Milliner Karen Sewell Preps for the Belmont Stakes

May is always a busy time of year for Karen Sewell, owner of Pommenkare Fine Millinery. But this year, it’s not just the Saratoga racing season that’s coming around the bend—the Belmont Stakes is also rapidly closing in on the finish line. To Sewell, that means one thing: more hats.

But while Saratoga will host tens of thousands of potentially hat-wearing out-of-towners for June’s final leg of the 2024 Triple Crown, the hat designer isn’t letting the pressure get to her. “It’s very exciting for the area for sure, and I’m definitely focusing more, but I just kind of make my stuff,” she says. “It’s not a conscious decision that ‘Oh, this hat will be great for Belmont,’ because this time of year I always have the track in mind.” 

For those who consider themselves “not a hat person” (more on that later), millinery is a fancy word for the design and manufacture of hats and other headwear. Sewell has been working in the field for more than a decade, and her designs have been worn to the Royal Ascot in England, the Dubai World Cup in the UAE, the Triple Crown races in the US and, of course, Saratoga Race Course. You can purchase the hats and fascinators seen here locally at Saratoga Trunk, where they sell for anywhere from $280 to $500.

But back to all those skeptical souls who claim hats aren’t for them. “A lot of people say, ‘Oh, I’m not a hat person,’” Sewell says. “Then they stand there and try a few on, and you can see it in their face. They’re like, Oh, this looks pretty good.’”

One client in particular stands out. “I had a special order to make a hat for a girl who was going to the Derby, and she sent me the sweetest note afterwards,” Sewell says. “She said, ‘The moment I put it on my head, I realized how elegant a woman can be.’”

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