The Covid-19 shutdown did little to stall Dolly Parton’s hustle. During lockdown the country music star released a Christmas album; a
holiday musical; a 35-hour, 19-DVD box set of various career highlights; Songteller, a book collecting her lyrics and detailing her songwriting career; a baking line for
; and a signature ice cream (strawberry pretzel pie) with Jeni’s Splendid Ice Creams.
Not only that, Parton, 75, broadcast videos of herself reading children’s bedtime stories, earned her second consecutive Grammy for best contemporary Christian music performance/song, topped 150 million donated books for Imagination Library (her program that provides books to children) and donated $1 million to Vanderbilt University Medical Center to help fund research for Moderna’s coronavirus vaccine. When Parton got the Moderna shot in March she posted a picture to her social media with the caption, “Dolly gets a dose of her own medicine.”
Parton’s penchant for busyness, even during a pandemic, is, she explains, part of her nature. “It’s a way of life for me,” she says. And while her star power has never waned—she’s one of the top five most appealing female celebrities in the U.S. according to her Q Score, a common marketing metric—it has, in the past few years, broadened via social media, reaching younger generations who may have otherwise been unfamiliar with her music. At a time when Americans find themselves in a continual state of disagreement, Parton retains an innate ability to bridge divides among seemingly disparate communities.
Parton’s style is also indisputable. Her signature look embodies exaggerated femininity. In July, she’ll step into the beauty business, launching a fragrance called Scent From Above and, later, a line of makeup and wigs. “I’ve always been intrigued with makeup and perfume, all the stuff that makes girls girly,” she says. In a 1984 interview with Andy Warhol, Parton said of her drive: “I’m still not the star I’m going to be.”
I’ve heard you’re an early riser. How early are we talking?
I’m usually up around 3 in the morning. I just love the wee hours. I actually go to bed early. I go by the old saying, “Early to bed, early to rise.” But even when I’m working late on shows and concerts, I can wake up early. I just don’t require a lot of sleep! Five or six hours, and I can motivate if I need to on three hours. I pray every day that God will put all the right things, all the right people in my life, and take all the wrong things, all the wrong people out, and guide me. Then I figure out what I want to wear and what I want to accomplish…and I have my cup of ambition.
What do you eat for breakfast with that cup of ambition?
Well, that depends. I usually try to keep some homemade egg salad around because I like to have something quick and easy. Through the week I’ll eat things like egg salad on toast with tomato, and sometimes I’ll have a bagel with cream cheese, cucumbers and tomatoes. If I’m working I’ll stay on a low-carb diet during the week and then eat anything I want on the weekends. I just watch moderation for the most part…. I have a tendency to gain weight because I’m so short and because I have a farmer’s daughter’s appetite.
Do you have a regular morning beauty routine?
I do all my beauty work and cleaning my face in the morning because I usually try to keep my makeup on at night. Because I never know if there’s going to be an earthquake or a tornado or a storm and I’m going to have to go out in the middle of the night! I don’t like to go home and just tear down completely, because my poor husband has to look at me. And in the morning when I get up I start all over again, put on my makeup and then touch it up through the day. I use a lot of
products, and I’ve used Max Factor’s Panstik makeup for all of my grown years; I have to order it from different places because I can’t find it anymore. If I’m going out at night, I’ll just add a little more shadow, a little more glitter, redder or brighter lipstick. I’m so used to doing my own makeup and hair I can do it really fast.
Did you, like so many of us, embrace sweatpants in lockdown?
I don’t wear sweatpants. But I do like to be comfortable like everybody else. I have my own little house clothes, like a little dress-type teddy, a long teddy, then I have a little jacket or shirt to match if I get cold. I call them my baby clothes because they’re soft like a baby. But I don’t wear sweat clothes.
What were some of your first touchstones for beauty and style?
