Nobody tailgates quite like Southerners. Maybe it’s the fanatic love of football or regional proclivity for hospitality, but the combination delivers some of the best all-day parties this side of the Mason-Dixon Line. Let’s be clear: we’re not talking about the beer-soaked tailgates of your college days, but sophisticated gatherings that celebrate school spirit in style. To help those who might be seeking inspiration for this season’s game day celebrations, we asked a few TSG Editors from towns whose love of football runs in their blood for tips on hosting a memorable pre-game gathering. Here are their recommendations:
What to wear: In general, when getting ready for a game-day event, go for a mix of seasonal comfort and style—and don’t forget to flaunt your team colors.
For her: “To get the fall feeling without overheating, women usually don short dresses or a skirt with a sleeveless blouse paired with booties,” says The Scout Guide Jackson Editor Caroline King, who notes that it’s usually still quite warm in the South when football season starts. As for accessories, “Brown belts and falls bags are a must, just make sure the bag is clear or game day size—four and a half inches by six and a half inches, or approximately the size of your hand,” she says, adding that local boutique Blithe and Vine’s Instagram is a good source of sartorial tailgate inspiration. Along those lines, The Scout Guide Austin Editor Leigh Ann Kalman says, “It’s always a good idea to hit up your local boutiques to snap up stylish items for the season that reflect school spirit without going over the top.” In her area, that means a burnt orange top or scarf (women’s store Adelante is a go-to) paired with white jeans. For a cool, casual look, The Scout Guide Baton Rouge Editor Rachel Ransom suggests a lightweight graphic tank top worn with shorts. “And since we are in the deep south, pearls are always appropriate,” she says. Finally, make sure your school spirit is reflected in your outerwear, says The Scout Guide Little Rock Editor Valerie Shively. “With the weather ranging from 100 degrees at Labor Day to much cooler temps at Thanksgiving, and lots of flash thunderstorms in between, the best way to make sure you’re dressed appropriately is to invest in windbreakers, rain gear, and warmer coats to get you through the game.”
For him: Men are expected to be well turned out at the tailgate, too. In Jackson, gents tend to go with a lightweight pant and a collared shirt, and add a sport coat with a handkerchief of team colors on cooler game days. For a Texas twist on his game day attire, Kalman says a good go-to is a button-down, jeans, and cowboy boots. Golf shirts bearing the school mascot are always a good option for men, too, says Little Rock-based Shively, while muggy days in Louisiana call for PFG (performance fishing gear) shirts that offer ventilation, according to Ransom.
For kids: Little ones are expected to dress up as well. “Football fashion matters at every age in the South,” says Shively. “Even our youngest tailgaters will be decked out in smocked dresses and Jon Jons, and then grow into cheerleader uniforms and jerseys.”
How to set the tone. Since this is the South, the tailgate décor should be tasteful—but don’t be afraid to be a little over-the-top, say our Editors. “The important thing is to make it yours and make it consistent and recognizable every year,” says TSG Little Rock Editor Shively.
Add some flair: “At the University of Arkansas tailgates we’ve seen it all, from a hot-air balloon tied to a tent to a team of mannequins,” Shively says. “My personal favorites are lighted working chandeliers and a simpler option, Chinese lanterns,” she says. Linens are another way to dress up your tailgate, says TSG Baton Rouge Editor Rachel Ransom. “Using school colors for tablecloths (real ones, not disposable) is a must. And we love making centerpieces that depict the opposing mascot being attacked by our school mascot—it creates a fun conversation piece and makes a perfect Instagram-able moment.” Additional ideas include flying an oversized flag and colored bunting on your pop-up tent, which “supports school spirit and makes your tailgate easier for your guests to spot,” says Ransom. Finally, add a live touch. “Fresh blooms welcome our guests and add a touch of class. Sometimes the smallest details make the biggest impact,” says TSG Jackson Editor Caroline King.
