Game day in the South? No T-shirts, please

Story highlights

  • When tailgating in the South, a team T-shirt simply will not do
  • Lack of promising professional teams contributes to the popularity of college football
  • Alabama and Missouri will go head-to-head in the SEC championship on Saturday

(CNN)Ladies donning their best black dresses, cowboy boots and pearls stand alongside men wearing khakis with tucked-in button-ups and blazers. Anticipation is in the air and the fervor is growing.

This isn't a fancy event or church service. These fashionable fans are ready to kick off another college football Saturday in the South.
    When the University of Alabama and the University of Missouri go head-to-head on Saturday in the Southeastern Conference championship, college fans will no doubt be dressed in their Sunday best.
    Whether you are a Georgia Bulldog, a Florida Gator or you're yelling "Roll Tide" after 'Bama scores a touchdown, a Saturday in the SEC normally means you're in front of a television arguing over commentary or you're in a stadium, cheering with your friends.
    And there's no way you're wearing jeans and a team shirt.
    We can't talk about the importance of fashion in the SEC and not talk about what football means to the South. It's the game of football you hear a father explain to his son on a cool, autumn morning. And it's football that has families gathered around the television screaming over each field goal and fumble.
    Bleacher Report editor Chris Cornell says college football is a national phenomenon, but it's like a religion down here. In the South, the added appeal of college football comes from the lack of promising professional teams.
    "Look at Florida. A team like the Dolphins doesn't really get much publicity. Atlanta has the Falcons but they aren't really winning enough to keep interest, right?" he said.
    It's the college fandom that reaches bigger heights -- heights that come in the forms of boots, pumps and fashionable football attire.
    "We love our teams and want to support them to the best of our abilities. It's not just about the clothes we wear, but the attitude that we carry as well," said Lydia Buckner, a senior at Mississippi State University, where she said game-day prep is a group affair. Buckner and her girlfriends get together to do their hair and makeup, and while the girls are in the bathroom, the guys are watching other college games and cooking out.
    "Coming together like that gets the spirit up and builds on all the excitement," she said.
    In the South, you dress up for whatever you take pride in. And that could be anything from family dinners to a visit to grandma's. Add a crowd and there's all the more reason to look your best.
    "With over 100,000 people around, you never know who you'll run into, or if you'll end up on TV," said Hayley Taylor, a style blogger and recent Louisiana State University graduate. "I wouldn't want to run into a friend looking my worst."
    Game-day style has given rise to niche boutiques such as Sideline Sweetie, an online store that's been selling trendy tailgate attire for women since 2011. Owner Rosanne Nettles says the idea came from realizing there weren't enough places to find cute outfits in school colors that a woman could wear to a game. At the time, she owned three women's boutique and formal wear stores in Georgia, South Carolina and North Carolina.
    Women were tired of jeans and jerseys. They wanted dresses, maxi skirts, and prints galore. Trendy, not masculine.
    "Every social event is a big deal in the South. People love to dress up and we love football," Nettles said. "We realized that we could not keep in stock red and black, as customers were calling from all over for Georgia and Alabama game-day apparel. As we started to introduce more navy, we noticed that Auburn fans started calling also."
    To keep up with demand, Nettles gave the store's "Sideline Sweetie" game-day collection its own brand and website. The site is busiest from July to November, with Alabama, Georgia, Auburn and Florida fans among her best customers. "The Northern and Midwest schools are definitely our least popular," she said.
    When it comes to dressing up for football, there are some crucial dos and don'ts. Talk to many female college fans and they'll give you the same advice: Keep it classy. You're representing the entire university when you step out to tailgate. Always dress in school colors, use accessories to dress up any outfit, and above all, be smart about your footwear, Buckner says.
    "If you can't walk a block comfortably, you're going to regret it -- senior to freshman advice," Buckner said. "Trust me, I know those heels look supercute but your blistered feet will definitely not. You want to be able to cheer and jump without constantly worrying about a wardrobe malfunction."
    We want to hear from more sharp-dressing college football fans. What is your go-to outfit on game day? Send us a photo of yourself in your best tailgating attire. After all, this is what college football is really about.