Country music and fashion have always gone hand in hand. Whether stars wear down-home duds or glitzy suits that sparkle under stage lights, country music wardrobe tells a deliberate story. Miranda Lambert, Reba McEntire and Kacey Musgraves have all launched their own fashion lines. And when it comes to fashion, country stars go big: big hair, big sparkles and big personality. There’s no room for subtlety here. With that in mind, we rounded up some of the most iconic country fashion trends in history — the good, the bad and the just plain wild.
In the early days of country music, most singers opted for a more casual style to relate to the common man and woman. The Carter Family wore simple dresses and suits. Kitty Wells wore gingham dresses favored by 1950s homemakers. Then Nudie Cohn came along. Inspired by design pioneers Nathan Turk and Rodeo Ben, the Russian-born Cohn revolutionized country music fashion with his elaborate Nudie suits. Adorned with rhinestones and extravagant embroidery, the suits were flashy enough to make a singer stand out from a mile away.
Country artists couldn’t get enough. Porter Wagoner, Hank Williams and countless other stars clamored for Nudie’s eye-catching designs.
Dolly Parton Year: 1975 Though it was the country star’s longtime duet partner, Porter Wagoner, who was better-known for his Nudie collection, Parton owned a few herself, including a yellow jumpsuit that she wore on the album cover of The Best of Dolly Parton, Vol. 2. . . . .#nudiesrodeotailors #dollyparton #rhinestones #cowgirl #porterwagoner #nudiesuit #nudiecohn #nudieoriginal #albumcover #thebestofdollyparton #westernmusic @dollyparton
Manuel Cuevas, who worked in Cohn’s studio and created several iconic Nudie suits himself, is still one of the most sought after designers in Nashville.
In recent years, artists have started to embrace the classic Nudie suit look again. Rising country trio Midland donned Nudie-inspired duds on the cover of their debut album. The suits were stitched by Fort Lonesome, a custom chain-stitching company in Austin, Texas.
A wise woman once said “the higher the hair, the closer to God.” Nowhere does that statement ring more true than in the world of country music. Dolly Parton, Bobbie Gentry, Barbara Mandrell, Tammy Wynette and Loretta Lynn all rocked a pile of hair held upright with only Aquanet and a prayer.
Stars like The Judds and Reba McEntire helped carry the big hair trend into the 90s.
Big hair gave way to a sleeker style in the late 90s, when Faith Hill chopped her locks into a pixie cut. But artists like Kacey Musgraves are helping to bring back the bouffant.
Inspired by attire worn by Native American tribes and early pioneers, western wear makers incorporated fringe into their designs. Western screen stars Roy Rogers and Dale Evans helped popularize the look for the Hollywood set in the 1950s.
In the 1960s, fringe became associated with the hippie counterculture through films like Easy Rider. And when Urban Cowboy made western wear en vogue for city folks, fringe jackets once again became all the rage.
In the 90s, fringe jackets could be found on country superstars like Patty Loveless, Dwight Yoakam and Alan Jackson, who paired the look with ripped Levis.
Sequins and Rhinestones
Even those not wearing Nudie suits like to sparkle and shine. Loretta Lynn performs nearly all her shows in a sequined ballgown while Kacey Musgraves opts for a retro cowgirl pinup look.
From George’s Wranglers to Dwight’s 517 Levi’s, denim has played a crucial role in country fashion.
‘Hat Act’ Fashion
With the rise of neo-traditional country in the late 1980s and early ’90s came a return to more simple, clean cut attire. George Strait, Clint Black and Clay Walker could be found wearing a pressed pearl snap shirt (or maybe just a crisp white tee) and always a cowboy hat.
New country traditionalists like William Michael Morgan and Jon Pardi have revived the classic style.
In 2013, at the height of the bro-country phenomenon, wallet chains became synonymous with the hyper masculine country scene. Artists like Brantley Gilbert, Florida Georgia Line and Jason Aldean all wore the accessory. Wallet chains brought up a lot of questions. Namely, where do theses guys think their wallets are going to go? The chains became the subject of memes and diatribes against bro-country and were usually paired with some gaudy t-shirts and jeans with rhinestones on the back pockets.
As the popularity of the sub-genre waned, up and coming singers adopted a more metro-sexual style –“metro-bro,” if you will. The New York Times even dubbed 2017 the year of the country music gentleman. Thankfully, tailored suits are a much more aesthetically pleasing style than wallet chains and rhinestone jeans.
Remember when 80% of male country stars had mullets? To be fair, this wasn’t just a country trend. By the late 1980s, the mullet had swept the nation. The business-in-front, party-in-back hairstyle was sported by professional wrestlers, rockers and, yes, the country king of the power mullet: Billy Ray Cyrus. Alan Jackson, Joe Diffie, Travis Tritt and Marty Stuart were all known for proudly wearing the mullet. You can’t blame country artists for buying into the now much maligned trend. Even Blake Shelton, People magazine’s reigning Sexiest Man Alive, was guilty of this look in the early aughts.
In the 90s, Wrangler launched a line of shirts known as the “Brushpopper,” a heavily patterned, water resistant button down with extreme southwestern flair. The best known ambassador of the Brushpopper was Garth Brooks, who would often don checkerboard patters, a half black, half white ensemble and an array of other styles. We love Garth around here but this look was…a lot to take in.
Is the Brushpopper bad or just so bad it’s actually good? Either way, you have to appreciate a time when male country stars weren’t afraid to rock a dual-toned button down or a pearl snap adorned with flames.