First-timers and experienced pros alike strutted their stuff Friday at the 2016 Del Mar Opening Day Hats Contest at the seaside track in San Diego's North County.
Elaborate hats adorned with flowers, feathers, beads, toy horses and other bells and whistles filled the Plaza de Mexico at the Del Mar Racing track for the 22nd annual Hats Contest.
This included a bright yellow and blue diamond hat created by San Diego resident Lori Shelton, who told NBC 7 she has participated in the Opening Day Hats Contest for about 20 years.
Shelton was decked out – head to toe – in the blue and yellow diamond motif of Del Mar Racing season. This included a bright yellow dress with a blue belt and yellow shoes each featuring a hand-painted race horse. Even Shelton's pedicure was blue and yellow.
Shelton said her Opening Day get-up took her between 50 and 60 hours to create. As Opening Day drew near, Shelton said she keep adding details here and there to her project.
“[Thinking about] this hat was waking me up at night!” Shelton said with a laugh.
Bonita resident Andria Elam told NBC 7 this was her first time entering the famous Opening Day Hats Contest.
She proudly sported a lilac and turquoise fascinator topped with curled feathers and purple veiling, which matched perfectly with her floral dress.
“I spent two months on and off crafting my fascinator from millinery materials,” Elam explained, saying she was inspired by her love of fashion and horse racing.
In all, Elam estimates she spent 40 or 50 hours creating her hat, as every part of it was made by hand.
"It's really labor-intensive because I make it using traditional millinery techniques," she explained. "Everything is hand-sewn."
"[Hat-making] is an art. It's so amazing and I have so much admiration for those who do it professionally," Elam told NBC 7. "It's something I've always wanted to dabble in and I thought this would be the perfect opportunity to give it a try."
Patty Newman – wearing long white and black dress with bows and a large matching hat – said it took her one month to make her outfit. For Newman, this also marked her first time entering the Hats Contest. She was the first contestant to walk in front of the judges' panel, posing and showing off the many features of her outfit and hat.
For some contestants, their Opening Day outfit began with the hat and inspiration for the other parts of their ensemble followed. For others, it started with the dress and then creating a hat to match.
Some found inspiration in San Diego, incorporating beaches, water and sunshine into the props that adorned their toppers.
This included one woman whose hat featured a sandy beach – complete with a mini replica of a bonfire pit – and lots of horse figurines.
“This is a scene of the horses' day off. They're hanging at the beach,” she told NBC 7, saying she had entered herself in the “Funniest Hat” category.
Sisters Anna Mackin and Deborah Mauzy-Melitz impressed the crowd with their San Diego Zoo-themed hats, which were a nod to the zoo's centennial.
Mackin's hat included figurines of lions, elephants, rhinos and more, while Mauzy-Melitz's hat was covered in flamingo figurines gathered around a plastic waterfall.
Several contestants made a big splash at the hats competition, including a man who topped his hat with a giant replica of a shark being ridden by a jockey.
Stephen Schreper sported a large hat inspired by late pop icon Prince and “Purple Rain.” The hat included puffy clouds and tinsel covering the trim, meant to be the rain. The hat also included horse figurines hand-painted with the words “Del Mar 2016.”
Another memorable hat was Lauren Chadwick's hat, which was topped with figurines of cats and scrolled with the words “Cat Lady.” The inside brim was covered in paw print stickers.
“I love cats and I wanted to show representation for other animals that can also race,” she said with a laugh.
Chadwick has a tattoo of a cat nose and whiskeys on her forearm, which she held up to her face to make it appear as if she had whiskers. She entered her hat in the “Most Outrageous” category.
Escondido resident Tessa Robeson's hat was also hard to miss. Her huge topper, which she said weighed close to 40 pounds, featured bright tropical flowers and a gold skeleton drinking tiny bottles of tequila.
Robeson said the secret to keeping her heavy hat balanced on her head was reinforcing the base of the hat with sturdy, flexible chicken wire.
In the end, organizers said more than 300 contestants entered the 2016 Opening Day Hats Contest.
The winner of the Bing Crosby Grand Prize was Elam, who also won the “Best Fascinator” category. She walked away with a prize valued at more than $1,000 that included a one-night stay at Fairmont Grand Del Mar and dinner for two at Addison Restaurant. Elam also received a halter from racing’s No. 1 horse, California Chrome, donated by the horse’s owners.
Other winners included:
• Nadia Dayzie (First place winner in Funniest/Most Outrageous category)
• Rob Hanly (Second place winner in Funniest/Most Outrageous category)
• Renee Salas (First place winner in Most Glamorous category)
• Melissa Ordaz (Second place winner in Most Glamorous category)
• Tessa Robeson (First place winner in Best Flowers category)
• Lauren Silveira (Second place winner in Best Flowers category)
• Rachel Burton (First Place winner in Racing Theme category)
• Lori Shelton (Second place winner in Racing Theme category)
• Janice Ashton (Second place winner in Best Fascinator category)