Steeplechase brings out the best in fashionable chapeaux
Let’s face it: Most of us are not natural “hat” people. Discounting one’s well-worn, perfectly molded baseball cap, which is truly more of a protective disguise for sneaking through an inevitable “bad hair” day, our Saturday go-to chapeaux don’t generally come adorned with feathers, fruit or floral finery. And, that’s precisely why the Iroquois Steeplechase is such a standout. It presents a singular spring opportunity to go all-out; to “play dress-up” from head-to-toe.
This year’s Steeplechase trendsetters opted for looks which were fairly easy to categorize. After a week of gloriously perfect weather, the second Saturday in May dawned cooler with the occasional raindrop landing with a plop and a splat. With threatening weather in the distance for the second consecutive year, many chose to attend hatless, leaving their costly headgear at home, like floral-sheathed Kelley Beaman, who arrived with a beaucoup of grown children while husband Lee opted out completely. Eileen Campbell, Lacey Samuel, Clare Armistead, Trudy Byrd, Robin Patton and Jane Dudley fell into the sans hat category, as well.
Executive Director Libby Cheek, credited with the monumental task of overseeing everything that takes place during this extravaganza, sported the same hat she wore last year since it was already a bit “wilted.” She looked amazingly cool, calm and collected in an effortless “horsey-set” type of way. Add Sara Jo Gill to that horsey group—she sported a western-style straw hat—and Jennifer O’Neill Louque, who despite her best efforts to be laid back, still exudes movie star magnetism. Mary Brockman wisely sported a horse-bit covered spring coat topped with a neutral, netted number.
The next category would come under the banner of “It’s Definitely All About the Hat,” and includes Palm Beach milliner Carol Carr’s dozens of disciples. They brought the day’s over-the-top “WOW” factor to the race course. Carol also personally attends our Iroquois and is frequently found putting the finishing touches on her creations just minutes before the opening bell clangs. Some of Carol’s devotees included: Stacey Rhodes, who dressed in a LBD and showcased a black feathered floral creation; sisters Blythe Houghland, who looked sophisticated in a beige hat with matching lace dress, and Leigh Gillig who sported a green and purple floral dress with matching chapeau; and Emily Williams who was in a full-skirted floral dress with a black feathered hat that had white exposed lining. Stacey’s husband, Taylor, even got into the swing of things, wearing a Suessian-inspired “Cat In The Hat” top hat adorned with feathers. Others that looked particularly glamorous in CC’s designs were Laura Ward, whose blue and green pastel watercolor dress and flower-encrusted chapeau was show-stopping; Debra Fair and Susan Allen, both with hats covered in blooms, and, of course, the designer herself, who showed off a brilliant blue feathered work of art.
Many ladies chose neutral dresses, which allowed their hats to take centerfield, and provided the perfect “pop” of color. Notables in this category included: Rachel Odom, in a luscious chartreuse number; Valerie LeVay in a black and white plaid dress with hot pink hat; Rebecca Story wearing sky high red and white plumes; Suzanne Smathers in a black illusion flippy dress and rose pink floral with yellow band; Ashley Henry, also in black with a rose hat sporting a strategically placed feather; Jennifer Solesby wearing teal blue over a pastel mini-striped dress; and Karla Adgent whose red rose hat over her white dress was spot on. Several men did not wear hats, but used their jackets as their “pop” statement, including Brian Cook in his green linen jacket embroidered with Steeplechase horses on the pocket, Jere Ervin in royal violet and Dan Groover in a navy and white dragon print.
The head-to-toe all one color look was also quite popular this year. Carol McCoy modeled a monochromatic look in shades of coral pink, Tish looked beautiful in teal, Linda Ervin in purple, Cheryl Wire in beige, Jill Casada in black, Mary Ann Houghland in pale blue and Stephanie Greene in ivory.
Fascinators remained a fashion staple among all age groups. Jen Lacey looked chic in her LBD with a black, crystal-infused fascinator and Amy Little’s cute topper sported horses. Others giving a nod to Princess Kate were Mary Neil Price, Rose Grindstaff, Carli Spragge, and Sara Jo Houghland.
Even on such a blustery, wet day, springy floral dresses with matching floral hats were spotted everywhere. Among those hoping to see a few rays of sunshine were Edie Wenczl in coral and brown, Leora Allen in the prettiest shade of sky blue, Brande Thomas and Joan Piers both dressed in shades of pink and purple, Nancy Russell in a floral suit with an oversized beige topper, and Joan Rich whose floral hat matched her long, floral, floaty dress perfectly.
Several ladies donned hats with a back story. Carolyn Ridley’s black Betmar illusion hat showcased a Swarovski crystal brooch and was purchased at a charity auction. And Patty Marvel bought her black-and-white chapeau at a London flea market. “Anything you carry all the way home from Europe in the overhead is special,” she laughed. Julie Casteel’s rose hat was worn to the Derby and Jaclyn Grimsley’s Kokin hat was bought at a For the Cure auction. Martha Gilmore’s hot pink Whittall and Shon creation came from Belle Meade Plantation, home of the famed stud and Steeplechase namesake, Iroquois. Ann Cain added feathers to her brown latticed Bellini hat. Colleen Conway-Welch’s black hat with black and tan feathers and a neatly tucked white flower caused her to reminisce and comment, “Last year, my feathers poked people’s eyes out. This year I’m not quite as dangerous.” Katherine Young wore a hat in the shape of a pumpkin and one can only imagine the story that accompanied that unusual creation. Rebecca Wilhelm adorned her brown chapeau with two miniature white horses, tiny branches, a green feather and a white mum tying it in nicely with her green polka dot dress.
Those men brave and adventurous enough to sport hats were looking quite dapper. Striking a pose as if they were on the cover of GQ magazine were: Jack Cawthon, John Ridley, Jeff Marvel, Owen Joyner, Jason Facio, Paul Vasterling, Rob McCluskey, Jason Bradshaw, Charlie Biter, John Henderson, Jeff Garner and Joe Cashia in a top hat!
The Nfocus Hat Judges had plenty to ponder in determining the Best of the Best, but Brenda Black, Gloria Houghland, Holly Hoffman and former Best Hat winner, Barry Grider, streamlined the selection process through the formation of four overall categories. The stylish winners were crowned in front of the crowd of more than 30,000 spectators at the finish line. Drumroll, please, the judges’ favorite finery were worn by:
Best All-Around—Michelle Nowel
Most Sylish—Laura Nelson
Most Creative—Julie Casteel
Best Gentleman—C.H. and Middleton Henry
—Gloria Houghland, Photographs by Michael W. Bunch and Eric England