The horses, of course, will be the center of attention at Saturday’s Carolina Cup steeplechase in Camden.
We’re talking about the printed horses on Johnny Deal’s pants, that is.
Sure, technically there will be horse races, if that’s what you’re into. But more importantly, the annual Carolina Cup is an event to see and be seen wearing your flashiest, classiest springtime attire.
“It’s always been kind of a venue where you can step out of your comfort zone a little bit” and experiment with fashion, said 55-year-old Deal, also known as “Mr. Camden.” Deal is a lifelong Camdenite, a 40-plus-year Cup veteran and reigning best-pants champion by popular vote at his own tailgate.
You’re as likely to see flamingo-print trousers – Deal’s pattern of choice at last year’s Cup – and several dozen iterations of Lilly Pulitzer prints as you are to see an actual horse on Saturday.
Some women began their Cup shopping months ago when the first peeks at the new seasonal Lilly Pulitzer styles were revealed, said Beth Baxley, owner of the Pink Sorbet store on Devine Street in Columbia.
“Carolina Cup is all about the first cocktail party of the season, the big fashion show. And Lilly is so on trend with its designs and its prints,” Baxley said. “It just resonates with the South. The bright color. The happiness that people get when they wear the product.”
The flamingo-pink “Southern Charm” Lilly Pulitzer pattern, the season’s most popular, is certain to be seen at Cup tailgates Saturday, Baxley said.
While classic shift and fit-and-flare dress silhouettes will never go out of style for the deeply traditional Carolina Cup crowd, expect to see more nontraditional ladies’ outfits at this year’s Cup, Baxley said. Rompers, jumpsuits and crop tops paired with high-waisted skirts and shorts have been in high demand, she said.
One popular crop top and skirt combo in an eye-popping green and pink pineapple Pulitzer print has nearly sold out at Pink Sorbet, with just two days left to shop.
Down the street from Pink Sorbet at Brittons, known for its selection of Southern-prep styles and array of bow ties, owner Lucky Levinson expects a heavy stream of customers in the next few days.
While women are more likely to plan ahead, “guys have a tendency to wait to the last minute” to shop, Levinson said.
With a tailor on site leading up to Saturday, Brittons is guaranteeing that even the most tardy shopper will have his pants hemmed in time.
Levinson recommends men start with the foundation of, say, a classic navy blazer when building their Cup outfits.
“A coat isn’t really a requirement for the Cup,” Levinson said, “Things have evolved where now maybe a coat isn’t required, or a hat, but it is still a dress-up time.”
From there, consider pairing the blazer with a pair of Bermuda pink – a color that’s “synonymous with the South,” Levinson said – or pastel yellow slacks, which have been flying off the shelves this spring, Levinson said.
To top off the solid-colored basics, Levinson suggests a printed shirt and bow tie. And, yes, of course, you can mix the prints! Complementary or contrasting colors can both work to tie together mixed patterns, Levinson said.
Deal plans to sport a hot pink kaleidoscope-printed bow tie, handmade by a friend of his daughter’s, to complement his blue seersucker, horse-printed slacks (which, by the way, he purchased online after a Google search for pants with horses on them).
“I wouldn’t dare wear what I wear to the Cup to church,” Deal said. “It’s really a melting pot of fashion at the Carolina Cup. You can see anything.”
Reach Ellis at (803) 771-8307.