I’m impressed with anybody that’s got a sense of glamour and style, but I say, first of all, it’s about being comfortable in your own skin. My own overexaggerated look came from a serious place I’ve often spoken about: the town tramp in our little country hometown. They called her trash, but to me she was absolutely beautiful. She wore colorful patchwork skirts and pretty blouses and showed a little cleavage and had red nails and piled-up blond hair and red lipstick and high heels. She was the prettiest thing I’d ever seen. When everybody would say, “Oh, she’s just trash,” I’d say, “Well, trash is what I’m going to grow up to be.” And I guess my look is glamorous trash!
And now you’re bringing that sensibility to fragrance?
People have always loved the way I smell. I’ve had people literally follow me down the street to ask, “What are you wearing? I’ve got to know what you’re wearing!” I’ve always liked a perfume called White Linen, which [
] still makes, and I use a musk bath oil. I just love a clean, soft smell. I’ve actually always worn a combination of scents, a couple of perfumes mixed with some bath oils and lotions. And that gave me the idea that [for my own fragrance] I need to combine my other scents. The people…who developed the scent for us checked all the ingredients of the stuff I loved. It took us a long time to come up with the exact fragrance that I was really happy with.
You don’t like sweat clothes, but are you someone who exercises?
I create my own rejoicing exercises! I grew up in the Pentecostal church where we used to do a lot of shouting and jumping around. I keep my motor running in the mornings when I just shout through the house praising the Lord. It gave me an idea to create some easy exercises, and I’m making music to go along with it. Something that even people in wheelchairs or people that are older or sick can do. I thought I could create something joyful, where you were doing something for a reason rather than yourself. But that’s the extent of my exercise. I’m not big on going to the gym…and I’m particular about who I sweat with.
You’ve said before that you have a wig for every day of the year.
I do have a wig for every occasion! I always make a joke—but it’s really not a joke—that I never have a bad hair day. Cheryl Riddle is my hairdresser, and she gives me a great variety of different wigs…but I usually don’t wear wigs when I’m home. I keep my own hair the same color and a little longer than shoulder length, just to the top of my boob…. That way I can just pull it up with a little scrunchie. I was born blond and couldn’t wait to get it blonder. I started buying peroxide as soon as I could afford it! I just am a blonde. That’s just my nature. It’s me.
Besides your fragrance, what else has been occupying your time these days?
I’ve got a lot of projects that I’m working on. We have the Dollywood opening stuff coming along, and I’m always working on some music and writing something. I’ve had such luck recently with some of the more inspirational songs. “When Life Is Good Again” is about the pandemic, and I wrote one called “I Still Believe,” and I just won a Grammy with Zach Williams for a song called “There Was Jesus.” I think people need uplifting things right now.
We could all use some uplift right now. What have been some of your takeaways after what was a very challenging year?
I think we’ve been held up to the light. I know I’ve learned a lot about myself, and by doing things to help other people, it’s helped me, too. Because you know the old saying, “By teaching I am taught.” By making other people try to feel good and lift them up, it’s lifted me up. Doing something to make somebody else feel good, in turn makes me feel good. That has really provided a lot of solace for me…. Concentrating on what I can do to help someone makes me realize who I am as a human being. I’ve also learned a lot about patience, tolerance, understanding. I think a lot of people have. We’ve shown our true colors during this time.
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.
5 Monday Must-Haves
Pond’s Cold Cream
I have a tendency to still love a lot of the old beauty products because I’m an old-timer too. I’ll use cold cream to clean my face in the morning.
Most of the music in my house is music I’m making myself. I have to have my little Martin guitar somewhere handy because I write songs all the time.
Yellow Legal Pads and Sharpies
I write something almost every day. I still use those big, old yellow legal pads, and I love Sharpie pens; I have boxes of those.
I don’t think you have to pay tons of money for good makeup.
I use Folgers for my cup of ambition. I like quite a bit of cream, so it’s just a little more than tan. A cup and a half will do me all day.
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