Dolly Parton on ‘My Life In Rhinestones’ Fashion Exhibit: “It’s a Great Honor”

Dolly Parton’s iconic fashion is the subject of a new exhibit at Lipscomb University in Nashville. Dolly Parton & The Makers: My Life In Rhinestones, which serves as the physical interpretation of the singer’s latest New York Times best-selling book Behind the Seams: My Life in Rhinestones, is now open to the public in the John C. Hutcheson Gallery in the university’s Beaman Library through December 9.

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Lipscomb University students helped with the exhibit installation as well as filmed videos featured in the galleries. Parton was on hand for the ribbon cutting at the exhibit on Friday (October 27) and shared some stories about the costumes on display and her love of rhinestones.

[RELATED: 3 of Dolly Parton’s Favorite Songs]

“I’m so happy to be here,” Parton told the packed library at the exhibit’s VIP reception. “It’s a great honor to have my things on display here, and I do want to thank you. …  Of course, I want to make mention of Rebecca Seaver because she’s the curator. She takes care of all of my things.

My Life In Rinestones Behind the Seams, Rebecca came up with that,” Parton continued. “She’s clever as well. But we’re very proud that our book is doing well. I’m just so proud to be here and display here at the school.”

The exhibit spans Parton’s stage, film and award show outfits throughout her career. One of her favorite dresses she wore during the 1989 CMA Awards for a performance of “He’s Alive” is on display. 

“They wanted to choose some of the favorite things that I had,” she said of the exhibit. “A lot of pieces that we put on the display are things that are in the book, as well. We thought it’d be things of interest like my favorite dress in this exhibit is a dress that I wore on the CMAs years ago when I sang the song ‘He’s Alive.’ I love that song and I just remember that moment and it meant so much to me.”

Parton is no stranger to rhinestones and when asked about her love of rhinestones she said matter-of-factly, “Well, ’cause I like to shine!”

“I had a line in a song years ago called ‘Tennessee Homesick Blues’ and it says it’s hard to be a diamond in a rhinestone world. So, I figured I’d make the most of the rhinestones,” she said. “I’ve always been one of those entertainers that I like to shine on stage.”

The singer/songwriter admitted she was “very proud” as she walked through the exhibit and was “amazed at how much I’ve done.” 

“That’s a lot of livin’!” she joked. “Looking at all those clothes, I have memories of almost every outfit that I’ve worn, show I’ve been on, movies I’ve been in. The book is something to celebrate the people behind the scenes. The people that really put it together … because it takes a team.

“I look around and I think, ‘Wow, a lot of love,  a lot of time, a lot of energy, a lot of creativity from a lot of people,’” she said. “So I can’t take credit for all that.” 

Parton further explained that throughout her career it was important to wear what she felt most comfortable in. Despite others advising her to tone down her look, she continued to blaze her own trail.

“I do think there’s so much to be said about being comfortable in your own clothes and in your own skin,” she noted. “Chet Atkins, one of the greatest guitarists in the world, came over to [me] when I first came to Nashville he said, ‘Dolly, you need to calm it down. You look a little trashy. Nobody’s going to take you serious as a songwriter or a singer.’ I said, ‘Oh they will if I’m good enough ’cause I gotta be comfortable while I’m doing it.’ Years later, when I didn’t tone it down and it got worse, he came over and said, ‘Ain’t you glad you took my advice.’ 

“I think it’s important that people wear what they’re comfortable in and that’s what I’ve done my whole life,” she continued. “I laughed out loud at some of the clothes and the hairdoes I had. I thought, ‘Oh my Lord, was I serious?’ But I’m sure we all do that looking back on old pictures.”

Dolly Parton & The Makers: My Life In Rhinestones runs through December 9.

Photos by Kristi Jones. 

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