Read an Excerpt
Clothes are like songs. Just as hearing certain music brings back particular memories, so it is with certain outfits. I’m so fortunate that, from the beginning of my career, I’ve had close friends and relatives who have taken good care of the clothing that is important to me. From personal items like the little bolero vest I wore while performing as a child and my simple wedding dress to such gorgeous costumes as the red dress that turned me into Miss Mona in The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas to everything I’ve ever worn onstage, each of these garments signifies something important—a place in my life, a moment in my career, a time when I felt like me. I treasure them all.
Behind the Seams: My Life in Rhinestones tells the stories behind some of my favorite outfits, both on and off the stage. It also paints a picture of the evolution of my own personal style that I first developed growing up in the backwoods of East Tennessee. I always loved makeup. I wanted to be pretty. Back then, any woman who wore makeup in the mountains was considered trashy. But I didn’t care. When I started buying my own makeup, I also started dressing according to how I felt, which meant wearing tight, low-cut outfits that my mama made. I remember feeling powerful enough to go up against Daddy or Grandpa to say, “Now, that’s not that tight. It ain’t cut that low. It ain’t that much.” And they’d say, “Yes, it is!” But I’d be willing to get my ass whupped for it. I would sacrifice for how I wanted to look.
The same thing happened when I moved to Nashville in 1964 to become a country star. Just like I had to persist to get my songs heard and ignite my recording career, I had to resist a lot of “advice” telling me to tone down my look or choose a different type of wardrobe. In these pages, you’ll learn I never listened to any of that. From early on, I loved the big hair and makeup, the long nails, the high heels, the flashy clothes, and—as soon as I could afford them—the rhinestones! But believe it or not, I had to fight for that look!
In this book you’ll see how, as a young artist, my self-confidence was enhanced by developing my own Dolly style and then sticking to it. I didn’t care about trends. Instead, I worked hard to look the way I pictured myself. Although my style has evolved as the years have gone by, I’ve stuck to the motto “To thine own self be true” over the past six decades—and still do. Much as the fictional characters that populate my songs uncover essential truths about me and the people I’ve known, my clothes and makeup also reveal the real me. Maybe they’re both “made up,” but they reflect my innermost self, my own personal truth.
I’ve had lots of help telling the story you’re about to read. You’ll hear from some of my designers, tailors, hairdressers, makeup artists, and photographers, and from my longtime creative director, Steve Summers, and his team, all of whom have been essential in transforming my ideas into reality. Early on, my personal assistant and friend, Judy Ogle, began assembling my clothing archive. She did a great job of saving and looking after all my things. Without her, so many of the pictures, so many of the clothes wouldn’t be here. Before she retired, she archived everything she could—that was her mission and her calling. My niece Rebecca Seaver, who learned from Judy, has been an integral part of my career for years and has curated the special collection you’re about to see, selecting these pieces from among thousands of garments that she and her crew care for. Nobody in this world is better suited to working in my archive. She is perfect because she has been there from the very, very beginning, and she also loves clothes. She grew up with me. Everything I did she was part of, and she knows every dress I ever wore— how it looked, how it felt, how it smelled. No one else could have put together the ideas for this book better than Rebecca. She has selected items spanning six-plus decades—from complete outfits to accessories, shoes, and wigs—to fill these pages.
I hope that as you gaze upon my life in clothing, it will inspire you to develop, and celebrate, your own sense of style. I value my freedom to look like and be my own true self more than anything else, and I hope this book will also give you the confidence to look like and be the person you want to be. Whoever you are, be that! And enjoy your journey behind the seams.