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Southern Coastal Style: It's Not What You Think

Southern Coastal Style: It's Not What You Think

Thank goodness, y'all, that style expectations have shifted and there's room in the southern coastal closet for everything from surf wear and Lilly prints to cowboy boots and flip-flops. On my drives north and south along the East Coast, vacations in multiple southern locales and my shore life experiences in both Maryland and Florida, I can attest to the fact that coastal styles vary greatly from the beaches to the inland waterways. This is partly due to geography and partly due to how one spends their free time. 

The essential element to any style is individual personality as much as the location vibe. Style vibes, for example, in the OBX and South Beach are completely different from those in Hilton Head - but all are influential in the southern collection of style, heritage and fashion. I, personally, gravitate most comfortably to classic prep, but those are my roots - but I also have slight BoHo and glam fashion chromosomes that keep me from wearing a 'uniform' of any kind. 

Growing up in the MidAtantic, "preppy" translates a LOT into Navy blue and white. Take 'preppy' further south to Charleston or Palm Beach, and it's brighter and more playful like the inside of a gumball machine! This is true for places like Austin, Texas, too, where, when I wore my East Coast black ensemble to an afternoon bunko game and looked like I belonged more at a funeral than a ladies afternoon game day. I made a similar gaff one July, sporting a lemon yellow ruffled Lilly Pulitizer sweater in Portsmouth, New Hampshire. While I considered black "classic" in Austin, and Lilly de rigueur in summer - on both occasions I received quite a few eyeball assessments! I still laugh about those fashion oversights. 


In this edition of Magnolia Blue, Maggie breaks down southern coastal style into categories. Which style feels more "you?" Whether you wear it with cowboy boots or flip-flops, it's all fun and fashion today on the front porch!  

Southern Beach Chic

This blend of chic + Bohemian influences, also common among the new "yuccie" (Young Urban Creative) crowd, blends the combined sensibilities of "yuppies" and "hipsters" no matter the geography.

There is a lot of latitude in this style because you can easily blend inexpensive Amazon finds with upscale boutique or surf wear. This style is found primarily in beach towns and combines the ease of wearing beachwear, with a few additions (accessories, sarongs, nice jeans) and 'investment' thongs (flip-flops) when daylight turns into happy hour and beyond. This classic white jean is a great example worn in three different ways with a stylish black one-piece asymmetrical bathing suit, a colorful short caftan (which you can toss over a bathing suit) and a colorful, casual T-shirt. 

This style is about easy-packing (if you're traveling) with a casual approach whether you're stepping off the beach in St. Simon's Island or Naples. Sunscreen is going to be your favorite accessory!

I'm preppy with BoHo rising! This dress was an inexpensive addition to my wardrobe a couple years ago from Stein-Mart (sad face, now that they've all closed!), but I cannot seem to get enough of it. The sleeves and the overall design just give me joy and the style, overall, I find is very flattering. In a nod to my preppy side, I did pair it with aqua Jack Rogers!


Classic Southern Prep

Mama always says spend your money on "classics" because they'll see you through almost every occasion and those investment pieces will last a lifetime. Well, you might not want everything to last a lifetime, after all, what about shopping? Truth is, when mothers tell us these things, they aren't wrong.

Classic southern prep is a nod to church, office style (casual Friday's and Zoom meetings not withstanding), Sunday dinners, job interviews, meeting your boyfriend's (or GF's) family for the first time, and other important daily, or special, occasions!

In classic southern prep, if you're going 'coastal' Navy is the essential base - including a great pair of classic blue jeans. One of the most useful items in the classic prep closet is the Navy shift or A-line dress. You can dress it up with pumps or down with monogrammed flats, or where it to brunch with cute wedges.

Taking that Navy dress and applying it to a more casual shore shift is easy for cruise and resort-season by pairing it with cute white Keds, sandals, wedges or flats. For cooler evenings, add this Greyhall Design abstract American flag scarf (available in two sizes, including a pocket square) which offers either dress a completely new look.


Elizabeth Wilson Designs gives us this modern twist on a beloved gingham classic with her Katherine top. For comfort, as well as preppy styling, Maggie Blue pairs this casual outfit with a pair of Stylin Brunette slip-ons (the comfort and durability of which I can personally attest) showcasing quintessentially southern ginger jars.


Fabrics and textures play as much a role in the quintessential southern classic closet as much as style. Gingham, seersucker, linen, raffia (in summer - as indicated by this cute headband and Target sandal slip-ons) - breathable fabrics in southern heat are an essential element to not only this style, but all southern style options.


Monograms are an absolute in southern style - they speak to pride of family and personalization and, if you're adding a coastal twist to your ensemble, the addition of anchors, sea life (like these adorable crab earrings), blue and white stripes, canvas slip-ons and deck shoes are all part of what helps to define classic southern prep, Magnolia Blue style!

