Bruce Feiler,

Bruce Feiler,

A weeklong electronic journal.
June 16 1998 3:30 AM

Bruce Feiler,

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       All my boots are packed.
       Packing for Nashville has always been tricky for me. The first time I went to town, in 1995, I took my most conservative attire--olive green slacks, paisley tie, penny loafers. Growing up in Savannah, Ga., I had always thought of Nashville as being full of preppies and socialites. There was Vanderbilt--a UVA-type bastion of pink and green (those were the days of The Preppy Handbook, a Let's Go for the social climbers at the Savannah Country Day School). There was Belle Meade, the Palm Beach of the landlocked. There was the Swann Ball, a white-tie affair that would have made even Whit Stillman wish he were from Tennessee.
       But all during that week, a week devoted to interviews with executives and managers for a book I was writing on the country boom of the '90s, the only necktie I saw was mine. In fact, in most conversations, I was the only Southerner in the room. While most people dressed in country casual--boots, jeans, and polo shirts (no hats)--a surprisingly large number were decked out in three-button, free-hanging Armani suede and blunt-toed, high-heeled Manolo Blahnik leather. If I was going to write about Nashville, I would need a new wardrobe.
       When I did move to town, the first thing I did was get myself a pair of boots--black, ostrich, around $450. (I wonder if this is what my mother meant when she said to me as a kid, "I hope you can grow up to afford your own taste.") But they were the only "country" thing I bought. Everything else was strictly L.A., such as the three-button Hugo Boss jacket I bought in Beverly Hills on a trip with Wynonna that I ended up wearing in my book jacket photo.
       This had always been my philosophy of clothes: slightly altering what I wear with each new world I entered--lots of red ties when teaching in Japan, brown shoes as a grad student at Cambridge. But while my hip bizzer wardrobe worked perfectly in Nashville (helped by a late for L.A. but just right for Nashville goatee; Garth and I, for example, once bonded over what our mothers thought of our facial hair), it seemed to confuse everyone else. This weekend I was visiting an old friend in Putney, Vt. He took one look at my vintage black shirt with white stripes (à la Kramer; I'm late to that trend as well), and said: "Are you putting on weight? Or is that Garth Brooks crap you got on?" Now I was confused. Garth would never wear something this self-consciously urban retro, I told him. He's self-consciously rural retro. Don't you get it: In Nashville, lots of retreads from New York and L.A. work to sell cowboy retreads like Garth to hippie retreads like you.
       Plus, nobody in Nashville dresses like Garth. Even Garth only dresses like Garth when he's in public.
       Which brings me to the issue at hand. Packing. I'm going to Nashville in an hour for Fan Fair, the annual backstage festival cum family reunion in which 24,000 die-hard country music lovers flock to town for the chance to rub cheeks with their favorite stars. I'm going for the industry hang part of the week (for that I'm taking that black shirt, even though it wilted a bit in the three days of rain in Vermont). I'm also going to witness the gothic spectacle of the fans (for that I'm bringing T-shirts, including my new white Krispy Kreme number--even vintage Southern is chic). And finally I'm going for some interviews about my book. For that, of course, I'm taking my Hugo Boss.
       I do have this question, though: When does it get too hot for boots?

Bruce Feiler has authored four books, including Learning to Bow and Under the Big Top. His most recent, Dreaming Out Loud: Garth Brooks, Wynonna Judd, Wade Hayes, and the Changing Face of Nashville, was published last month.