This article is part of Texas Monthly’s special fiftieth-anniversary issue. Read about the other icons that have defined Texas since 1973.

Lynn Wyatt is the queen of the grand entrance. As the 87-year-old philanthropist and style icon gracefully descends the curved staircase of her Houston home in a leopard-print blouse, brown suede pants, and leather-tasseled four-inch-high heels, it’s easy to imagine her wearing a couture gown and welcoming guests to one of the many soirees and themed dinners she’s hosted over the past six decades. Today, though, the occasion is a simple afternoon tea. 

She leads the way into an inviting sitting room warmed by shades of dark yellow and velvety green. “Tea” is sometimes Wyatt-speak for champagne and popcorn, one of her favorite combinations, but on this particular day, tea means tea, served in delicate gold-rimmed cups accompanied by “LSW” monogrammed napkins. The S stands for her maiden name, Sakowitz, which many Texans remember as the eponym of the department store empire her Ukrainian grandfather and great-uncle founded in Galveston in 1902 and expanded to Houston, where it defined luxury shopping for decades. She acquired the W sixty years ago, when she married oil magnate Oscar Wyatt. They’ve lived in this River Oaks home since 1999. It’s just a few blocks away from their former residence, the much larger estate known as the Wyatt Hyatt because of the many overnight guests they hosted, including Truman Capote, Mick Jagger, and Princess Margaret.

She settles into an armchair and begins leafing through printouts of articles written about her over the years. She reads a few segments aloud, interjecting the occasional “That’s true” or “I remember that” and laughing softly. A mention of Grace Kelly leads her to recount the time she arrived at a party thrown in Monaco by her close friend, then the country’s princess, only to find that she was wearing the same Dior outfit as her royal host. Wyatt left the dinner, changed clothes, and returned. Mostly, though, a slow “Mmm,
mmm, mmm” peppers her side of the conversation, serving both as a pause and as a way to connote that there’s a good story there, but she’s not going to tell it. At least not today.

While she sips her tea, rays of the late-day sun apply a halo-like filter to her blond hair, and she patiently entertains questions related to her sartorial legacy. What are some of her all-time favorite gowns? How would she define Texas style? She answers both with a variation of “Oh, I never think about it,” a refusal sweetened by her bourbon drawl—she sounds like a Southern Lauren Bacall. What advice would she give to younger Texans trying to find their own style? “Just be yourself,” she says, in a way that makes clear this has never been a problem for her. She steers the discussion instead toward what she’s grateful for, from her husband, who suffered a stroke in 2008 and is now 98 (“He’s the love of my life”), to her home (“I’m happy as a clam here”).

After their wedding, in 1963, the Wyatts spent more than 35 years throwing glamorous parties at the Wyatt Hyatt and at their villa in the South of France. The world had never seen anyone quite like Lynn Wyatt before: a Texan who not only refused to tone down her accent but reveled in it, while wearing haute couture and hobnobbing with the rich and the royal as if she were at a backyard barbecue. The department store heiress helped put Houston on the global style map, and silenced any doubters when she began making the International Best-Dressed List in 1973 and then became a Hall of Fame inductee four years later. She’s always been smart with the press, gracing the fashion and society pages of countless magazines and newspapers, which have long noted her impeccable style and her generous giving, especially to the arts and medical research. (Vanity Fair once declared her “the Best Little Socialite in Texas”; this magazine named her “Socialite of the Century” in 1999.) 

Recently cited as a muse for the lauded contemporary designer Brandon Maxwell, Wyatt still steals the spotlight when she’s out on the town, whether at a fundraiser or over dinner with the rapper Bun B. In the past few months, she’s been photographed celebrating the opening night of the Mercury orchestra at the Wortham Theater Center and hitting the dance floor at the resurrection of South Beach, the beloved gay club in Montrose. But home is where she’s happiest these days, and it’s easy to see why.

Photos and mementos are everywhere: images of Oscar, of her four sons and two grandchildren, of dear pals such as Sir Elton John, and of Lynn herself—looking fabulous, always—through the years. She puts down her teacup and walks through her bar area, which is decorated with signed love-themed prints that the late Yves Saint Laurent sent her each New Year’s (she auctioned off some of them in 2016 to raise money for the renovation of the Rothko Chapel). She picks up a framed copy of lyrics she wrote for Oscar on his seventy-fifth birthday and, without hesitation, begins sweetly singing them to the tune of Cole Porter’s “You’re the Top”: “You’re the top / You’re the birthday big toy / You’re the top / You’re my Texas cowboy.” 

She shows off her famed leopard-print powder room, which is decked out in books and images by the German photographer Helmut Newton, including portraits he took of Wyatt in an oil field outside Houston in the mid-eighties—part of a series on “Texas Powerhouses” that ran in Texas Monthly. She then heads into another living room, where the eye heads straight for two Andy Warhol portraits of her, hanging side by side. She notes that he actually painted four. “He says, ‘You don’t want the other two?’ And I said, ‘No,’ and he said, ‘Well, why not?’ And I said, ‘Because I don’t think I can live with four Lynn Wyatts in my house.’ ” She laughs heartily at her punch line.

Although she’s accommodating and gracious when asked to reflect on her past, she gets most animated when the tea ends and the conversation turns to the construction of the $29 million Lynn Wyatt Square for the Performing Arts, a city block’s worth of green space that will connect Jones Hall, the Alley Theatre, and the Bayou Music Center. Wyatt donated $10 million to the project, which will replace the old plaza, long considered an eyesore. “I started crying when they showed me the plans,” she says. “I told them, ‘Listen, I’m an old lady—get with it.’ ” Set to open this spring, it’s billed as a gateway to the Theater District. Lynn Wyatt’s latest grand entrance, if you will.

This article originally appeared in the February 2023 issue of Texas Monthly with the headline “Still the Best Little Socialite in Texas.” Subscribe today.