My look was always kind of trashy. It was a country girl’s idea of glam — the backwoods (1) Barbie. And I’d kinda overdone it, I guess, but I was always comfortable. So I remember Chet Atkins, one of the world’s most famous guitar players and a friend of mine, who was born and raised in East Tennessee like I was, and was the head of RCA Records for many years, he pulled me off to the side in my early days. He said, “Dolly, I don’t think you’re ever going to do everything that you want to do by looking like that. You’re a right pretty girl, you don’t need all that.” And I thought, Well, I wish you hadn’t said that. I hate to not take the advice of someone I love and respect. I just kept doing that look more and more. And then after I became so famous, I was on RCA and he was one of my bosses, and he came up and said, “Now ain’t you glad you took my advice?” And I said, “Yeah, right.”
Do what makes you happy, because if you’re happy and you’re comfortable, people are going to be happy around you. They’re going to be comfortable with you — even if you might look ridiculous to them. Because there’s something about you that makes them feel content. I’m not preaching [that] somebody should look like me. Most people don’t want to wear that much makeup or hair, but at least I have one thing that I know for a fact is real: I am comfortable with who I am. And I dress for me. I do what makes me happy. So I would just say to anybody: “If you’re comfortable wearing no makeup, be that. If you wanna wear too much, do that.”
I don’t know that there’s a nice thing about aging. We do it. But for me, I’ve always looked the same way, and I think I’ll look this way pretty much if I live to be 100. I’m like the Gabor sisters — Zsa Zsa and Eva — you never knew how old they were. When you’re a cartoon kind of character like me you never really know if that person’s old or young. I’m not going to be like Judge Judy, who I love to death. She wore her hair and her makeup so great, but now she’s gone to just wearing her hair pulled back in a bun and — well, she’s comfortable and that’s all good. She didn’t want to have to work so hard, being at the age she is. And I respect that and I love that. But for me, I’ll just do what I’ve always done. I’ll do what’s best for me, as everybody should.
I never go out with a bare face. Not even when I go out. Somebody, please open my coffin to put some makeup on me. At night, I leave my makeup on. I don’t want to go to bed in curlers and Clearasil and patches all over me for my husband (2). A lot of people say, “Oh, you should never go to bed with your makeup on.” And I say, “You should never be telling me what to do.” I don’t know what’s going to happen in the middle of the night. My husband is not in great health, and I have to be ambulance-ready at all times — an ambulance for him, or for me. I have to be earthquake-ready, I have to be tornado-ready (3). You’re not gonna catch me out in the streets bare-faced unless you’ve caught me in the morning when I’m cleaning my face and getting ready to put it on again. If I had to hit the streets then… I probably would just die in the tornado. I can do my makeup in 15 or 20 minutes, though, and I wear a wig almost every day.
I have a few houses scattered here and there. I spend time in L.A., and we have a place on the lake, and I have a little apartment in my office downtown [in Nashville], and then my big house where I live with my husband. So I have little wig cabinets that Cheryl [Riddle, my hairdresser,] sets up everywhere, and I can always say, “Okay, yup, I feel like that today.” Wigs are just so handy. I would love to do a wig line next. And I’m going to be doing makeup.