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Hootin’ and Hollerin’: How Appalachian Music and Fashion Hit the Mainstream

Recently, it seems Country music has exploded into the mainstream. You can’t walk into a single grocery store, dentist office or medspa these days without hearing the chorus of Beyonce’s “Texas Hold ‘Em”. Lana Del Rey surprised everyone earlier this year by announcing she had a new Country album called Lasso in the works — and even I, a notable ambient-rock fanatic, have personally been studying the lyricism and live performances of Tyler Childers like a cloistered monk for the past year and a half. 

Now, when we think about the South – and “Country” style — we’re mostly thinking about the places that are, historically, epicenters of country music: Texas and Nashville. But emblems of rural life can be found throughout the entire country (yes, you will hear a twang in some parts of upstate New York!) and I don’t think that the specifically Texan, “wide-open-plains” cowboy image truly encapsulates the cultural boom we’re seeing happen right now in music and fashion.

Dancing in the Holler via Flickr

“At the moment, the real outlaws of the country music scene are coming out of Appalachia,” says Grady Smith in his video essay “We’ve Reached the End of Sturgill Simpson.” Smith notes that “ of the values of this part of the country is a certain skepticism towards corporate greed and corporate culture.” Artists like Sturgill, Tyler Childers, and Sierra Ferrell speak to a cultural consciousness that has reached a boiling point following the pandemic — a resentment towards wage slavery and a return to a simpler way of life.

The Appalachian Mountains are a gigantic mountain range. They’re much larger than you think — starting in Canada and stretching all the way down to Alabama, covering just about the entire East Coast. There are Appalachian mountains found in Maine, Massachusetts, and even Pennsylvania. Culturally, however, when we refer to “Appalachia,” we’re most likely talking about the Southern region. The Blue Ridge Mountains, the Great Smokies,, and the Shenandoah Valley. The hollers in Virginia, Tennessee, Eastern Kentucky, and West Virginia. A region defined by the coal industry – by moonshiners and outlaws and, more recently, the opioid epidemic.

This region has given way to a sect of Country music distinctly different from the overly sanitized, pandering, and corporatized “Stadium Country” that has dominated the airwaves over the last couple of decades. This has been referred to as the “Americana Boom” — a term I’m hesitant to use considering the divisive nature of it. 

Tyler Childers, in his acceptance speech at the 2018 Americana Music Awards,, said:: “I’m an Appalachian artist from the hills of East Kentucky and I play country music. As a man who identifies as a country music singer, I feel “Americana” ain't no part of nothin’ and is a distraction from the issues that we are facing on a bigger level as Country music singers. It kind of feels like purgatory.”

It can be argued that the separation of “Americana” from “Country” further alienates the “down-home, rough and regular” Country music from the demographic of people this music is supposedly about. It implies that “real” Country is not a blue- -collar worker, looking at the stars and dreaming of better days —– but rather, a multi-millionaire pandering to a lower- -class audience by singing about red solo cups.

Tyler Childers performing at the 2018 Americana Music Awards via Rolling Stone

Americans have reached a tipping point on wealth idolatry. The haul videos that used to dominate the social media landscape have all but disappeared. Victoria Paris, who took the TikTok scene by storm in 2020, is now the subject of anti-overconsumption hate videos. Fashionistas have abandoned Logomania in favor of a more Utah-influencer / Clean Girl style.

Tik Tok aesthetic accounts are flooded with “Americana Cottage Core” moodboards: linens, long tendrils of hair, quilted blankets, canned tomatoes, blue skies,, and clean, fresh air —–— and we’re seeing similar trends on the runway. Louis Vuitton, one of the prominent leaders of the Logomania trend, showed more rustic style ensembles for SS24, –, featuring soft flowing fabric and plaid patterns. Connor Ives’ collection featured tablecloth-esque bandana tops, upcycled materials, and paisley-print sparkles.

Look 3 from Louis Vuitton SS24 via Vogue Runway

Sartorially, Appalachia is distinctly different from the West. While they both hold strong roots in workwear, denim, and breathable fabrics, the Southeast focuses more on camouflage RealTree hunting gear. We saw RealTree enter a more hardcore, metal band scene around 2018. The latex and fetishwear company, Busted Brand released a pair of RealTree printed “Bondage Shorts" shortly after Tyler Childers was photographed wearing the camouflage while performing bluegrass onstage. Since then, the pattern has been adopted in just about every “cool, alt space” including Andrew Callaghan’s Channel 5 merch and model, Beevanian’s wardrobe.

Channel 5 Merch Drop via the Channel 5 Instagram

The Appalachian Mountains have an ethnic history that stretches back to the Scotch-Irish — and you can still see elements of that culture diluted into the present-day hollers. Not only in the music (with the banjo and fiddle) but also in the fabrics (tartan kilts slowly evolving into button-up flannels). These days, the prototypical Appalachian media image is a sunburned man with dirt under his fingernails, wearing jeans and a graphic T-shirt with an unbuttoned flannel shirt thrown on top. The woman, by contrast, is fresh-faced, modest,, and perpetually tying a linen apron around her waist.

Girl Farm Worker Washing Turnips from River by Paul Schutzer

Now, while the pendulum of mainstream fashion has swung away from over-the-top - glamour and into a more muted, natural space ——— we are right on the heels of a return to the more Dolly Parton side of things. 

Sierra Ferrell, during her “Shoot for the Moon” tour, has been turning the dial all the way up with her more drag-inspired interpretation of folk fashion. She comes on stage dripping in rhinestones, a fur bonnet atop her head,, and a three-foot-wide hoop skirt around her waist. She dresses like a folk tale come to life —–— which is starkly different from the pared-down folk image we’ve come to know.

My hope is that this distaste for corporate greed and overconsumption can separate itself from an aversion to glamour and redirect its energy into a culture that supports upcycling and vintage shopping. Mass - production is the problem — we’re so close to realizing that. We just need someone to grab us by the shoulders and shake us while yelling: “The answer isn’t buying a brown SHEIN sundress instead of the sequin jumpsuit! It’s not buying anything new at all!”

Sierra Ferrell's Stage Look via Sierra Ferrell's Instagram

Kaitlin Owens is a vintage fashion writer, movie buff, lover of good eats, and a women’s size 7.5 (if any shoe brands are reading). She is the Editor-in-Chief of Dilettante Magazine. You can find her on socials @magdilettante.

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