That Time Chet Atkins Told Dolly Parton to “Tone It Down”

Country Icon Calls BS on the Less-Is-More Aesthetic

Dolly Parton is never dull.

That much, we all already knew. But in the brand new Elle, in a story inside the November issue, Parton shows even more of her true colors. And they are brilliant.

And one of the best stories within the story is about a time when Chet Atkins told her that she was just kind of a lot.

He’d said, according to her, “Dolly, you need to tone it down. You’re wearing too much makeup. You need to have a little more taste. People are never going to take you serious(ly) as a songwriter and singer. I know you’re great at that, but people are just going to look at you like it’s all about the body.”

“I said, ‘You know what? I can’t separate the two. This is who I am.’ I not only didn’t tone it down,” Parton recalled, “I figured if my work was truly good enough, people would eventually recognize that. It was about me knowing who I was, being happy with me, and feeling comfortable in the way I presented myself. If I was happy, I could make other people happy. That’s how I’ve always looked at it: that I look totally artificial, but I am totally real, as a writer, as a professional, as a human being.”

To that, she added, “A rhinestone shines just as good as a diamond.” She’s absolutely right about that and so many other truths she’s learned about herself and the world she’s living in. Parton will always be eternally quotable.

Listen to these gems:

“I was not a raving natural beauty, I just wanted to be pretty. I wanted to be striking. I wanted to be colorful. I wanted to be seen. When I went to Nashville, I always overdid it. When they say, ‘Less is more,’ I say, ‘That’s BS. More is more.’”

“To me, that’s still one of the funniest things, when people say that I am a fashion icon. I just always thought people thought I was so gaudy. I am! I’m flashy, and I’m flamboyant.”

“Had I not been a girl, I definitely would have been a drag queen. I like all that flamboyance. I love all that sparkle, and shine, and color.”

“I don’t always wear (wigs) in my daily life, but I always still pouf up my hair. I still like to have that flashy hair. When I’m around home, I wear my little scrunchies, but I always put on some makeup and fix my own hair as cute as I can fix it. Wigs are just so handy. I’m so busy, and I have so many choices. I never have a bad hair day, and that’s a good thing.”

(Her stance on wigs has me playing this 1993 Confederate Railroad song over and over again.)

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