Southern Country Coastal


Outdoor living, appreciation for the durability of investment pieces and organic elements help define Southern Country Coastal style. This style is a nod to inland waterways - fishing creeks, white water rafting, setting up camp in the Smokies or Appalachian mountains. Boots are an essential element to this style, as much as are jeans and it's not part of a "costume" - it's a way of life. Whether they are riding or work boots, cowboy boots or high-waders for fly-fishing, boots - and their quality - matter.

These ladies frequently enjoy their Kentucky bourbon, Tennessee whiskey and Texas tequila as much as the men. If they're wearing pearls, they'll more likely be freshwater pearls designed in a simpler version than their counterparts in the Southern Classic Prep category. The 'craft' of good clothing is as important, too - hand-tooled leather belts, hats to keep the sun of their face, organic-inspired jewelry, just like these two pieces from Ultra Bella. The gray ultra-suede stack bracelet that is washable (perfect for the practical country life) has just enough bling for every southern girl, and the gorgeous natural Jasper drop earrings are reminiscent of the variegated mountain and creek stone you might see while hiking, or climbing, southern trails.

Southern Country Coastal ladies are active, but feminine, and when it's time to two-step, or hit a Sunday brunch, boots are paired with a soft ruffled skirt, kept simple with T-shirts, white long sleeved-tops, and a jean or leather jacket. This style is particularly keen to "use what you have" (a favorite phrase of mine by Kentucky Instagrammer and blogger, Marada Chaffins) to bring a look together. This powder blue felt hat from Poppy's Boutique in Nashville, pairs perfectly with Magnolia Blue's Southern Country Coastal look!


Palm Beach Southern Chic

Enter Lilly Pulitizer, Queen of Preppy, her iconic fashion empire was born out of a need for a comfortable piece of clothing, in this case a shift, that's print would hide the stains she was getting from squeezing oranges at her stand in her husband's citrus orchard. The bright prints took off, to everyone's surprise at the time - including hers -  and her pink, green, yellow and blue bright prints now dot the southern landscape like candied beacons. Today, designers like Gretchen Scott (a northerner with southern sensibilities) continues the tradition by creating vibrant wardrobe pieces, like the 'twist' dress pictured above the orange bathing suit.


Sunglasses are as essential to Palm Beach chic as are boots to country girls. The bigger the better – Valentino, RayBans, Dolce & Gabbana – or Target! This look requires that you – literally – gild the “Lilly” as there is nothing like a Lilly Pulitizer maxi-dress for warm nights at The Breakers. This classic Carlotta in coral with gleaming gold accessories, including earrings like these vintage gold and emerald elephant are the epitome of seaside sophistication at any resort.

The glamorous aspect, however, of Palm Beach has its roots in the New York elite who have flocked to this part of the southern east coast for over a hundred years, bringing high-style expectations. Those who love colorful prints and statement pieces, take this southern seaside chic completely over-the-top with bracelet stacks, like this trio Chloe bracelets by Mindy Grutman, large French & Ford bow earrings (no current source available), vintage scarves and jumpsuits like this one by design doyenne, Martha Phillips.
The look is not complete, however, without the right handbag. Designer Jan of MME.MINK has created a stunning couture line that takes us from Worth Avenue to Fifth Avenue. Maggie Blue adores her line of rattan bags, including this summer's must-have, The Lady Jane No.3 in Clementine.


Palm Beach Southern Chic is a riot of color - unless it's not. While not pictured here, there is nothing more glamorous than in a resplendent fashion display of blazing, hot white. A maxi dress, palazzo pants, skinny jeans, an investment T, white canvas wedges or Jack Rogers sandals - complete with all-white jewelry is striking, southern and easy. Magnolia Blue loves this southern glam style, the unique history behind it, evocative of twinkle lights, The Breakers, swaying palm fronds and lazy days in the sun. 
Gilding the "Lilly" at One Ocean in Atlantic Beach - sporting Lilly Pulitizer palazzo pants, Ted Baker top, Kate Spade handbag, gold/summer wedges and Teggy French earrings. 

Comments on this post (3)

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  • Nov 11, 2022

    Love this

    — Janelle holt

  • Aug 05, 2021

    You can never go wrong with Navy and Pearls. I agree with Mama, don’t waste money on trendy clothing it won’t be worn for more than afew months then it’s into the donation bag. Tailored and classic will always work no matter what everyone else is wearing. Classic styling will make everyone else look over the top or underdressed. If the pearls are too much, take them off and add somethng chunky or dangly. Keep a scarf handy to instantly dress up something too casual. Those of us over a certain age may need to add a little camoflage over spider veins and “bat wings” but that doesn’t mean we need to put on the support hose and orthopaedic shoes.

    — Jane Wittman

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