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From Dolly Parton’s big, blonde hair to Loretta Lynn’s glittering ballgowns, the women of the country music world have long favored dramatic dressing — and Little Big Town frontwoman Karen Fairchild is no exception. Over the past few years, the “Girl Crush” singer has become nearly as famous for her fearless red carpet style as for her Grammy-winning group’s hit singles.
But while she’s known to turn up at awards shows in everything from Valentino lace to Dolce & Gabbana leopard print, Fairchild actually does much of her own shopping at vintage stores and flea markets. Below, the self-proclaimed fringe fanatic opens up about her favorite Nashville haunts, launching her own fashion line, and why there are far worse things than winding up on someone’s worst-dressed list.
How often do you shop, Karen?
Oh gosh, too much probably! I like to call myself a “professional shopper” — it’s kind of my vice. Because the band travels so much, I get to visit all these cool boutiques and check out the local shopping scenes in different cities.
Like, we were in Austin just a couple of weeks ago, which has this amazing store called ByGeorge. Whenever I go to Austin, I go in there and buy something — that’s my treat to myself. And if I’m lucky, I find some great vintage pop-up nearby too. About 10 years ago, I found these black fringed cowboy boots that I still have; I think I paid 40 bucks for them.
Really, my favorite thing to do on the road is go to flea markets and antique stores; my bandmate Kimberly [Schlapman] and I always go antiquing together. I’ll wind up finding these amazing pieces that have real stories behind them. I love having something in my outfit that feels “found.”
What’s the coolest piece you’ve found at a flea market or fair?
I remember that one day, we were driving through Indiana — we were heading to a show to open for Dwight Yoakam — and I could see this antique fair from the highway. We pulled over to check it out, and I found this engraved World War II ID bracelet. Someone, I guess a girl, had it engraved with a message for her love; it said “Hands off, gals, this one’s mine” on the back. I wear it all the time. I almost feel like I should track the owner down and give it back, because it’s such a treasure!
How about shopping in Nashville, where you live?
We’re lucky to have some really great spots. There’s H. Audrey, which is owned by Holly Williams, a good friend of mine. She carries Golden Goose, a lot of great denim and leather jackets and vintage T-shirts, and a really well-edited jewelry selection. It’s a one-stop shop.
I really love Hero, too — it’s owned by Claudia Fowler, a stylist who has a really unique perspective and the best eye. She goes to Paris to buy each season, and picks things that are a little avant-garde, a lot of up-and-coming designers. Her store is in a newer area called 12 South that’s really thriving right now, with tons of new restaurants and shops popping up.
Savant Vintage, which is in that same neighborhood, is a favorite for sure too. I got a great fringed leather coat from there, and some handbags I’ve actually carried on the red carpet. The owner has quite a big collection, and she’ll let you pull things on a rental basis.
Tell me about how your style differs from your bandmates’.
I’m probably the biggest risk-taker of the group. I don’t mind going out there and trying something and knowing it might be criticized, that maybe fans won’t get what I’m doing. If I love it, I wear it! If you’re on the red carpet [regularly], you’re gonna end up on somebody’s “Don’t” list. You can’t really worry about it too much; you have to wear what you feel comfortable in. I’ve definitely had days where I looked back and was like, “I wore that dress that was kind of shapeless, but it was so cool, and I loved the fabric.”
How do you go about picking out clothes for events and tours?
I work with an incredible stylist, Karla Welch — she styles all four of us in the band — and she’s so great to collaborate with. We are very likeminded, and she loves to take risks as well. She’s a huge part of what we do visually; she even directed our “Girl Crush” video!
Sometimes Karla will create special pieces based on conversations we’ve had, too. She made me a full-length fringe jacket a few years ago — I mean, the fringe went all the way to the floor — inspired by this couture dress I’d seen on the runway and loved. I sent a photo to Karla, we picked out the leather and all the details, and the first time I saw the finished piece was at our sound check.
That jacket’s probably my favorite piece I’ve ever worn. Karla and I share a love of fringe — we’re never gonna give it up no matter which way the trends go! And it’s so good on stage to have that movement, that swing. It just gives you a lot of drama.
How does your on-stage style differ from your everyday look, if at all?
It’s probably a little more over-the-top than my day-to-day style — although right now, I’m sitting in a parking lot wearing a Derek Lam fur and these Topshop boots with bows all over them! [Laughs] But I mean, my whole life revolves around denim and T-shirts; that’s why I love a really great topper and fun shoes. That’s kind of the name of the game for me.
Boots, jackets, and jewelry are [my shopping weaknesses]. I can always justify a new jacket or a vintage piece of jewelry or an accessory; it’s just so easy to throw on a great T-shirt with some crazy snake beads or something. We have a great denim store here in Nashville, Imogene + Willie, that I go to a lot. Current/Elliott and J Brand fit me great, too, and I like Frame and Rag & Bone denim as well. It’s so dependent on your body, and everyone’s is different. You have to find what works for you. It’s like trying on bathing suits! It’s hard.
You also launched your own clothing line, Fair Child, last year. Did you always want to try your hand at design?
I’ve always loved fashion and the process of making clothing. When I was growing up, I used to pick out Vogue Patterns and fabrics with my mom and bring them to a local tailor to have them sewn. I’d design my own prom dresses, too, bringing two different patterns to the tailor to combine just so I could have something that wasn’t off the rack. And in college, I lived next door to a girl who was an incredible seamstress; we’d go to fabric stores on Friday nights and make dresses for our fraternity formals.
The inspiration for Fair Child, though, came from fans who were asking questions about the pieces I was wearing on stage, many of which are either custom or designer. And it’s not exactly realistic for someone to go out and buy Dolce & Gabbana or Saint Laurent! So how do you make pieces that feel glamorous and surprising, and bring it to the fans at a price point that makes sense for their lives?
We were able to do that with Macy’s, and I’m really proud of the pieces in the spring collection. We worked really hard on this one camo jacket with an embroidered fish on the back, and there are three or four lace pieces that I really love. And we’re just getting started!
Designing clothing is so similar to writing a song or producing a record; it’s about telling a story, and getting all the details right — every last little button and stud.
This interview has been edited and condensed.