I do adore Project Runway.

As long as Tim Gunn is there, I will be a lifelong fan.

(Same goes for Sofia the First. He’s the star of that show and Sofia knows it.)

However, last week’s episode was a tiny bit perplexing, and has made me seriously rethink the perception that the rest of the world holds of my little universe.

I’m not surprised that it happened, as our southern department store, Belk, is the sponsor of the accessories wall this year.

(A fact which will not allow me to go any farther without pointing out that the Parisian Accessories Wall would’ve sounded a million times better. Stupid, stupid, Belk. How could you jettison such a lovely name in exchange for a bodily function??)

(I love Belk. I shop at Belk. I just hate them for ditching the name Parisian when they bought out Birmingham’s Best Department Store. And I always will. And I will be required to take a moment to harp on this each and every time I mention Belk for the rest of my life.)

Back to Project Runway.

The challenge was,

“Design a dress for The Modern Southern Woman.”

Which prompted Heidi Klum to actually say “Hey Y’all!” in all the glory of her German Accent.

But the reaction to the challenge from nearly everyone on the show was as mystified as if they’d been asked to design for The Modern Young Klingon.

Because apparently, we’re a completely different breed of human than rest of the world.

“My dress is for a girl going to a cotillion. Because that’s like a thing, right? Not just in movies?”

PR Cotillion

(Oh yes. I got to a cotillion at least once a week. Me in my finest hoop gown and Chris in his tails.)

“I’m really thinking about how NOT to make this Mother of the Bride.”


(Perhaps instead you should have thought about how NOT to make hideous.)

And half the group designed out of plaid. Because that’s what all us farm workers wear while we ride our tractor with a tasty hay stem sticking out the side of our mouth.

PR Plaid

The designer of the dress on the left won the challenge, with his faux-Laura-Ingalls-Wilder-apron and plaid-right-out-of-the-Ralph-Lauren-toddler-boys section.

And with regards to the sweetheart neckline plaid dress on the right, Tim and the designer had the following conversation:

Tim: “And this is eveningwear?”

Designer: “It’s day. But I mean it’s definitely not a picnic dress or for going to the forest…or whatever they do down there.”



Is The South really perceived as this foreign of a place?

Do people actually think that we live so differently than the entire rest of the United States?

No wonder y’all read my blog. You’re all like, “Hey! Here’s a Modern Southern Woman that doesn’t spend all of her time milking cows and picking tobacco! Who knew southerners were so normal?”

“Hey! Did you know they had actual cities in the South? Me neither, until this blogger I follow got obsessed with sunset photos and showed pictures of her city. They even have buildings! Made out of metal and glass and everything!”

“Guys. You’re not going to believe this, but did you know that Southerners actually don’t wear aprons and gingham dresses anymore? They actually wear good blue jeans these days! And not even with giant bonnets! Who knew, right?”

”This blogger I follow homeschools. I find that strange, but it’s probably because she didn’t want her kid going to the one-room schoolhouse and having to share the outhouse with so many other children. I bet that’d be awful.”

“Dude! Apparently they actually have internet in the South now!! Then again, maybe these southern bloggers are just going to the library.”

Or, maybe it’s the opposite.

Maybe you all weren’t as ignorant as the Project Runway designers, and instead, I’ve ruined you. And now you’re like,

“Wow! I thought the South was totally normal until I started reading this blog and found out about their football and their monograms and their smock and their park rules and their bank love notes and relationship soliciations and their toilet worms and their bare-butted statues and their willingness to talk about their kid’s tub poop. They don’t even know what Hipsters are! The South is SO WEIRD!”


Maybe we are as weird as they think we are.

Either way, thanks for reading.

62 thoughts on “The Foreign Universe of The South.

  1. Wow…this article is right-on with what I’ve experienced lately. I’ve had to defend The South fiercely to a few non-southerners recently. I don’t ever want to become like “those people” who are constantly screaming PC and getting their panties in a wad over trivial remarks but GEEZ! Sometimes enough is enough. I posted this on FB recently in retort to some pretty harsh comments that were made about my sweet state of Tennessee. You might like it too…. “Those little towns you make fun of are what gives people a sense of family and community. A big city doesn’t give you that. Those men you call ignorant are BRILLIANT farmers, mechanics, carpenters and outdoorsmen. A Phd doesn’t give you that. Those women you call subservient are the first ones to cook a meal for your family when tragedy strikes. A self-indulgent woman won’t give you that. Look down on us, our towns and the way we live if you want to….but you don’t know what you’re missing…..”

