HomeCultureDon't Get Your Panties in a Wad!

Don't Get Your Panties in a Wad!

But we’re fit to be tied by this line of t-shirts printed with Southern sayings.

by Erin Z. Bass

Susan Bashford and Karen Hall aren’t Southern. Susan is from Connecticut, and Karen is from Detroit, but they both married good ‘ole boys from North Carolina. It wasn’t long before the two women noticed their husbands speaking what sounded like a different language sometimes, especially Karen’s husband, Steve. But they just laughed and wondered what they’d gotten themselves into when hearing phrases like “Are you smellin’ what I’m cookin’” or “I’m a tie a knot in your hind end and hunt ya.’” What else could these Yankees do?

It wasn’t until the women took a trip to Boston and saw a line of t-shirts printed with the city’s slang that they thought their husbands might be on to something. “We both called our husbands from the airport and said, ‘start talking,’” says Karen. A line of t-shirts called SweeTea was born in 2006, and Steve became the official lexicographer. Now, when he starts talking, the women start writing. First to make it onto a shirt was “Bless yer heart,” still a bestseller, and sayings like “Hissy Fit, ”Don’t Get Your Panties in a Wad,” “I Yoosta Could…” and “Don’t Get Me Started!” followed.

New sayings, like “You Ain’t Right!” and “Goodness Gracious!” are being introduced all the time to keep inventory fresh. The SweeTea catalog advertises about 80 current designs, while over 100 others have been “put out to pasture,” according to Karen, who is pictured on the left. (After close to 20 years in the region, she and Susan talk like true Southerners now.)

“We have some things that are more country, and we have some things that are more mountain and some things that are more beach, so we try to cover everything,” says Karen. They originally started with more subdued colors, but quickly realized that women from the South want to make a statement. “The ones that are about attitude are clearly our bestsellers,” says Karen, “because Southern women are bright, bold, they’re not understated.”

In May, SweeTea moved its operation from Raleigh to West Jefferson in the Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina (pictured below), so Karen and Susan are finding a whole new slew of sayings there. “We love the language, and we love the dialect,” says Karen. “There’s apparently four or five distinct dialects just in North Carolina alone. It’s fun. It makes people laugh, it’s celebrating the heritage of the South.”

“We always know where the customer is in the store, because we hear them over there cracking up and then we know they’re standing in front of the SweeTea display,” adds Susan. “Someone sees something that their Aunt Sally used to say or some cute little expression that rings a bell, and they just crack up. It’s a very simple premise, but the simplicity of it and the fact that we’re keeping the heritage alive by keeping these expressions—be it on a shirt that may fade over time, but it’s still preserved in some fashion.”

SweeTea relies heavily on its customers for feedback. Several fans on their Facebook page are asking for “Hey Y’all,” and Karen says the saying is being printed on a shirt in time for summer. A March call for new sayings resulted in 25 comments full of one liners from dads, sisters, moms and grandmas. Customers also comment often on the quality of the shirts, calling them soft, comfortable and well fitting. In the words of one female customer: “I think your ‘teas’ are the greatest thing since indoor plumin.’” (A “Suggestions” section on the website also allows customers to type in their Southern sayings.)

In addition to SweeTea’s line of shirts, a new “diet” tee with a slimmer fit is being marketed under the name “UnsweeTea,” and “ZenTea” features shirts in Earth tones that are more about the mind, body and soul. They also sell night shirts printed with appropriate sayings like “Nite Y’all” and “Plum Tuckered Out,” shirts with sayings geared toward men and children, baseball caps and tote bags. Over 200 stores in 26 states sell SweeTea, so no matter if you’re in Connecticut, the Carolinas or Mississipppi, there’s probably a shop in your area. If not, order online or request a catalog.

The SweeTea ladies are also always ready to take calls. “When our customer calls with an order, like a true Southerner, you get a story as well,” says Karen. “Yesterday, Susan was talking to someone, and she’s like, ‘I’m 80 years old, I don’t even have a computer,’ but she was buying a t-shirt for every single one of her daughters and their kids.” Goodness gracious. Bless her heart!

Give ‘Em a Holler!
Online: http://www.sweeteashirts.com/
Twitter: @sweeteashirts
Phone: Main office – 336-877-8787; Raleigh office – 919-790-7900

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