Nobody Does Christmas Like Dolly Parton
'Tis the season to be a little extra.
I’m not a fashionable person, but I’m a very festive kind of person. I’m just comfortable in my own skin, and I wear whatever I feel good in. So all year long, I like to dress the part for every occasion. When it’s Halloween, I’m in orange and black and my sweaters with the pumpkins. If it’s the Fourth of July, I’m the one in red, white, and blue. And since Christmas is my favorite holiday, I start dressing for it on the day after Thanksgiving and keep it going well until my birthday on January 19.
All the really beautiful people who have taste like to say, “Less is more.” But I think that’s a crock. For me, more is always more, especially this time of year. All throughout the season, I’m in red, white, and green. I’ve got those ugly sweaters that light up. My hairdresser Cheryl [Riddle] even puts lights in my wigs. I’ve got a little battery pack for both, so my sweater is flashing and my hair is flashing. [laughs] If I go to a party, I do try to dress up pretty. But for the most part, I’m just a big kid. I like the gaudy, playful stuff.
My favorite holiday look over the years was this white outfit I wore on the cover of my 1990 album, Home for Christmas (above). It brings back a whole lot of good memories when I see it. My friend Tony Chase made it for me, and he was one of the greatest designers I’ve ever worked with. He’s gone now — I lost him several years ago — but I still have so many things of his in my closet. Tony always wanted me to look my best. And he had great taste, so he’d calm me down a little. He was very tall and had a tendency to design for tall women, so I would always remind him that I was a small, little person and say, “Don’t get too carried away now. You have to make the most of my good points and play down all the bad things.”
If I had a choice, I’d wear white all the time, so I told him I’d love to have something that looked like snow. It turned out so beautiful. I love how it hugged my waist. I always try to keep a waistline going because my boobs are too big and my hair is too big, but my waist is still little. I love that the outfit had a matching cape and a furry hat too. I remember thinking, “How am I going to even wear a hat over my big hair?” [laughs] But Tony designed one to fit, so I could wear my curls all soft around my face. I looked and felt like Christmas.
To me, the holidays should always be like that—colorful, radiant, and, most of all, fun. That’s how it was when I was growing up. We lived way back in the mountains, and my daddy used to cut down our tree, and my mama would help us decorate it with homemade things like popcorn string. Mama was big on quilting, so we used to make bows out of her fabric scraps, and we made a big star for the top of the tree out of aluminum foil. We just got so into it. We sang songs. We always went to my grandpa’s church. And Mama and Daddy mostly made our toys, which we would open up on Christmas Eve.
I still carry on a lot of those traditions, especially with the food and the decorations. I’ve got beautiful Christmas trees in every room of my house. I always have my nieces and nephews over on Christmas night, and we ride around in golf carts, play in the snow, and make ugly cookies. I also have an elevator in my house that we decorate to look like a fireplace and chimney. And then, of course, I dress up like Santa Claus and come down in the elevator with their presents. If that’s not festive, I don’t know what is. [laughs]
As told to Jennifer Ferrise.
Parton's book Dolly Parton, Songteller: My Life in Lyrics (with Robert K. Oermann; Chronicle Books) is out Nov. 17. Her latest album, A Holly Dolly Christmas, is available now. And her upcoming holiday film, Dolly Parton's Christmas on the Square, is out Nov. 22 on Netflix.
For more stories like this, pick up the December issue of InStyle, available on newsstands, on Amazon, and for digital download Nov. 20th.