"You don't have an accent!" These five words are often the first thing I hear when I tell new acquaintances I was born and raised in Birmingham, Alabama, and studied journalism (i.e. wrote fashion columns) at the University of Mississippi. And it's true; while I brought many qualities with me from the South when I moved to the Big Apple, an accent wasn't one of them. What I did bring: a healthy appetite for sauteed greens and fried chicken, and my Southern-bred sense of style. Below, my top five rules of Southern style I try to emulate in the city that never sleeps.
Some things never change. Photo Credits: A.C. Blalock, 1986; Jenny Anderson, 2012
1. Do you.
I think the South sometimes gets a bad rap as a close-minded, judgmental place – especially in a city like New York, where it's expected and required that we brush off any number of bizarre commute encounters before we have our morning coffee. But I don't think that's fair, or true; part of the reason I'm the confident New York woman I am today is my Southern upbringing, which always encouraged me to dress and express myself honestly. Growing up as a bit of a “fashion experimentalist” (to put it kindly), I appreciated this openness, and it engrained in me the first and most important rule of fashion: you gotta do you. Dress how you want to dress, in the manner that makes you happiest. Dressing for others, or being trendy for its own sake, is often the first step on the road to fashion disaster; it's fine to be trendy, but try to give it your own spin, and only take on trends that you truly love. I somehow lucked upon an amazing Stella McCartney chain belt at Beacon’s Closet in Brooklyn (thanks, jaded hipsters!) and it's a total trend piece, but I wear it because I love it. If I didn't love it and just wore it because it's on-trend, it would be obvious — I guess what I'm saying is that the fashion's gotta come from the heart. And you better believe, three years from now when the chain trend is but a distant foggy memory, if I still love that belt as much as I do now, I'm gonna wear it anyway. Because I gotta do me. (Now, if someone would just spot me a couple stacks to buy a Falabella bag or two.)
2. You can never own too much jewelry – but you can certainly wear too much (I guess).
This one I learned from my mother, who has an entire freestanding closet just for her jewelry. I'm not to that point yet, partly (read: mostly) because my Manhattan apartment is simply too small to house such a contraption – but if I get my way, someday I will have one of my own. True Southern women love their jewelry, and don't necessarily adhere to any rules regarding how they “should” wear it. I try to amend this a bit, because simplicity really is king; the inimitable Coco Chanel famously said that you should remove one accessory before you leave your home. It’s a rule my mother taught me years ago (though, bless her heart, she may not always succeed at following it herself) and which I try to practice to this day. Many Southern women might balk here, because in their minds and hearts it's simply not possible to layer too many necklaces, jingle too many David Yurman bangles, or stack too many Tiffany & Co. rings. While my gut instinct is to agree with them, and I allow myself to own as much jewelry as I can quasi-reasonably afford, I attempt to exercise self-control when it comes to wearing it. The key word here is attempt. (My granddaddy gave me these vintage rings! Don’t make me play favorites. It’s just wrong.)
3. Embrace comfort.
If you haven't lived through a Southern summer or two (try more than 20) please don't talk to me about fashion-induced discomfort. It gets really hot down there, y'all. Really, really hot. Combine that with a level of humidity that can only accurately be described as swamp-like, and you've got a recipe for misery. Thus, I learned at a young age to dress how I wanted while also staying as comfortable as possible. Of course, this isn’t the choice I always made; I attended my fair share of college football games in sky-high stilettos (yes, I just said “football” and “stilettos” in the same sentence, sorry I'm not sorry). But when I look back on my favorite outfits, they were the ones that allowed me to feel confident and comfortable at the same time. It's never worth it to put yourself through hell just to look amazing; most of the time you'll end up wearing a grimace, which will instantly become your most noticed accessory. And it ain't a good lewk.
4. Kill ‘em with kindness.
On a recent elevator ride up to the shoe department at Barneys New York, I ran head-on into a woman who looked at me as if she were the exterminator and I, the roach. I love fashion, but I don’t love when people view it as a way to elevate themselves above others. This may sound incredibly naïve of me, but I know kind fashionistas exist, because I’ve met them. In fact, just prior to my encounter with the Wicked Witch of the Barneys Shoe Floor, I was visiting Michael Kors on Madison Avenue, where every single salesperson was as sweet and funny and excited as could be about my presence. I could tell they truly loved fashion and were not there to pass judgment on the human beings coming in the store – and guess what! It made me love MK that much more, which is kind of hard to do, since I stalk his sales like it’s my job. It’s a Southern standby to treat all people with kindness and respect – period. I won’t even try to rebuke the idealist label this statement will earn me, but I truly believe fashion is for everyone. Wearing a sour puss is just about the worst accessory ever, even topping the aforementioned painful grimace.
5. It ain’t that serious, y’all.
As a part-time yoga teacher and regular practitioner, I’m no stranger to people who take themselves far too seriously. In the middle of teaching a yoga class, I sometimes look out into the faces of my students and see serious looks of consternation, focus, and (it’s true) even anger. I immediately encourage everyone to lighten up: contrary to what they may believe, this isn’t a trip to the dentist, it’s a yoga class! The same bodes true, I think, for fashion. If fashion ever causes your blood pressure to rise – not from excitement, but rather from stress – it might be time to take a deep breath, remove your finger from the clicker hovering over the Christian Louboutin site (I know, girl, I too chronically lust after the Rollerball loafers), and re-evaluate your priorities. I know you know the all-too-familiar caricature* of the über-serious fashion girl – don’t let it be you. Try topping off your outfit with a smile; maybe, in this way, you can inspire others to love fashion, not to fear it.
*Sadly not an exaggeration at all