Dressing Dolly: A look behind her iconic style

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NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WKRN) – It takes a team year-round to dress the ‘Queen of Country’, Dolly Parton, and we are giving you a look inside her wardrobe team’s studio at her Brentwood property.

“It’s kind of our think tank, it’s where we do a lot of our work,” Creative Director Steve Summers explained.

Inside a guest house of the lady known as the ‘Backwoods Barbie’, is the man known as her Ken doll.

“All of our closets, our storage, our fabrics, everything is connected right here and her house is literally up the hill,” he said.

Summers is among a team of about a half dozen that are working away on the rhinestone queen’s always sparkling, frilly wardrobe.

“There is a dress or an outfit in production every single day, every day, seven days a week to keep us going.”

Paint, fabric, tape, glue and swanky crystals fill the walls.

“There are thousands of those stones in there, there is a lot of money in those stones and this whole wall behind me is just full of them.” Summers pointed out.

Related: A look at Dolly Parton’s CMA Awards wardrobe

He has been working for Dolly for nearly 30 years, first hired as a performer at Dollywood. Summers began designing sets and clothes and quickly caught Dolly’s attention.

“We just really clicked and I’m legally deaf. I only have one ear and it doesn’t work very well and so I watch everything really intently and there is a language to her that is not verbal that I’ve picked up on to where I can see what she thinks.”

Now known as “The Dolly Whisperer”, Summers is responsible for every visual element of her multi-faceted career, from album covers and stage sets to her one of a kind wardrobe.

“Dolly’s shape is so specific that it’s not like we can go to the rack and pull 20 outfits and hope that three of them work. Dolly’s about 5 foot 2, she is a zero at best. She’s little, tiny you know. Her personality is just so big that people think she is this big person and she is not,” said Summers.

He shared some of his team’s secrets, saying he often buys pants for Dolly in the children’s section of Target to bedazzle.

“She is so tiny you know little kids sizes, little girl size 12 pants will fit her perfectly, she is that little.”

Glue is often their friend and they use a George Foreman grill to speed up the crystal heating process.

Summers says he’s cheap to the core. Which is hard to be with a name brand like Louis Vuitton on her shoes, so Summers keeps the shoes basic so they can be re-worn.

While Summers is at the helm, he says Dolly creates the concepts of her looks. “She has a very specific aesthetic that she likes. She wants to look a certain way, she wants to sparkle and she wants to be bright, so we do our best to make that happen.”

He is quick to point out that it takes dozens and dozens of people, some in Nashville and others in Los Angeles to create Dolly’s look from head to toe.

“The shoe process, the hair process, the jewelry process, the glove process for us. Everything that we do all has to tie in together,”

Summers says they crank out around 300 outfits a year, many that take 30 to 40 hours apiece to complete and if they don’t land in a museum, they are often re-worked and re-used.

“We have a warehouse up on the hill from here they end up there. It’s about 50,000 square feet and we have every single garment that she has worn since 1964,” he said.

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