The TV host talks about learning style lessons from her Southern mom and the items she wishes she'd stolen

No matter how long you’ve been out of the house or how successful you get, you’re never too old for your mom to not weigh in on your outfits. Just ask TV host and award-winning journalist Tamron Hall, who would field her mom’s thoughts even while on-air during her former job at the Today Show.

“I’d occasionally get a message from a viewer saying ‘Why do you look down at your phone?’ and I said, ‘Truthfully, waiting for my mother’s critique,’ Hall tells People, laughing. “‘Miss Hall, I don’t like that lipstick,’ ‘Miss Hall, that’s a great dress, ‘Miss Hall is that new?’ I [once] had a dress I thought was very cute, and I wore it one morning. I couldn’t even get off air [before] my mother says ‘Don’t you ever wear that dress again!’ And then you’re torn: Will I donate this ugly dress to someone?”

But there’s a reason that Hall trusts those critiques: Her mom, Mary Newton, has long been a style influence of hers, and it started with church on Sundays. “A lot of women in my neighborhood worked at the post office or were teachers or worked at hospitals, and often wore uniforms Monday through Friday. And the Sunday church service gave them this opportunity to show their individual fashion,” Hall says. “And for me, that’s where it all came together. That’s when I could look at my mom and say, not only was this an incredible mom Monday through Saturday, but on Sunday she was fierce.” Tamron Hall
Credit: Courtesy Tamron Hall

Hall also notes that her mom managed to look phenomenal on a tight budget – something she really takes to heart, even now that her job affords her designer items. “My mom was a working mom and at one point a single working mom. So she did not have an elaborate closet by any imagination. But you know, she worked with what she had,” she said. “For my mom, there was no ‘high/low’ [when you mix designer items with lower-priced pieces]. There was ‘low/low,’ and you were going to make it work. My prom dress was made by hand from a pattern book that she got in the dollar store. It wasn’t [fancy], and I’m happy it wasn’t.”

Credit: Courtesy Tamron Hall

And though she didn’t always appreciate her mom’s style (“Oh, God no! Listen, I’m a child of the ’70s, and my mom went through the short-shorts, big Afro, Soul Train thing.”) she now can look back at the ways she was influenced by Newton. “I remember taking a pair of her hoops in ninth grade, wearing those and thinking that I was super fly. And I’ve been wearing hoops ever since,” she said. “I wish she’d kept the crochet style dresses you would see in the ’70s, the platform shoes that she and my aunt would wear. That ’70s retro thing – I am now into without even realizing it.”

In addition to her love of hoops, Hall says she also inherited from her mom a disinclination to spend much on jewelry, a love of color and an affinity for hats. “I never had a chance to meet my grandmother; we only have two photographs of her, and one is a grainy, blurry image, but she has a hat on. And to see my mother take on that hat tradition – and then without even knowing, I suddenly look in my own closet, and I have way too many hats. That’s also a special fashion connection that I didn’t see coming, but it is from my grandmother Mary, passed on to my mother Mary, and now passed onto me.” Tamron Hall
Credit: Courtesy Tamron Hall

The secret to pulling off a hat? “When you put the hat on, you cannot let the hat wear you. You’ve got to wear that hat,” Hall says. “The fashion culture that I come from wasn’t one of designer labels … it was how you strutted in the church. It was that kind of, what we call now swagger.”

It’s also that intangible element that keeps her mom looking youthful and vibrant in anything she wears. “She’s 68 years old and she looks phenomenal. People come up all the time: ‘Are you sure that’s your mom?’ When I see a photograph of my mother – you can see a hat, you can see beautiful clothing and bright colors, all of these things – but I see, and I think the people who know her, see that twinkle in her eye. That loving energy that she has.” Tamron Hall
Credit: Courtesy Tamron Hall

And though Hall is happy to treat her mom to a fancy handbag or nice jewelry these days, she says it’s not about that for her mom, even still. “My mom is like most mothers. She never asks for anything. She’s happy to see me be happy, that’s her gift,” Hall says. “You can look at my life now and any other celebrity and you think ‘Wow, look at the fashion’. But most of us were raised by women like my mother, who scraped and fought to get us to where we are. And the style that you see, the confidence that we can portray in photographs, that is something that’s given to us by our mothers. That’s something that’s delivered to us by them nurturing our spirit.”