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by Allie Barnett

Long before Tiktok took to microtrends and celebrated the “alt aesthetic” we either idolize or loathe, or somewhere in between, true alternative fashion took root in underground scenes. Whether it was the rugged outdoorsy flannel look a la Kurt Cobain in the grungy Pacific Northwest, the streetwear of infamous concrete jungle New York City amidst a growing hip hop scene, or even the free flowing hippie wear sported at Yasgur’s farm, alternative fashion relies not on a specific look, but rather one totem: a drift from the mainstream. 

The Southern fashion of today is known for its bright colors, preppy cuts, and a sense that it’s always spring somewhere. When not sporting the local boutique wear, it’s matching athleisure or oversized shirts. It’s popular for a reason. Casual wear allows for comfort and ease. And the more formal outfits stand out in a way that says “I can’t wait for good weather and better times.” The slow, calming pace of the South finds its way into the closets of residents.

But there are those that do not take to this for one reason or another. Whether it be that they are from the more metropolitan areas—Nashville, Atlanta, Houston, New Orleans—or find themselves unable to partake in the laid back energy of Southern fashion, an emerging Southern alternative has grown rapidly. This is not to say it is a monolith. Certainly, there are many sects of alternative cultures thriving down south. Yet one has captivated us. 

It blends working class clothing like overalls, Dickie’s, and Carhartt, a nod to the still thriving blue collar communities here, and touches of the Dirty South, a movement centered around the hip hop and rap scene of major southern cities. It takes the comfort found in an oversized shirt, and begs to make it more androgynous, more layered, and more intentional. 

Living in Oxford, we’re only a stone throw away from Memphis, an epicenter of culture. It’s Elvis but also Young Dolph, it’s Justin Timberlake but yet Johnny Cash. It even has the Bass Pro Shops Pyramid. It’s a mecca of culture, certainly musically. But where one piece of culture thrives, all others are bound to evolve. With its grunge influences, this alternative claims it is a new south. It is a joining of the rich history that this place has. It might seem like a reiteration of streetwear but it’s much, much deeper. 

There is always the running joke in the South about someone’s “Sunday blue jeans,” or, of course, the jeans that are not intended for work. There’s a pride, especially in the more rural areas, of the clothes that get dirty from hard work and the nice ones you bought from it. My grandparents, farmers down deep in Mississippi, knew that they would not get another church appropriate outfit until their older siblings outgrew theirs. Clothing was sparse, but it held power. It was not for expression, but just a facet of survival.

And then, yet, there’s the versatility held by southern rap. Outkast took influence from the 70’s disco scene and muted it down for everyday wear, at least by their standards. On the flip side, Three 6 Mafia popped the collars of their bright polos with bold designer logos. There’s of course style icon Lil Wayne as well, starting his career with larger than life accessories and matching large boldly patterned shorts. All of it though was centered around colors that popped. It was a statement of being alive and seen. 

Today’s southern alternative draws heavily from both. It draws in the baggy and bold from the city, with a respect given to the blue collar brands. It honors dual heritage. And it’s not to say that the preppier fashion of mainstream Southern couture is somewhat lesser than, nor are those that participate. In the end, there is always the yin and the yang. One cannot be the alternative to something if there is nothing to contrast. And all alternative fashion, though it takes its roots in socio-political focused cultures, can become mainstream and diluted. Most are likely to enjoy the fashion for how they are drawn to it rather than analyze a whole movement. And furthermore, there are those that do not feel a kindred to it, so they do not partake. It’s not particularly radical to dress or not dress alternatively, especially in the Internet age that seeks to uplift underground movements to the surface for commodification.


But for those of you who do feel drawn, perhaps you’ll see the John Deere hat at Goodwill and know you need it, immediately. Some strange love connection brewing between the donor's piece they failed to appreciate and you. You’ll ring it up with your Champion Hoodie in the perfect shade of purple. It’ll work wonderfully with your industrial looking chunky metal rings and impossibly baggy work pants, a clean pair of Air Force 1s to tie it all together. It’s a perfect storm of culture, of clothing, and of creativity.

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