Welcome to the South, where a dress is standard grocery-store attire and pink lipstick is always in order. Here are 50 things we can’t live without.
Rightly described by some people as a feeling as much as a place, these are the elements of Southern style. From monograms and signature scents to bow ties and team colors, here are ways to be Southern, with style. Gingham, seersucker, linen, and eyelet may seem like simple fabrics, but think of them as Southern silk. Well suited to the climate, lightweight, and stylish, outfits made from and with these four fabrics fill many a Southern wardrobe. Also quintessentially Southern are team colors—wear yours with pride—boots, and tailored dresses. However you dress it up, these elements of Southern style show just how elegant and refined the South can be.
1. A Signature Scent
The earliest American perfume was known as Florida Water: a mixture of eau de cologne, cloves, lavender, and bergamot. And iconic Southern flowers—from jasmine to gardenia—have been making their way into fragrances ever since.
2. Tailored Dresses
When women entered the workforce en masse in the eighties, designer Liz Claiborne, who hailed from a prominent New Orleans family, offered them a professional yet feminine alternative to dressing like men. Claiborne’s legacy—polished and pretty—continues today through designers like Florence, South Carolina, native (and winner of NBC’s Fashion Star) Hunter Bell. Valerie Dress, $539; hunterbellnyc.com
3. Our Monograms
“In the South, your name is important—and often something that has been handed down to you,” explains Lucy Collins, a Georgia native and professor at the Fashion Institute of Technology in New York. “A monogram underscores that importance and takes something from mundane (a sweater or tote bag) to unique.”
4. "My Rule Is If It's Not Moving–Monogram It."–Reese Witherspoon
5. A Great Pair of Boots
Though they were originally at home on the range, down here, boots are welcome at black-tie fetes. George W. Bush wore a pair emblazoned with the presidential seal to both of his inaugural galas. But luxe details aren’t reserved for the high ranking. The Texas boot company Lucchese has handcrafted each and every pair since 1883. lucchese.com
In the late 1800s when famed pearl designer Kokichi Mikimoto began creating his then-novel cultured pearls, he took much of his inspiration from the mother-of-pearl buttons created in factories throughout the Southeast. Today, most cultured pearls are created using mussels native to the Mississippi River. Pearl Lion Head Necklace, $350; kennethjaylane.com
7. Color, Color, and More Color
“Southern women have long appreciated how color garners a reaction when walking into a room—and we welcome it,” says Dallas-bred fashion designer Lela Rose, whose label is known for its vibrant, ladylike frocks. Jen Straw Clutches, $180 each; kayudesign.com
8. "Playing Dress Up Begins at Age 5 And Never Truly Ends."–Kate Spade
9. - 11. Our Favorite Southern Fabrics
EYELET: Southerners have long embraced lace’s country cousin, once prized as a way to show off made-by- hand openwork details.
LINEN: This fabric’s tendency to wrinkle made it a status symbol because of the time and resources required to keep it in tip-top shape.
SEERSUCKER: This puckered textile has been a Southern staple ever since Louisiana brand Haspel invented the seersucker suit in 1909 as a way to survive a New Orleans summer in style.
12. A Gingham Button-down
Once used as a tester fabric by British fashion houses, humble gingham made its way to Southern mills during the Depression and quickly rose to domestic fame. It continues to be a top seller for Southern designers like Ledbury, Claridge + King, and Ann Mashburn and Sid Mashburn.
13. Family Heirlooms
Coco Chanel once advised removing one accessory before leaving the house. In the South, we use a different tactic and add a piece from the past.
14. Good Hair: Josephine Baker (20s)
This Missouri girl-turned-Paris sensation flaunted slicked-down finger waves that epitomized the popular flapper look.
15. Good Hair: Jean Harlow (30s)
The term “platinum blonde” was coined for this Kansas City, Missouri, native’s go-for-broke bottle job.