    1. I love this. Love. I’m not from the south but I did grow up on a farm in Colorado. My Dad is an electrical engineer for his day job and a mechanic/farmer/hunter/handyman/etc. the rest of the time. People always look down on him when they think he is “just a farmer” until they find out what he does for his “real” job. Which just infuriates me. Being an EE is fine, and those guys are seriously smart, but it takes true genius to be a good farmer. Or to rebuild a pump out of bits of scrap because we are snowed in and can’t get to a store and without the pump, the crawl space will flood. And don’t get me started on my Mom, and how people perceive her when she spends all day in the hot kitchen canning beans and jam. Because there is something wrong with being domestic, apparently. Now I am married to my own brilliant mechanic and it’s the same thing. People pay him good money to fix what they cannot fix, and then they look down on him as being less intelligent. Completely illogical. And completely frustrating.

    2. Great response! Two of the smartest men I know are farmers. The father is an engineer of some sort, and farms part-time; his son is working on his Ph.D. in turf management. He studies the impacts of climate, disease, and pests on the grasses that farm animals eat. Totally brilliant, both of them…work boots and all.

    3. I think our natural human tendency is to think lesser of that which we have not experienced. It’s just a matter of whether we fight that urge or not.

    4. I totally understand your indignation, Lori, but there’s no need to denigrate cities, white collar workers or advanced degrees to get your point across. It takes all kinds, and everyone has value.

  2. I’m glad you posted this. As a Canadian, I also assumed Southerners spent their time fanning themselves delicately, waving lace edged hankies, and drinking mint juleps.

    1. LOL You didn’t mention sitting on the porch in our rocking chairs. Mint juleps taste best when sipped on the porch in the shade of an old oak tree.

  3. Oh. my. word. I have a friend from Canada who literally thought we all drive pick-up trucks and never wore shoes. When they had to move here for her husband’s job, she thought she would have to learn how to live primitively. I was scared to ask her what she meant by that. Ironically, she became the girl that drove the big pick-up and owned 3 dogs.

  4. HA…

    I have to admit I have spent 98% of my life above the Mason-Dixon line, however, I have lived in five states and towns as small as 3000 people and as big as… Manhattan.

    And I did live in Kentucky for two years.

    So basically what I’ve determined is that yes, regions all have regional differences in slang, in culture, in food, in demographics, etc. But small rural towns are basically alike all over. And medium-to-big cities are not massively different. The biggest cultural gaps seem to exist between podunk farm towns and large metro areas.

    Also, in Manhattan they cheerfully say “F you!” to mean “have a nice day” whereas in the South, they say “have a nice day” and could very well mean “F you”. :)

    1. I think you’ve hit the nail on the head. For some reason, the South has gotten stereotyped with a “small town” stereotype, and small town life is completely foreign (albeit fascinating) to me.

  5. I am not sure what it is about the “Far North” or the “Deep South” that breeds these misconceptions.

    I had two Americans stopped me on my way to work in this past July to ask if a knew of a spot where they could go ice fishing.. It was 40C that day (104F) and sadly for them, there would be no frozen lakes to be found until at least November or December..

    I assured them both they could still fish, but it would have to be from land, a boat or in hip waders.

    The worst part.? They were from New Hampshire, a short a 7 hour drive away from our New Brunswick/ Maine border.. I have complete confidence that most residents of Maine, Vermont and New Hampshire are knowledgeable about our coinciding seasons and chopped these two up as an anomaly. ;o)

  6. Ugh. I get so tired of the whole Southern-misperception thing. Add in that I’m from Kentucky, and I get the hillbilly-misperception to go along with it. So I guess they think we’re all either cooking meth in our shacks in the mountains, or sipping Mint Juleps while we wait for the next running of the Derby.

    Those plaid dresses are all HID. E. OUS. I don’t know if the designers should be more ashamed of those clothes, or their own ignorance.

  7. Ugh, I don’t like any of those clothes.

    As a lifelong resident of Chicago and Milwaukee, I LOVE the south. I love the accents and how polite you all are (or should I say “y’all are”). I used to work in a call center, and every single person from the south was so pleasant to talk to.

    Also, I order from Belk online and I detest snow. I think I was meant to be a southerner.

    I’m surprised you didn’t bring up the Confederacy….that’s one stereotype I hear a lot!

    1. The only problem is that Southerners tend to love snow, because it’s such a treat when we get it. But we’ll let you be an honorary southerner anyway. :-)

      And since Alabama is “The Heart of Dixie”, there’s a lot of confederate/anti-confederate talk around. There’s even a giant confederate flag that flies by one of our interstates!

  8. Oh, they are not ignorant of the modern South, Rachel, just jealous. Btw, there is nothing wrong with milking cows all day, and I imagine the good folks of Wisconsin milk a lot more cows in a day than the people of the South. :)

  9. Hahaha, my favorite was when one designer said something like, “I think she’d drink champagne in this. Do they drink champagne in the South? I don’t know. Whatever they drink.”

    Reese should have judged. Then she’d say, “Y’all, we don’t all wear plaid. Especially not to formal events. And we wear white at our cotillions.” [I learned more about cotillions watching Gilmore Girls–set in Connecticut–than I did from living in Tennessee. I think it has more to do with your social status than your location.]

