Seersucker combos: For men, they are a Kentucky Derby must

Published May. 1, 2015 4:10 p.m. ET

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (AP) Only a confident man would wear a loud blue or pink seersucker suit in public, unfazed about what people may think.

But this is Kentucky Derby week, so Alan Laughlin knows he's among brothers strutting around Churchill Downs.

There are plenty of pinstriped seersucker suits or blazers in varying combinations.

Yes, women garner most of the attention with their bright, colorful and often large hats at horse racing's premier event, but Laughlin and his pink seersucker combination are just as much a part of the festive atmosphere on a sunny Friday afternoon.

The Louisville resident said, ''this is the only day I'd ever wear it.''

Sometimes matched with a pink shirt, bow tie, straw or light fedora hat and saddle shoes, there's a demand for these outfits that clothing stores work hard to meet.

''The interest is across the board, from (age) 18 to 65,'' said Colleen O'Hara, manager at Margaret's Consignments shop in the city's Crescent Hill section.


She said her stock mostly ranges from blazers to suits. Either way, they don't stay on the racks long as Louisville-area residents try to get into the Derby spirit.

''Suits are always the first to go, and I wish we had 20 of them,'' added O'Hara, whose shop had just two left on Wednesday for about $65 each. ''Our Facebook page is off the charts with people asking about them.''

Considered something of a Southern tradition here in the heart of horse racing, bright suits are prevalent during spring meets at Churchill Downs and Keeneland in Lexington, Kentucky.

Most ensembles are well-planned and add to character of the event. Others push the fashion envelope with loud, cringe-worthy combinations resembling a TV test pattern or colors bright enough to require sunglasses - indoors.

They obviously hadn't been to Evolve men's consignment shop just a few blocks down from Margaret's.

Owner Jerry Mattingly had little high-end inventory left this week and boasts that he sometimes steers clients away from their urge to wear seersucker and risk ''looking like the ice cream man.''

''Many will use the Derby to wear clothes they typically wouldn't,'' he said. ''Louisville is a city where men just don't have access to upscale or luxury-brand clothing, so trying to steer them in (that) direction gets a little bit tough sometimes.''

But with many men among the 160,000 expected this weekend going all out, the risk is worth it to some because there's little chance of public ridicule. The suits get put away after this weekend.

Laughlin wasn't concerned about the suit he paid $125 for getting too much attention, saying, ''have you seen some of these outfits? This is pretty tame.''

Jack Gill of LaGrange, Kentucky, felt just as resplendent in his $750 three-piece blue seersucker suit, accessorized in pink with the shirt, bow tie, fabric lapel flower and pocket square. The 48-year-old was attending the Oaks with his wife and three daughters. He ordered the suit four months ago from a local store to make sure he had it in time for Derby week, and his mother even tailored it to make sure it fit him just right.

Feeling cool and comfortable on a day temperatures were expected to reach 70 degrees was also important because Gill plans to wear the suit to South Carolina this summer to deejay a wedding. That justified pulling the trigger on buying his first seersucker suit.

He paraded around the grounds turning heads, Matlock would have been proud.

Gill said he told his wife to close her eyes when he first put the suit on.

''When her eyes lit up,'' he said, ''I knew I did well.''