How to Spot a Well-to-Do Southerner in the Wild

southerners'_handbookAs many of you know, I am not a native-born Atlantan. I do, however, have one daughter who is a native Southern belle and one who was born in LA, but moved here at 18 months so she might as well be a native. Many of my best friends are born-and-bred Atlantans (which, these days, is like saying you’re a native Los Angeleno…a rare bird indeed). A number of others are from different parts of the South and, in that I include Texas and Florida though purists may dispute their “southern” provenance.

Our friends back in the midwest and California find this fascinating and love to ask about our life in the South. I know many of them have been waiting for a snarky essay from me about being surrounded by rednecks and right-wing conservatives. What they don’t understand, though, is that I live in the city of Atlanta which just happens to be surrounded by the state of Georgia. I don’t necessarily consider myself a Georgian. In fact, unless we’re headed to a friend’s lake house or we’ve rented a cabin in Blue Ridge for the weekend, Ad Man and I rarely venture outside the city limits.

So, while they may be expecting a field guide to spotting hicks and fire-and-brimstone preachers, the truth is, we don’t see too many of those folks in the big city, or at least, not in the places where I hang out. Moreover, we live in a neighborhood that’s considered the “Beverly Hills” of Atlanta. This is not to brag. Believe me, we paid about the same amount for our house as we would have for a kickass parking spot in San Francisco. So, we live in the midst of lots and lots of conservatives, but very few rednecks. Plus, in these days of ‘Duck Dynasty,’ I highly doubt you need my assistance spotting a redneck in the wild…unless, of course they’re passed out drunk in the bushes dressed in head-to-toe camo.

What this post will do, however, is allow you to spot a well-to-do Southern lady or gentleman from a mile away. A few months ago, I flew into Chicago’s O’Hare Airport to spend a weekend with some law school friends. Heading home, I was wandering around far from my gate when I spotted a woman in the crowd who, I had no doubt, was from Atlanta. She was a perfectly coiffed blonde, dressed in a Tory Burch tunic, cropped white jeans, Tory Burch wedges and carrying a Louis-Vuitton handbag. A few hours later I saw her again on my plane back to Atlanta. That’s when I realized I had a gift.

tory_burch_store_xmasI have since developed a bit of a checklist that I’m now passing on to you, dear readers, for spotting a well-to-do Southerner in the wild. First the women…ladies from the South tend to display a number of distinctive characteristics. Just as the woman at the airport, they tend to have an affinity for anything designed by Tory Burch. As you’ll see from the attached photo, I’ve personally spotted them lined up en masse outside the Tory Burch store at the crack of dawn the day after Christmas. Even a wealthy Southern lady loves a bargain.

They are perfectly turned-out at all times. I defy you to try to sneak up on a proper Southern lady and find her in sweatpants, hair in a ponytail, no makeup on and in need of a manicure. It simply does not happen. They’re even pristine in their tennis wear. I swear the women have no sweat glands!

There are a number of other brands around which you may find them flocking. Hermes is one because, well, why should Grandaddy’s horses get all the fancy leather accessories? They and their female young bear the distinctive markings of matching Lilly Pulitzer shift dresses all summer. They also tend to have a strange infatuation with quilted and garishly printed bags and other accessories from Vera Bradley.

monogrammed_houseSoutherners (women and men) monogram EVERYTHING. They monogram clothing, of course, including every single piece of their childrens’ wardrobes. (Forget about getting hand-me-downs from a wealthy Southerner.)  But, clothing is just a start. They monogram beach bags, beer cozies, iPhone cases, linens, insulated cups for concealing bourbon and ginger ale roadies, even their cars. This is not an exaggeration. As an outsider, I can only surmise that this is a way of marking their territory without the mess of having to go around peeing on everything.

A Southern lady has a vast array of crisp gingham shirts and white jeans to choose from. In winter, they reach for their (ironed) blue jeans, barn jackets and riding boots.

It’s a rare Southern lady that doesn’t love a diamond the size of a grape. Some of the diamonds at my children’s public school edge into Kardashian territory. (I guess that makes sense given their classmates include the children of NFL players and country music superstars.) In fact, the theme for the school’s big semi-annual fundraiser this year is “Denim and Diamonds.” Enough said.

As for Southern men, they seem to have latched onto the east coast preppy style when it was ubiquitous and never let go. Spotting a well-to-do Southern man isn’t difficult. His casual wardrobe consists mainly of polo shirts, wind jackets, sweatshirts and other items of clothing emblazoned with the logo of this favorite college football team…generally his alma mater. To this fanwear, they add pleated khaki shorts or pants, a braided leather belt and loafers without socks.

A Southern man of means sticks to a wardrobe of perfectly tailored suits, generally purchased at Brooks Brothers or Sid Mashburn in Atlanta, Gucci loafers, a pocket square (always!) and, ideally, a bow-tie, though some do deviate and wear long neckties. Distinctive, bright markings intended to attract a mate are generally limited to ties and expensive automobiles. As mentioned above, suits, shirts, golf bags, socks, swim trunks, whiskey tumblers and cigar cutters MUST be monogrammed.

seersucker_chickenThe stereotype of a Southern man dressed in a full seersucker suit and white bucks is absolutely based in fact. In the dog days of summer, this is the Southern gentleman’s uniform. As an aside, when we first moved to Atlanta, Ad Man and I went out for dinner one night with our real estate agent and her husband. As soon as I saw her husband, I exclaimed, “Ooohh…look at you in your cute seersucker pants!” only to realize that he was wearing them with absolutely no irony. Oops!

