Nashville is among the trendiest cities for tourism in the United States. The undisputed home of country music has recently taken to calling itself “Nowville,” and the moniker fits.
From music and the arts to a thriving nightlife, Nashville is indeed experiencing a moment of renaissance.
But don’t be fooled by its status as a big city and the NFL home of the Tennessee Titans. Nashville does not put on big city airs. Instead, Nashville remains the heart and home of the country – as in music, but also as in southern living.
In planning your Nashville visit, think “farm” instead of “big city.” When changing in your Gaylord Opryland hotel room to prepare for that night’s concert at the Grand Ole Opry, keep in mind that your formal jacket and tailor-fitted Ralph Lauren slacks won’t get you treated any better than your jeans and leather jacket would.
In short, you will find yourself at home almost everywhere in Nashville if you follow these five tips.
1. Don’t wear cowboy boots if you don’t wear cowboy boots
It goes without saying that the first rule of tourism is “don’t dress like a tourist.”
Dressing like a tourist generally gets you poorer service from the regulars and makes you a constant target for Elvis impersonators and other street artists. Nothing in Nashville says “tourist” like stumbling out of a bar in a new pair of boots.
Sure, cowboy boots are a good choice if you anticipate needed to walk through the desert or break a bronco. However, if you are considering buying your first pair of boots when you are three beers into a honk tonk band, don’t. You are not walking off a movie set or onto a stage. This is not your GQ moment.
If you have a pair of boots in your closet already, pack them. If not, there’s no reason to change that now.
2. Plaid is functional and fashionable
As you and your fellow travelers walk up and down Broadway, you might be surprised to see that the Nashville look is decidedly not exclusively country. There’s quite a bit of grunge that is thrown into the mix as well.
Specifically, the look that grunge appropriated from the farm is plaid. On those warm Nashville evenings, you are not alone if you look like you are just coming in from working the field. Your top layer, more specifically, can be plaid.
But as a fashion rule, you must choose between tips #2 and #3, because these two Nashville fashion staples do not go together well.
3. Leather is for coats and boots
Nashville natives understand the role that cows have played in our economy. Cows are not merely the faces of funny billboard cartoons urging us to eat at Chick-fil-A. They are a way of life. That means that we use every bit of the cow, from eating steak and hamburger to wearing leather in jackets and boots.
If your big city sensibilities cringe at the thought of where leather and hamburgers originate, then you still have options. If you crave ethically made and responsibly sourced cowboy boots, then Nisolo might be worth its own afternoon visit on day one of your trip.
If you are not taking the plaid option (see tip #2), your leather jacket will feel right at home in Nashville. Sure, a leather jacket might feel very rock-n-roll in Cleveland, New York, or LA, but your leather bomber will fit right in at Tootsie’s Orchid Lounge.
That is, as long as you remember not to mix it with your plaid shirt …
4. If it doesn’t specify “formal”, then it calls for jeans
Hopefully, you are going to Nashville on a dedicated tourist trip instead of a business trip with evenings off (though that can be an experience too!)
If you are a tourist, however, the packing just got really easy. If you do not have an invitation to a specific event where the dress is “formal wear only,” you are in luck. You can leave the Brooks Brothers suit hanging in the closet.
In New York City or Atlanta, you will find many places where you feel underdressed – and places where you won’t even be seated – without a formal jacket. But in Nashville, that is very rarely the case.
You can pack a tie, as it will take up minimal room in your suitcase anyway; but just know you probably won’t be wearing it at any point on your trip.
Blue jeans, faded jeans, black jeans – pair them with a button-up shirt and you are ready for dinner on the town. No one will judge you by your pants unless they are excessively filled with holes. Instead, this town focuses above the waist.
5. Vests and denim shirts are always in season
When traveling to Nashville, think Blake Shelton. Denim might be the only requirement in an otherwise very informal city. Your denim vest or shirt will feel right at home at the Grand Ole Opry or the Ryman Auditorium.
On the topic of denim shirts, like boots, they are other common Nashville impulse buys. For this purchase we say, go ahead.
Our only caution is to take it easy on the rhinestones. It can be deceiving when you look around and think you have bought a toned-down shirt because of how much bling you see around you. However, that shirt beckoning you from the shelf after a night on the town often turns out to be a bit too bedazzling when you return home and pull it out of the suitcase.
Nashville is not a formal town, but don’t take packing lightly. While you will be most comfortable dressed in denim and leather, even as a vest, you can also dress more formally. Nashville is a hub of fashion for more than southwest couture.
You should first dress first to be comfortable, with an eye toward looking more like someone who belongs there. This way you will get the full Nashville experience, without the distractions that can make a visit less authentic and memorable.
Images by Alex Evans, taken from – STYLE OVERTIME – The Evolution Of Menswear