Her (Derby) Work Wardrobe

May 3, 2019 | Derby, Work Wardrobe

Tonya Abeln suggests bringing three pairs of shoes for the track on Derby and Oaks. “I rotate throughout the day so I put pressure on a different part of the foot.”
Photo by Joon Kim

Tonya Ramsey Abeln’s work wardrobe is all over the place. As director of community relations and president of the Churchill Downs Foundation for Churchill Downs, Inc., you might find her in mud boots on the backside, business attire at a community function, or in a formal gown at a Derby gala.

“What I love about my job is there is something different every day,” says Tonya, 40, who is married with two preschool children. “The fun part of my job is I get to give things away to the community,” she says. “We give grants to local organizations to make our community a better place.

“We’re building the foundation,” she says. “It’s kind of a new foray for us. Churchill Downs has always been a good corporate citizen and charitable donor.” The foundation supports industry organizations such as Thoroughbred After Care.

“What happens after a Thoroughbred’s racing career is over?” Tonya says. “Thousands are bred, but only 20 run in the Derby, and only one wins. It’s for those whose career wasn’t successful for long and after their racing career is over.”

The foundation also supports the Permanently Disabled Jockeys Fund and the Backside Learning Center. “It’s for educational opportunities for our backside workers,” Tonya says. “We want to support this community and make sure they aren’t marginalized.”

Her wardrobe: “I always approach fashion as costuming,” she says. “What character do I want to be today? If I am wearing a suit, I wear a quirky pair of shoes, so as not to be completely corporate. On non-race days, I am casual. But, there is nothing casual about me on Derby Day.”

Her fave shops: “I love vintage shops, like Acorn and Nitty Gritty.”

Her accessories: She loves costume jewelry, shoes, and hats. She works with local milliner, Jenny Pfanenstiel with Formé Millinery  and Olivia Rose Griffin of Griffin Hatters.

Her makeup: Makeup artist Rick Bancroft does her makeup and uses a setting spray. “It lasts all day. It’s a big integral part of me looking good on Derby day.”

Extra tidbit: There’s nothing ordinary about these Derby hats.


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