When at the country house, a Southern man can be identified by the bird dog and shotgun that accompany him. After the hunt (and most evenings), you’ll find the Southern male clinging to a bourbon, neat, or a gin and tonic.

Well, I hope you now feel better equipped to spot a Southern lady or gentleman should one wander onto your land. One may no longer simply rely on listening for the call of the southern accent to identify these creatures in the wild. The southern accent, at least in cities, seems to be going the way of the blue-footed boobie…with the exception of ‘y’all,’ of course. ‘Y’all’ is here to stay. If I ever hear a Southerner say, “you guys,” I’ll know the rapture is coming and I’ll soon be the last person left standing in the Buckhead Barnes & Noble.

Please check in next week when I describe the many, many ways in which I am a pathetic failure as a Southerner.

Wishing You a Fully-Medicated Holiday

green_smocked_xmasI’m sitting in Starbucks writing and celebrating the fact that I have, once again, survived the yearly elementary school holiday program. Ad Man is somewhere in Pennsylvania attending meetings and freezing his ass off so he’s missed the holiday celebration, yet again, this year.  I know he feels terrible for missing it, but that doesn’t keep me from being bitter. (Hell, if I wasn’t bitter, what would I write about?) Year after year, I’m the lonely mom sitting in the overheated gymnasium, frazzled from getting the kids up and on the bus looking somewhat decent at 7:05 am and managing to make myself presentable–generally by spraying lots of dry shampoo on my greasy roots–so I can get to school early and stake out my spot near the front so my kid doesn’t think I’ve forgotten her and freak the fuck out.

Smalls and the rest of the kindergarteners led a celebration of Chanukah, Christmas, Kwanzaa, Chinese New Year and Las Posadas.  When I was growing up, I didn’t know any Jewish people, let alone the dreidel song!  Today’s holiday program did more than just give lip service to all the many holidays though. The kids learned about the culture and traditions of the diverse groups of people who celebrate each holiday and performed a couple songs from each of them.  It really was a breath of fresh air from the vanilla-white-Christian-only suburb I was raised in outside of Chicago.

Where there is little diversity here, though, is in the way Southerners dress their children for the holidays.  We were eating breakfast this morning, Smalls in her usual uniform of skinny jeans, a paint-stained t-shirt and leopard print Vans when I realized in a panic that she needed something festive for the holiday program or I’d likely be ejected from the PTA.  So, I threw her into a red Crewcuts dress with black polkadots, black tights (miraculously without holes) and sparkly purple shoes. Close enough.

Most of the other kids were all decked out in their holiday finery.  Many siblings were dressed alike, or at least, in coordinating outfits. The typical Christmas uniform for a little girl in the South is a red, green or red-and-green plaid, smocked dress with poufy sleeves.  The smocking is usually adorned with Christmas trees, snowmen, ornaments, Santas or a combination of all of the above.  The more, the better, actually.  In the absence of Christmas iconography, the dress must be monogrammed. In fact, monogram everything!  The outfit is not complete until you add frilly white socks, patent leather mary janes and a monolithic hairbow.

The boys generally wear matching holiday sweater vests or red polo shirts with plaid or khaki pants.  A few really do it up in tiny versions of their daddy’s slacks, starched shirts, sport coats, ties and loafers.  I was just glad Smalls’s hair was kinda brushed, her face was free of chocolate and she wasn’t wearing yesterday’s underwear.

Parents vie for seats at the very front of the gym to get the best view from which to watch their darling children through an upheld iPad. Moms and dads who didn’t manage to set their alarms early in order to beat the rush, worm their way to the front regardless, where they elbow other members of the mom-and-dad-arazzi for a prime spot on the imaginary velvet rope.

There are always a few working moms and dads (but mostly dads) who stand outside, negotiating deals on cell phones while pretending to peer through the smudged gym windows at their children belting out Christmas carols and doing adorable, choreographed arm movements.  These are the ones who will later cross their fingers when they hedge their bets and tell their kid that their favorite part of the performance was “when you sang…um…Jingle Bells?”

I have a soft spot in my heart, though, for the parents who rush in after the program has begun, dressed in week-old jeans and a sweatshirt smeared with spit-up or jelly, dragging along a crying younger sibling.  You can always spot the kids that belong to those parents. They’re the ones with bedhead, rocking a football jersey, pajama bottoms and untied sneakers.  These are my people.

I’ll also accept on my team the “holy-shit-I-thought-the-performance-was-at-10!” mom who you see running down the street carrying the crucial Santa hat that is conspicuously missing from her kid’s head.  You know, as she runs, she’s hyperventilating and calculating how much therapy will be needed before her child is able to trust again.

However, I’ll most likely never be friends with the festive, but tastefully dressed, mom with the perfectly coiffed hair, impeccable nails, diamonds the size of grapes, handsome husband who never travels on important days, and five well-mannered children all in coordinated holiday ensembles.  That is, unless I happen to run into her at my psychiatrist’s office and catch her wild-eyed, clutching to her breast a bouquet of prescriptions even bigger than mine.  In that case, I’ll put an arm around her, assure her that I understand and invite her over for a mid-morning cocktail.

After all, it’s the season of goodwill to all men and women…even the crazies.