. It's a special time that comes and goes almost as quickly as summer itself. This provides a great reason for people to celebrate and to do things they wouldn't ordinarily do -- like watch world-class horse racing, drag coolers half a mile through gravel to drink in the sun all day... OR... wear a fancy hat.

It's part of the experience and you can get away with it -- like singing at the top of your lungs at a concert. No one gives you weird looks if you are wearing a hat at The Track. Pumping gas? That's a different story. (Trust me. I've been there.)

You can understand the hesitation. For some people, dressing up these days means ironing their cargo shorts. It's just not like it used to be. Once upon a time, people got dressed up for everything. Men and women wore hats all the time. It wasn't a big deal.

Now? Not so much. Even if you do get dressed up, you run the risk of someone asking you if you have a job interview or are late for a funeral. It's this modern attitude that makes doing something like wearing a fancy hat sort of special, even subversive.

The funny thing about the Saratoga Race Course is that you are just as likely see someone in a beer helmet with cup holders on the sides as you are to see a fancy, silk, wide-brimmed beauty. That's part of the charm.

kate welshofer fancy track hats composite

I'm someone who has great affection for vintage glamour. My job at Time Warner Cable News has given me a great excuse to try racing fashion on for size. I've hosted our opening day coverage at the race course for the past four summers -- and I've purchased four hats. (Well... six... not counting the hat I bought for opening day this year and the pieces I decided to get for my appearances on the new show we're doing at 12:30 pm every racing day this summer called Toga Today. It's fine. I'm fine. Don't worry about it.)

*buys another hat*

Anyhoo, I remember feeling so nervous the first time I had to buy a hat, not knowing the first thing about them. I was so unsure. Now, I look forward to the whole process. I've also found there's a certain empowerment that comes with not only wearing a unique hat or fascinator (think: headband only pointier, fluffier or with more feathers), but feeling comfortable wearing it -- and enjoying it.

Beyond the fun of dressing up, I've also fallen in love with the art of millinery. My delicate and developing little collection -- including some handmade pieces -- is a sliver of luxury in an otherwise ordinary world. People who make hats are artists and they have the powers of transformation. I have yet to meet a person -- male or female, young or old -- who, when greeted with the sight of one of my hats, doesn't ask, often sheepishly: "Can I try it on?"

kate welshofer fancy track hat with Matt Hunter
Kate and her TWCN colleague Matt Hunter.

I always say yes.

It's always the same routine. When I hand someone a hat or headpiece, they hold it gently, very carefully placing it on their heads, taking a slight bow.

"This way?" They'll ask, tentatively.

Then, you start to see it. They stand a little taller, their shoulders go back, they cock their head one way and then the other, taking it all in. Their hands go to their hips, they strike a pose. Their faces are first serious, then beaming. Even if they're just being funny, they instantly come to life.

The best way I can explain it all is this: Remember Frosty the Snowman? That old silk hat they found? When they placed it on his head?

"Happy!! Birthday!!"

It's like that.

It's a little bit of magic.

It's amazing.

It's... about the hats....

Kate Welshofer is the weeknight evening news anchor at Time Warner Cable News. She is also a YouTuber and writer. Find her at youtube.com/katewelshofer and katewelshofer.com.


Fun hats! Yay!

I have no other thoughts on this.

Couldn't agree more, you look fabulous in your hats, Kate!

Just returned from a trip to London and brought home hats just to wear to the track! Brits really do get the art of millinery.

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