Invest in real furnishings: Having some real pieces of furniture instead of (or in addition to) the standard portable options is a great way to spruce up your tent setup. “Stackable white chairs are a definite upgrade from folding sport chairs. They have a clean, uniform look, are lightweight, and fold easily,” King says. She recommends placing them around the perimeter of the tent, leaving a few walkways for guests to enter. Having places where people can set down cups is key, too. “I like to bring in some end tables so everyone has something to rest their drink on,” Kalman says. “I find that portable camp tables do the trick, and the addition of ‘real’ furniture will automatically make your tent feel extra special.” Kalman also recommends putting aside the paper plates in favor of real tableware. “I pick up burnt orange enamelware every season. It brings school spirit with class, travels easily, and most importantly, doesn’t break when things inevitably get rowdy,” she says. Last but not least, stock up on reusable cups that keep your beverages cool. “I scoop up Yeti cups, koozies, and coolers at the Boutique on Stonelake, says Kalman. “They make perfect gifts for your football fan friends, too.”
What to sip. While a cooler filled with ice-cold local beer is a must, being prepared to offer guests a cocktail will help take your tailgate to the next level. Kalman’s current favorite game day drink is Deep Eddy Grapefruit Vodka with Topo Chico and a slice of lime, though she notes it’s always a good idea to bring a batch of homemade margaritas—“You’ll instantly become the most popular hostess in town,” she says. TSG Little Rock Editor Shively takes a custom approach to adult beverages as well—she plans ahead and serves a pre-mixed signature cocktail out of an oversized dispenser. In Jackson, Mississippi, King suggests Bloody Marys made with Elizabeth Heiskell’s Debutante Farmer Bloody Mary mix and mimosas before morning games. Wine for women (served out of Corcicle bottles and sipped from Vino2Go cups) and whisky for men are her standard go-tos. “Pack your favorite mixers and include pre-cut limes and mint to add a little color and kick of flavor,” she adds. Non-alcoholic options should be available, too. “Water is essential on hot game days,” Baton Rouge-based Ransom reminds. “Every good host should keep it on hand—still and sparkling.” She also enjoys adding food coloring to mixed drinks to give them an extra pop.
What to serve. In addition to standard southern fare, having a few homemade favorites—and creative dishes—will add some much-appreciated flavor to your tailgate party. In addition to an artfully prepared charcuterie board, in Baton Rouge classics like Jambalaya and any opposing team mascot that’s edible should be on the menu. “When we play University of Florida, there is always fried alligator on every spread,” Editor Ransom says. In Austin, local barbecue is a much-loved staple, and allows the host to keep it simple. “Pick up your personal favorite, or try out a different spot for each home game,” TSG Austin Editor Kalman advises. Bite-sized items—think chicken fingers, sliders, easy-to-serve dips, and mini caramel cakes—are Jackson, Mississippi-based King’s pre-game party foods of choice, in addition to homemade chicken salad and pimento cheese paired with cracked pepper chips. She recommends elevating your spread with chafing dishes and printed menus and tent cards. Not to be outdone, Little Rock’s Shively recommends the classic combination of chili and cornbread, or recruiting a true “pit boss” to serve up piping hot ribs and pork butt. “I also like to add a popcorn bar with fun toppings like candy,” she says.
What to do. In addition to offering up delicious libations and local fare, true southern tailgate hosts have activities on hand for guests. In Baton Rouge, nothing beats getting visiting fans riled up. “Bring a portable speaker and have your school’s fight song cued up for when opposing fans walk by. Everyone will want to get into the good-spirited taunting action,” says Ransom. More traditional—and less inflammatory—options include traditional tailgate games like ladder toss and corn hole, but newcomers with staying power include life-size Jenga and spike ball. “Everyone lines up to play,” she says. Another idea for creating the ultimate pre-football game party experience? More…football. “We like to set up multiple flat screens to stream all the other conference games leading up to ours,” says TSG Little Rock Editor Shively. Live music is also an excellent way to add to the atmosphere. “TSG Jackson social media manager Laurel Donahoo pools together funds with surrounding tents to foot the bill for a live musicians for before and after the game,” says King. “That really adds a great feel to your setup.”
TSG Tip 278 from The Scout Guide Austin Editor Leigh Ann Kalman, The Scout Guide Baton Rouge Editor Rachel Ransom, The Scout Guide Little Rock Editor Valerie Shively, and The Scout Guide Jackson Editor Caroline King. Photograph by Paige Newton for The Scout Guide Austin, Volume 6, featuring Lexus of Austin and Lexus of Lakeway.