When young singer-songwriter Bill Anderson moved to Nashville half a century ago, the successful country music stars were easy to identify with cowboy boots, western hats and embroidered, rhinestone-studded and fringed clothing.
“I was from Georgia, and I had never dressed like that,” Anderson said, “I always admired the way Ferlin Husky dressed. He wasn’t gaudy, but he looked like a star when he stepped on stage. He commanded respect from the audience before he even opened his mouth to sing.”
Respect for Anderson’s audiences has always been a primary consideration when choosing his stage attire.
“They don’t pay their money to come see me dressed just like them, and they don’t want to see me looking like I just came in from plowing the south forty,” he observed.
He has also made a point to adjust his wardrobe to the surroundings.
“I wouldn’t wear the same things onstage at Willie’s 4th of July picnic that I would wear onstage at Carnegie Hall,” he said, characterizing his style “flexible.”
Initially, he tried dressing in a showy but decidedly more casual style, but he later became one of Nudie’s Rodeo Tailor’s, best customers.
“Nudie created a bolero-style short jacket and matching pants design for me back in the ‘60s – almost a Tex-Mex look – and I had one in every color imaginable,” Anderson recalled. “I never felt more like a ‘star’ than I did when wearing one of those outfits.”
Anderson still owns a few of the Nudie Suits but has donated some to various museums for display. A white one is in a glass case at the Ryman Auditorium, a dark blue one is in the Tennessee State Museum and a light blue trimmed in gold is in the new Songwriters Hall of Fame in Nashville.
“For many years it was mostly Nudie, and later his former sidekick, Manuel, who kept me outfitted in clothes designed specifically for the stage,” Anderson said. “In recent years, I’ve gone back to a more casual approach overall.”
Currently, his friend, Vickie Salas, who is the head tailor at Nashville’s leading men’s store, works with Anderson on the more casual aspects of his wardrobe.
“Sometimes during a concert, I will dress casually for the first half of the show then glitter things up a bit for the second half,” he said.
It’s not always glitz for one of most awarded songwriters in the history of country music who’s also a million-selling recording artist many times over, a television game show host, network soap opera star, spokesman for a nationwide restaurant chain and a consummate onstage performer – not to mention current host of “Country’s Family Reunion.”
“I can be pretty casual and laid back when I’m at the office or just kicking around the neighborhood,” he admitted. “I like sweatshirts and hoodies in the cool weather, usually accompanied by jeans and walking shoes. I’ll toss a ball cap on my head when I’m too lazy to style my hair. In the summer, it’s mostly shorts and loose-fitting shirts. I don’t ‘dress up’ when I don’t have to.”
Anderson said that he never had a “stylist” but allowed his stage appearance to evolve naturally.
“Occasionally, I’lI go back through old photographs and wonder what I was thinking at the time, but I can’t rewrite history,” he said. “It is what it is and it was what it was.”
– story by Claudia Johnson, Country Reunion Music © 2022