RHETA GRIMSLEY JOHNSON: Striving for a look called ‘coast casual’


A friend in town warned me that women on the Mississippi Gulf Coast never wear blue jeans, but instead dress for informal occasions in something called “coast casual.” So I’ve been ransacking my mind for clothes.

My niece Chelsey once observed that my closet looks like it belongs to Johnny Cash, it’s so full of blue denim and black. If jeans can’t be a staple, I’m Eve in the Garden before the fall.

Used to, a visit to the coast meant you pulled on cutoffs over your swimsuit and shed the former as quickly as you got to the beach. A T-shirt was optional, worn only if you had banking or other business to conduct before sunning.

Somehow I’m thinking that’s not what my friend meant by “coast casual.”

I briefly lived on a swell Georgia island when I was young, and my favorite thing about it was the universal casual attire. Men never wore neckties, and the women wore sandals and no pantyhose. Everyone’s clothes looked well-used.

But an island has its own set of sartorial rules that don’t apply on any mainland. St. Simons Island’s brand of casual might not work here.

When you write for a living, you don’t need a lot of clothes. I wear jeans and a T-shirt most of the time. I have a couple of black dresses for speeches, funerals or other sad occasions.

Not to brag, but I have lots of nice T-shirts. People are always giving them to me. My favorite is a winter T-shirt with long sleeves that says “ Piggly Wiggly” on one side and “What happens at the Pig, stays at the Pig” on the other. My Paris friend Marie-Lu had a fit for one, and I mailed it. Haute couture.

I have more T-shirts than I’ll ever wear out, but I never can resist them. Cause T-shirts, for instance, are important.

Ever since people started paying so much for their cars, bumper stickers have become a thing of the past. Nobody wants that sticky stuff on the back bumper of his precious Lexus.

Now it is T-shirts that reveal our politics, our religion, our sexuality. All of those things our mothers told us not to talk about, we now wear proudly on our bodies like sandwich boards.

“Rednecks for Obama” is my all-time favorite political shirt. I also have an old Jesse Jackson shirt from the 1988 convention, a couple touting Clinton-Gore, a “Jimmy Buffett for President” and “Free Willie” (after Willie Nelson was arrested on marijuana charges in Louisiana).

As soon as my friend shared the “coast casual” edict, I became self-conscious about my favorite things. Are flip-flops “ coast casual” or only for beach-bound ex-hippies? Can you wear jeans to the grocery store, or must you put on a pair of Capri pants? Are T-shirts even allowed?

At the height of singer Linda Ronstadt’s popularity, she gave an interview to a news magazine. In it, she said she hoped never to have to wear “grownup clothes.” The accompanying photograph showed Linda in cutoffs and a white baby-doll smock, big, golden hoop earrings dangling beneath long hair and on her feet, no shoes. In those bare feet, she was walking the beach looking like a million dollars.

That’s my idea of the ultimate “coast casual.” If it doesn’t work, I may have to move.

RHETA GRIMSLEY JOHNSON is a syndicated columnist. She lives near Iuka, where you can contact her at Iuka, MS 38852. To find out more about Rheta Grimsley Johnson and her books, visit www.rhetagrimsleyjohnsonbooks.com.

Rheta Grimsley Johnson