The Birmingham Dress Code Featured

08 Mar 2016
The Birmingham Dress Code Hanson Watkins BPH

If you are moving from Yankeeville or visiting from another country,  you might notice that we have our own style here in Birmingham. You have probably heard that the South is conservative. It’s true. And it extends to our clothing style.   One could bring out college khakis, button downs and ties from 1965 and wear it with no noticeable difference today. Men’s and children’s clothing is the most static. Women’s clothing is more current, but very put together. Always. It’s going to match at the very least and our hair and make up are DONE.

We dress down south. We don’t throw on any old thing. Our children are our little dolls – boy or girl - which look like they came from England 100 years ago. With a monogram.

Dressing in town is different than dressing out of town.   Overalls and logo tees are not town dressing. There are a lot of overalls and logo tees in the south, but it is not town wear. You can wear it in Birmingham, but we know you are driving back to the farm (which also has its charms) at the end of the day. If you see a child in something trashy or a logo tee, know that their momma is horrified and their daddy probably dressed them that day. Tween boys persist with the logo tees, but their moms hate it and press for a golf shirt whenever possible.

We appreciate someone who has their own style, as long as it is a style and not just a mess.   If Robert wants to wear a purple bow tie with lavender chinos and a white button down, if he can pull it off – more power to him. It’s still a bow tie, chinos and a button down after all. Skinny jeans and beards are faddish and suspect. Those that are committed to their plaid shirts and granny boots will probably move to Atlanta or Austin anyway.

Clothes for Men

Can I play golf in it?

Can I hunt in it?

If the answer is yes to either of those questions, then it is probably within the realm of acceptable.

We can be specific for the men's clothes because they are traditional and easy to categorize.

Pants: Khakis, seersucker stripe, chinos. Flat front and pleated go in and out, but you can probably wear either and it would be fine. If you want to be cheeky, you can wear chinos with embroidered animals like ducks or those classic red chinos.

Shorts: Chinos, plaid, seersucker or ever popular khakis.   Khaki cargo shorts can squeak by for boys or for yard work.

Golf shirts – Because then you are ready to play golf.

Button Downs – We love a checked shirt. Crimson red and white or blue and white check are big favorites. Roll Tide. War Eagle. The basic white, light blue, classic striped Oxford and conservative plaids or ginghams also work. A shiny purple striped button down? No. That only works on the Jersey shore.

Fleece or hunting vest – Doesn’t bind your arms while golfing or hunting. Also great for those days we often have that are in-between warm and chilly. Cable knit vests work for dressier circumstances that are still casual.

Blazer – navy blue, houndstooth, tweed. A nice blazer will go most anywhere you need to dress up a bit. Work wear in all but the most conservative, suit wearing offices.

Ties – With your button downs, of course. Bow ties are having a fun resurgence among the young and the lawyered. The width of the tie is always on the conservative end of what is popular. Nothing extreme ever – except for embroidered patterns. Go wild with your elephant, tiger or other motif. It shows you have a sense of humor.

Camouflage - If Cabela’s sells it, it will work for most casual situations that don’t have a dress code.   Acceptable for Thanksgiving dinner since it is in the middle of deer season. FYI, only wear the safety orange when you are actually hunting.

Tshirts – Only if you are in college or working in the yard.

Shoes – Don’t be puckish and nothing pointy. Stick to nice brown or black work boots (again, Cabela’s) or loafers.  Classic earth toned Merrels are ok too. Neutral colored running shoes won’t stand out in very casual settings, like walking your kids to school or working in the yard or going to Home Depot on Saturday. But don’t wear them all the time. Have some pride.

Men’s Hair – Longish bangs swept to the side, over the ears and short in the back. Hair gel is kept on the shelves of the drug store for visiting Yankees. This has been the preferred hairstyle for white men for the last 50 years. No need to change. Black men go for a classic close cut or slightly grown out buzz cut. No fades. Beards come and go. Right now they are a touch more acceptable than say, 20 years ago. Birmingham is affected a little by trends, but just barely. Beards happen mainly because it is a pain to shave at the hunting camp. We don’t count the beards in Avondale. They will probably move to Asheville, NC anyway.

Children’s Clothing


Is it smocked? Is it monogrammed?

Does it have an embroidered animal on it? Is it seersucker?

Does it come with matching ruffled pants for the little girls?

These are the questions to ask. The babies can’t fight too much about what they wear, so the Birmingham moms take full advantage of their control. When you go to the park and see a baby crawling around on the ground in a white smocked heirloom quality john john, you may think that mom is crazy. But hand me downs, consignment and sharing make these expensive outfits more reasonable. Plus Oxyclean works on all organic stains anyway. Birmingham moms enjoy dressing their little living baby dolls while they can…before the girl children can talk and ask to go get trashy clothes at Justice and the boy children can complain about itching.

Girls 3-12

Our little girls dress like little girls. Knit empire dresses in polka dots with matching ruffled pants.   Pillow case dresses, monogrammed poplin sundresses with shorts underneath. Could your child wear it 50 years ago? Then it is probably ok.   No short shorts ever.

Boys 3-12

Once the boys are out of the seersucker john john age, they morph into little men, so just use the men’s list. Young boys wear athletic wear more often than older boys. The proliferation of UnderArmour at the junior high is a sign of the collapse of our civilization. The khaki shorts and polo combo is ever popular.


God bless the mother of teen girls. Just try to keep them decently covered. I pray for you. Teen boys wear UnderArmour athletic wear and hopefully, khakis and a golf shirt on a good day. Continue to stock their closets with the basic Birmingham men’s wardrobe and hope you can wear them down by attrition.

Women’s Clothing

It. Must. Match. Have some pride.

Women in Birmingham are very aware of trends, but they will always err on the side of conservative. Nothing too low cut or tight unless you want to be trashy. Wear a camisole if you must. The bra strap trend is not happening here, at least not on purpose. Hair is in normal colors, like blonde. Highlights are the most dramatic color you will see. If you see a woman with rainbow hair, she is on her way to catch a ride to Asheville with the guy with the beard. Flashy is for Yankees. We still wear sheath sundresses with cardigans. Just like 1965. Tennis skorts are acceptable for running errands.

So if you are visiting Birmingham or contemplating moving here, this will give a short cut to the basic Birmingham style. That being said, Birmingham dwellers have great respect for those that can carry off a fanciful style all their own with confidence.   It just depends on if you want to stand out or fit in.

But really…. Put that baby in a smocked dress. It is too cute to pass up.

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Birmingham Post-Herald (BPH) is Birmingham, Alabama's premier community newspaper, covering the great people, places and activities of the area.

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