    1. I agree! That quote was fantastic. I wanted to respond with, “No – all we have down here is moonshine. Give it to the babies in their bottles even.”

      And yes, cotillions is ALL about social status – you are right on that.

  10. That is so funny! Apparently none of them had ever been to the South and only get their information from TV and movies. Have you seen the show Hart of Dixie? I think that’s the general perception of the South. It’s actually a lot closer to my life than yours (the small town part of it). So funny how people get stereotypes in their heads!

  11. I love that show too. Being in South Texas, all I could think was, “Design something that won’t show sweaty pits, ’cause it is hot down here, y’all!”

    It cracked me up, how totally lost they were.

    1. Ha – you have a point! Chris was just talking yesterday about how much hotter hot feels in Texas than it feels here. It feels pretty hot here, too, though.

  12. I think the dress that won is kinda pretty. Better w/o the apron, but pretty, nonetheless. Maybe one of them should have repo’d a pair of overall’s and combined it with an old apron for that project. Or made the dress white and knee length…. Worn with a wide-brimmed hat. That has a flower on it. And don’t forget the gloves!

    The furthest South I’ve been is Missouri, and it was in the middle of August and miserably hot and humid. We didn’t stay long, but I remember seeing real paved streets with houses.

    So, what do you say the Modern Southern Woman would wear for a night out on the town?

    1. I don’t think I would have ever thought of Missouri as the South. Therefore, you are sentenced to come visit me as soon as possible.

      And to answer your question, it depends on what sort of night out on a town. I typically wear a fancy-ish pair of blue jeans with a flowy, fancy, or sparkly top. I have a few dresses for an especially dressy occasion. They were right about one thing – everything I own is pretty bright and colorful.

  13. I had to look up “cotillion”. Has anyone here ever gone to one? It seems outdated. Like “coming out” parties.

  14. I’m from Texas and I had a penpal from Oregon when I was 12ish. The first letter she wrote to me, she asked if I rode horses to school.

  15. Actually, more the second one. I never knew about things like tailgating ’till I started reading your blog (and I still find it odd). The bank love notes are also odd, but you (as a Modern Southern Woman) find them odd, so I guess they are generally odd.

    Then again, there are oddities everywhere… England is crammed full of them!

    1. I enjoy pointing out the things I find odd in the South, but I rarely point out the things I assume are normal and universal. Perhaps I should balance it with that at times. Or, maybe I should just keep being odd. Because being odd is more fun.

    2. I feel compelled to point out that tailgating isn’t a southern thing – it’s a football thing. Much of the midwest (by which I mean, ohio to wisconsin ish) sniff down their noses at southern schools ill-bred being latecomers to football culture.

      because real football is played in grey windy sleet.

  16. This is it! Yes, the whole crew of them seemed to confuse living in the country with living in the South. You can live in the country anywhere – the South is only for us lucky ones. I would have said the big difference in the modern southern woman is more color, accessories and more dressed up for similar occasions elsewhere. That is not who they designed for!
    Aside – the first summer we were in the San Francisco area The Help movie came out – the number of people who believed it was still like that was beyond me. All I could do was blink.
    Great post!

  17. I am so glad i don’t watch Project Runway, because I probably would’ve damaged my tv when I hurled my mint julep at it. I am a proud modern(ish) Southern woman. I love all of our quirks and eccentricities. In fact, I aspire to be Ouiser from Steel Magnolias when I grow up. I believe that SEC football is the only kind worth watching, that you should immediately rush to buy milk and bread at the faintest hint of snow, and that it’s perfectly acceptable to monogram everything in sight. I believe in embracing the things that make us as Southerners unique, even if it involves a whole lot of crazy!

  18. I still have this ep saved on TiVo, and I haven’t decided if I’m going to watch it or not. I’m afraid it will make me so angry that I might hate all the designers. AND the judges, for not correcting any misconceptions that are voiced. I mean, it’s RIDICULOUS that people still feel this way about Southerners. It makes me ill. #grumpy #rememberimdieting

    1. You need to watch it. Any OCD person knows that you can’t skip an episode just for fear of being angry. Or we would have all skipped the Christmas Episode of Downton Abbey Season Three.

  19. This just made me laugh. I have learned some things about the south from you, such as smock, monograms and the word tump. But we get the same thing in Montana…not everyone here wears wranglers and boots, goes to rodeos, rides a horse to school, etc. I think the regional differences between areas of the US are fascinating and so are people’s generalizations about them! Now where can I get some of those dresses? I think they’d go great with my cowboy boots and hat. :)

  20. My husband and I were freaking out at the crack pot ideas they had about the south. What was up about all plaid? We use to live in Wyoming and those dresses we better suited for there. What did you think of the southern designers dresses?

    1. Well, the most southern designer (Ken) is actually from Birmingham, so naturally I’m a little too scared of him to talk about him too much. (Have you seen his temper tantrums??) But I wasn’t impressed.
      I did like Dom’s second dress, but not her first.

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