Dolly Parton Says She Got ‘Scolded or Whipped’ for Her Fashion Choices as a Kid
Dolly Parton's family hasn't always shared her love of glitz, glamor and rhinestones. In a new interview with the Guardian, the singer thinks back to her earliest fashion inspirations — and the punishments she suffered at the hands of her grandfather for her taste in style.
Parton famously says that she patterned her distinctive look after the "town tramp," parlaying that woman's style into her own love of rhinestones, blonde hair and long, colorful manicures.
"She was flamboyant. She had bright red lipstick, long red fingernails," the singer recalls. "She had high-heeled shoes, little floating plastic goldfish in the heels of them, short skirts, low-cut tops, and I just thought she was beautiful."
But her grandfather — a preacher and a sharecropper — disagreed. When the young Parton began to emulate her fashion icon's look, he punished her physically.
"I was willing to pay for it," she explains. "I'm very sensitive. I didn't like being disciplined — it hurt my feelings so bad to be scolded or whipped or whatever. But sometimes there's just that part of you that's willing, if you want something bad enough, to go for it."
Parton knows that her look initially kept some in the music industry from taking her seriously. For decades, she was associated with boob jokes nearly as often as she was with her record-breaking cross-genre country stardom. But the singer tells the Guardian the real reason that she was so attracted to the "town tramp's" look: She looked exotic, powerful and free to a little girl growing up in a large, poor family. Parton's own mother had 12 children by the time she was in her mid-30s.
"I did not want that for myself. My mom and my aunts — I grew up with women knowing how to be good mothers, but that was just not what God had in mind for me," she continues. "Because somebody's got to entertain those people, to write songs about them. I can write a song as if I had a house full of kids, I can write a song as if I've got a cheating husband, even though I never did. But I know what it's like; I've seen it, been around it. There's no thing in this world that's foreign to me, that I don't get or understand."
Parton digs more into her personal history of fashion in her new book, Behind the Seams: My Life in Rhinestones. The book will be out on Oct. 17.