The second I heard the words “modern Southern woman” I knew a sh**tstorm was coming. What the would these New York and European people know about Southern style? And they didn’t strike me as the type to do their research on what real southerners who blog about street style wear.
I kept watching.
Then. Entered. Belk.
I was 88% done. Belk is a store that sells moderately priced clothes to rich bored white women (and men, even though women do most of the small priced buying in our heavily gendered economy) and women of color who want to emulate that lifestyle—conservative, very bandwagonish, not really the kind of store an upcoming haute couture designer would want to cut their teeth in. I had a former friend in high school who was obsessed with Belk because it “made her feel things” like “being a lady” and “classy.”
So I already have preconceived prejudices.
And then it started.
The accesssory wall. The fabrics. The plaid. The motherloving plaid.
Things that really weren’t innately bad or good, but they were obviously being used to imitate "high fashion's" warped sense of Southernity (copywriting that..) and not street fashion, which I think if you’re doing the modern southern woman, she’s probably not pouring La Mer on by the ounce or brunching at Paula Deen’s or Highlands. (Or maybe she is? The heck do I know about what rich people do in private.)
My problem with this episode lies in three statements--
1. The biggest issue here is Belk. I think that John Thomas honestly did not want to go on national television and admit to a “fashionable” audience that they cater to one type of Southern woman. And hint—its not the high fashion ones, Folks of colors, etc…
2. The designers themselves did not have any idea what Southern style was about. If they did, they would know that statistically southerners wear brighter prints more throughout the year, and that’s it hot as heck a lot…that’s about it. Everything else people think about southern fashion is niche fashion—like there is every…where…else.
3. What is this homogeneous southern fashion sense? When did the southern woman become one idea from Steel Magnolias or Fried Green Tomatoes? Where are our other narratives through style? Where is the representation of the people who built the south on their backs? Where are the urban southernites? Maybe I expect too much from a television show.
I think my real problem with this episode is that it not only reinforces systemic assimilation of people’s style and identity under fashion, but it hit home with the misrepresentation of the southern woman.