A couple of years ago, a national book tour dropped me in Oxford, Mississippi, on a Friday afternoon before an Ole Miss home football game against Texas A&M. After my signing at Square Books, I took advantage of the pretty October day by taking a bench and watching the stream of people around the town square.
I liked what I saw. Folks were dressed up. Men in casual slacks, nice buttoned-up shirts, and leather loafers. They were clean cut and handsome looking. It was the women and college girls, though, who did my heart a world of good. Not on one person did I see a pair of jeans. They wore fun skirts and flowing dresses, many with cowboy or sassy boots. All were accessorized with pearls, baubles, earrings, pretty hair, and make-up.
There's something so appealing about femininity. And when you see a whole parade of femininity, when women of all ages take time to "pretty up" as Mama liked to say, it is both lovely and inspiring. Having attended home games at Ole Miss, I always say that the fashion was better than the games. The other highlight was hearing the audience singing the soulful "From Dixie With Love" which has now been dumped by someone or some persons in command.
When Tink moved to the South from Los Angeles, he brought his Southern California style with him. In the television and movie industry, the executives mostly dress in jeans. The women often don't wear make-up. Interesting, isn't it? They're the ones who create all the stars with glamour and raise the bar for the college girls in Athens, Tuscaloosa, Knoxville, Oxford, and all those other Southern college towns. Let me promise you that what you see on camera is not what you see behind it.
To the Deep South came John Tinker with a load of jeans and shirts - most of them in varying shades of ugly - that he wore with the tail hanging out and no belt. It wasn't that he was dressing wrong. He just wasn't dressing right by Southern standards. Even those of the rural South and the mountains of my people.
When I was a child, I remember how everyone wore the best clothes they had to church. "Sunday Best" was what we called those clothes and they were only for church or special occasions. Sometimes that meant that an old farmer would wear clean, often starched overalls with a crisp white shirt, a tie and special handkerchief in his pocket, either white or a red bandana. Without exception, they wore the best they had.
Gently, I began to nudge Tink in that direction. Here's one thing about my husband: he is tall and lean and wears clothes well. He eats mostly junk food, desserts always, and NEVER exercises. He can eat a bag of potato chips then one filled with chocolate chip cookies right before bed and never gain an ounce. On the other hand, I struggle despite being conscious about eating, count most calories, and run three miles, five times a week.
But I know how to dress up.
A minor spat came up between Tink and me when I asked where his best suit was.
"The cleaners. Both suits." Tink thinks that one wearing of a suit and a tie should send them for drying cleaning.
"What if someone dies between now and when they're ready? What are you going to wear?" He rolled his eyes comically. That's when we had a good "talking to" about both his suits being cleaned at once.
A bit later, he decided to drive the tractor to the store and fill it up.
"If I get in an accident and don't make it back, know that I love you."
"If you don't make it back, I'm going to have a real problem. I won't have a suit to bury you in."
Seriously. It could be a problem.
Ronda Rich is the best-selling author of What Southern Women Know. Visit www.rondarich.com to sign up for her free weekly newsletter.