Dolly Parton once sang, “It’s hard to be a diamond in a rhinestone world.” That’s a pretty good summation of her style over the years. Because the Tennessee-born country legend is unafraid to stand out when it comes to her looks.
Parton’s style has evolved over the years, going from simple to country-glam through her nearly 60 years in the spotlight. She recently sat down with Vogue to go over her most iconic fashions throughout the years in a video series called “Life in Looks.”
Dolly Parton a style icon
“I’ve never thought of myself as being fashionable,” Parton says that the opening of the video. “I’ll just tell you what I know about how I look and why I look that way.”
Dolly Parton in the 1970s had a much more laid-back look. She knows what she likes and she looks good in everything. She would sport bell-bottom jeans and a tied off button up. Or a gingham dress she had sewn by a friend. It wasn’t until the 1980s that her style began to evolve into the glam queen look she’s most known for.
Parton remembers the dress she wore to the premiere of “9 to 5,” the 1980 film she starred in with Jane Fonda and Lily Tomlin. She had the film’s costume designer make her a dress for the red carpet. Vogue calls it an embroidered, strapless pink gown with a matching fur stole.
“I remember feeling really pretty,” Parton said. “That was probably the first time that I ever felt fashionable.”
Her looks evolved thanks in part to her variety show “Dolly.” In it, she wore the sequined dresses and big and colorful outfits she is now known for, she recalls. She credited the show’s costume designer, Tony Chase, for helping her with that look.
But dressing like that can be difficult, she says.
She also remembered a 1989 episode of “Saturday Night Live” where she was the host and musical guest.
“My look is not easy. I don’t just go put on a shirt to do something,” she said of hosting the show. “I have to totally tear it all down — take the hair off, take the clothes off, get it all on. And I mean I was a nervous wreck; I was worn to a frazzle before that show was over.”
Going her own way
Parton once defended her style in a famous 1977 Barbara Walters interview. Walters had asked if her big hair and loud outfits were necessary. Perhaps Parton could dress more sensibly, Walters wondered.
“It’s certainly a choice,” she replied. “I don’t like to be like everybody else. I would never stoop so low to be fashionable, that’s the easiest thing in the world to do.”
She recalled her performance with Elton John at the 2005 CMA Awards. Parton wore a bright white, sequined shirt and bell-bottom style jeans. She joked she was trying to look like Elton John, who ironically wore a toned-down suit that night. “I guess he was trying to look like someone else.”
But she pointed out that she wouldn’t apologize for her style choices. She likes to go big, and she likes to have fun with her looks.
“I think more is more and whoever made up that ‘less is more’ is full of it.”