When we decided to spend time in Charleston, understanding the art of “southern belle” style was at the top of my list. Not Lily Pulitzer southern (I know I just offended half of the country and sunk a sponsorship opportunity), but timeless-yet-modern southern style rooted in the days of Scarlett O’Hara, Rhett Butler and Charlestonian glamour.
Southern style — when done properly — has much more to do with a relentless dedication to always presenting the best version of yourself, without allowing the stress of everyday hustle and obstacles seep into your presentation. It’s easy to spot a gal with southern roots in the city, because I admit: they always look the most put together.
First Rule to Southern Style: Southern Attitude
I admire a southern woman’s ability to pull herself together from crisis to casual debutante status in a hot minute. There isn’t much that a dress and a swipe of red lipstick can’t fix, they will shatter your BS with a single glance and they are always prepared to bounce back. There is an inherent (and stubborn) willingness in a southern gal’s disposition to always put forth the best version of herself.
Beauty Routine First
The bigger the hair the closer to God? Yes, basically. Weekly trips to the beauty salon are deep-rooted, diehard tradition in southern culture. My time in Charleston was essential for taking my own pampering routines to the next level. A strict beauty and self-care routine is not a luxury; it’s mandatory before you step out the door.
Dress For the Occasion
Southerners pay close attention to dress code and always welcome the words “black tie” for a formal occasion. I’ve found in Charleston especially there is still an esteemed culture of entertaining, parties and piazza soirees. Weekends are never short of formal galas or charity events. Drama is in the dress.
Athleisure? Bless Your Heart
The shock of not being able to wear yoga pant and a high ponytail obscured by a Yankees hat to brunch shook my soul. Most Sunday mornings are for church in the south, so flirty-yet-modest dresses are the norm to any afternoon activity. Yoga pants post 11AM also seem taboo; that is, except for at Trader Joe’s where it doubles as a Lululemon store.
Dresses, Dresses, Dresses
As an original west coast gal, I’ve always been one to wear dresses daily and fight hard to make them work in winter conditions (even in Germany and NYC). But the southern weather was a welcome gift: it’s dress weather every day.
Navy Blue is the New Black
A primarily black wardrobe is 100% an NYC thing. In the south, the default dark color in a wardrobe is navy blue and celebrating vibrant patterns, fabrics and colors (so much color) is a must. The perpetual sunshine seems to have an effect on color choices.
Embrace Jewels & Accessories
Southern women carry the legacy torch for cocktail rings, swoon worthy jewels, generational gems (family heirlooms are cherished) and accessorizing until one can no longer accessorize…but they do it so well. One of my favorite jewelry stores in the world – Croghan’s Jewelry Box – happens to be in Charleston, where one can never be overdressed.
If It Doesn’t Breathe, Monogram It
Last names are a part of a southerner’s legacy and they showcase their initials (usually all three) on clothing, linens, jewels, notebooks, yoga mats, handbags, etc. Does it even belong to you if it’s not monogrammed? Debatable in the south. Admittedly, I love it. This is probably the one obnoxious southern style obsession I’ll adopt religiously into my New York life.
Shop at Boutiques
In Charleston and other southern cities, hunting for the labels at small, bespoke and local luxury boutiques is the norm. Personal stylists are still quite embedded into the customer service experience (while in New York, proudly decisive career women will chase them away like the plague). I imagine it’s a pretty loud echo of what shopping used to be like in the 1950s.
Style Icon: Mama
I’ve noticed that twinning with your superfluously elegant mother is a definite thing in the south. The special southern relationship between mom and daughter isn’t exclusive to style advice. It’s in this cherished connection where young southern women turn to for learning the tricks of timeless southern manners, poise and class which they walk with worldwide.