16. Good Hair: Bettie Page (50s)
The Nashville pinup’s bangs originated as a practical way to keep the sun out of her eyes during photo shoots.
17. Good Hair: Faye Dunaway (60s)
This Florida girl may have been channeling fellow Southerner Bonnie Parker for the film Bonnie and Clyde, but Faye’s smooth bob became legendary in its own right.
18. Good Hair: Pam Grier (70s)
North Carolina’s Pam Grier made a name for herself with big, bold characters and a take-that Afro in films like Foxy Brown.
19. Good Hair: Connie Britton (Today)
20. Skin That Glows
In the early 1900s, it was called heliotherapy. Down here, we call it “laying out.”
21. Pink Lipstick
In 1963, Texas entrepreneur Mary Kay Ash created a business model that empowered women to earn their own living, and the company along with its feminine colors is still going strong. Their best-selling lipstick shade is Sassy Fuchsia, a silky pink with a name that says it all. True Dimensions Lipstick, $18; marykay.com
22. "I'm Not Offended By Dumb Blond Jokes Because I Know That I'm Not Dumb. I Also Know I'm Not Blonde."–Dolly Parton
23. A Little Sparkle
“Southerners understand the world is a stage, and we like to shine as brightly as possible,” says Nashville’s “Rhinestone Rembrandt,” Manuel Cuevas—the designer who has been whipping up bejeweled stage ensembles for the likes of Elvis Presley, Hank Williams, and Loretta Lynn for the past 65 years. Petra Large Drop Earrings, $240; suzannadai.com
24. Our Team Colors
Famed University of Alabama football coach Paul “Bear” Bryant’s dapper game-day look (a sport coat and houndstooth fedora) wasn’t another superstitious ritual—it was a matter of reverence. Today, both Southern women and men bring a polished look to tailgates by donning their Saturday best. (Think Sunday best but in head-to-toe team colors and with a shaker in hand.)
25.-27. A Few Secret Weapons
HOT ROLLERS: The bigger, the better.
TEASING COMB: Volume’s essential tool.
HAIR SPRAY: It blocks humidity and, according to pageant queens, also sets your makeup.
28. Bow Ties
This is what Southern men wear for a big night: Texan Matthew McConaughey wore one when he took home an Oscar; Kentuckian George Clooney tied one on when he tied the knot; and Tennessean Justin Timberlake sports one constantly because, as he explains, “a gentleman can never have too many bow ties.”
30. "The Only Thing That Separates Us From The Animals Is Our Ability to Accessorize."–Clairee, Steel Magnolias
31.-35. A Charleston Outfit
36.-39. A Nashville Outfit
40.-44. A St. Simons Island Outfit
45.-49. A Charlottesville Outfit
50. Prints with Personality
In the late fifties, Lilly Pulitzer found herself residing on acres upon acres of citrus groves owned by her new husband, Peter. Soon, the enterprising (and understimulated) socialite-turned-housewife decided to open an orange juice stand in Palm Beach, Florida. With the business came the occupational hazard of citrus stains, so Lilly asked a local seamstress to make her a few simple sleeveless dresses from some colorful fabric scraps she had on hand. And the Lilly shift dress was born. Soon people were lining up to purchase her signature dresses instead of the OJ. The pioneering look caught the attention of the fashion world. It also didn’t hurt that Lilly’s high school classmate, First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy, was spotted wearing one on the cover of LIFE magazine. As the clothing’s popularity grew, Lilly transitioned from using fabric remnants (Jackie’s was made from a vintage tablecloth) to working with local artists to design her bold, signature motifs. Although the brand has since become a favorite at Southern barbecues, rush parties, and Sunday services, Lilly Pulitzer’s granddaughter, Lilly Leas, says that the clothing line founded by her namesake is not about prim and proper traditions. “Granny was fearless and a rebel,” she says. “At the heart of the Lilly look has always been the idea of being fun, colorful, and confident in who you are.”