Between Comic-Con downtown and Opening Day at the races in Del Mar, it was a day of spectacles in San Diego.
And few could hold a candle, or a Champagne glass, Wednesday to Christina Stutz of Ocean Beach. The 44-year-old bookkeeper’s creation stood out even among the most outrageous, outlandish and over-the-top headwear at the Del Mar Thoroughbred Club’s annual hat contest.
Using only her fingertips for balance, Stutz strutted with a 7-pound, full-sized mannequin she named Bella on her head. Outfitted in full retro-racetrack regalia, Bella was bent at the waist, with black fish-netted legs kicking in the air and Champagne spilling from a coupe glass.
“I’m a huge pinup fan and my dad used to come to Del Mar in the ’40s and ’50s with his parents. So when I found a brochure from 1948, my inspiration just went from there,” Stutz said, noting the vintage program in Bella’s hand.
TV cameramen, fellow hat contestants, and selfie-takers all jockeyed to capture Stutz’s towering tour de force, while others simply pointed and marveled. Clearly a crowd favorite, the cheeky chapeau elicited enthusiasm from the contest judges as well.
“We love it,” exclaimed one.
“Do you mind if we change your category to most outrageous?” said another. “Trust us.”
They weren’t talking horse feathers. Stutz won the grand prize.
Del Mar’s yearly parade of flowery, feathery and fanciful headpieces has been a racetrack tradition since 1995. On Wednesday it brought out couples, cousins, sisters, first-timers and previous winners.
“I was going for glamor,” said Liliana Suciu, 43, of her black, pink and purple fascinator.
For her inaugural competition, the Del Mar resident designed her own hat, working off the colors of her A-line, pleated dress.
An award-winning fascinator, she said, should be understated, balancing the three key elements of texture, structure and color.
“I wanted it to be like if the Duchess (of Cambridge), if Kate was wearing it, it would be perfect,” Suciu said.
Several other custom hat makers seemed destined for their role.
Ana Flora Royer, the 2004 champion, is a floral designer in Escondido.
“My mother named me Flora, so I had to go with flowers,” said Royer, who was competing for the 10th time.
The two oversized pink roses planted in her hat’s centerpiece were made from Styrofoam, so they were lighter than they looked, she confessed.
“I know how to carry my hats,” Royer said, flashing a smile through lips painted a matching shade of pink. “It’s much more fun that way and it’s all about having fun.”
Amber Thorne, an artist from Costa Mesa, used 75 live roses — 50 baby roses, 25 long-stemmed — to encircle her 10-pound, two-tiered, gold spray-painted winner’s cup hat.
“I wanted something that showed Del Mar and winning,” she said. “And I wanted to do red roses because my last name is Thorne.”
A track regular for the past seven years and a contest-entrant for the last five, Thorne won in 2013 for best flowers and in 2015 for best racing-themed hat. As she posed for the cameras like a pro, Thorne kept one hand on her hip, the other on her hat.
“It’s exhilarating, she said. “It makes you feel like a celebrity for a day.”
A dapper-looking Leslie Edward Sutter, bedecked in a red pinstriped zoot suit with a sombrero festooned with plastic ponies, wasn’t seeking glory. The 80-something cruise-ship dance instructor already gets plenty of that, he said.
“I do it for the camaraderie,” he said. “Look at this, isn’t it great?”
Sutter, who lives in Mission Bay, was there with Donna Greer of Oceanside, his partner on and off the dance floor. She bought her matching red dress a week ago and the couple’s coordinated ensemble took off from there.
“He picks up things all year and puts them in a box, just for this,” Greer said. “You should see the wardrobe he has.”
While most eyes were on Sutter’s hat, he directed people’s eyes downward.
“Did you see my stats?” he said, motioning to his red shoes with gray felt demi-covers.
Too bad there was no contest for that.