- Nov 26, 2016
- central NC
(Photo courtesy of Only In Your State)
When I say "Southern belle" one person inevitably comes to my mind — Scarlett O'Hara. The "Gone With the Wind" heroine has always been the classic Southern belle for me, sitting on the front porch of her family's plantation, playing coy with the Tarleton twins.
I think this image has come to define Southern belles for lots of folks and I confess I sometimes enjoy perpetuating it. But, what about today’s Southern belle – the modern one? Trust me when I say the Southern belle is still alive and well, albeit in many variations.
There is a stereotype that seems to exist that Southern women are fragile, but in fact the modern Southern belle is best known for her strength. Ask most any Southerner to describe a real Southern belle and you’ll hear, "she's no wilting daisy," "she puts people in their places without cussing or breaking a sweat" and "she stands up for herself without putting others down." I call this characteristic "grace." “Grace” defines Southern belles of the past as well as Southern women today. Of course women all across our country have long been teaching their daughters to use their voices to be heard.
While strength defines the inside of today’s modern belle, I have also noticed that fashion is helping her make an outward statement. The modern Southern belle has kicked the old rules to the curb and embraced a hybrid of elegance and grit. You’ll still see some of the old favorites like Jack Rogers sandals (yes I'm dating myself) and Lily Pulitzer dresses, but it’s just as likely you’ll see a Lily Pulitzer dress worn with a pair of cowboy boots.
While the Southern dress code for the modern belle has become more relaxed, there remains the sense that Southern women always put effort into their appearances with the goal being for it to appear effortless. Even when running out for a quick errand, we’re still schooled to take the time for a quick swipe of lipstick and maybe a pearl or two. My mother always said, "you never know who you are going to run into" and that’s still true. Of course the truth is the feeling of confidence on the inside is often made stronger when we feel comfortable with what we are projecting on the outside.
While today's modern belle has certainly progressed in terms of outlook and appearance, one tradition is still held sacred. Manners. Ask any Southern lady and you’ll hear a few tried and true rules. These include…
Never allow someone to break your spirit.
Always answer an elder with a "yes, sir" or "no, ma'am."
Always RSVP in a timely manner.
Always send a handwritten thank you note any time someone gives a gift or invites you to a social gathering.
Never show up empty-handed when someone invites you into their home. Always bring a bottle of wine or a gift for the host or hostess.
(The Washington Post)
Of course some long standing rules have waned. They include…
We used to say that white should never be worn after Labor Day or before Easter unless you are a bride. Nowadays, that’s “gone with the wind.”
We used to say that while it is completely acceptable to drink, a lady should never walk around with a drink in hand and that the drink should always be brought to her. Nowadays Southern girls order their own drinks (and often plenty of them). We’ve also gotten pretty good at making them!
In the days of Scarlett O'Hara, women were supposed to stay at home and care for their husbands and children. Nowadays…
Children attend daycare and women frequently work outside the home.
Women don’t necessarily associate happiness with marriage and children.
Wives and mothers think it's fine to dine out rather than prepare a home cooked meal every night.
Now don’t get me wrong. Southern women are traditionally caretakers (it’s in our DNA), but the difference is that these days they actually take the time to take care of themselves as well as others. That may mean the pursuit of a hobby, volunteering, focusing on a career or just taking some time to get coffee with a friend. Southern women are finding ways to put themselves first.
The Southern culture still proudly focuses around food – be that good or bad. However, just as the modern belle is evolving, so is the food she is preparing and serving. Southern women are looking for healthier alternatives to the foods they grew up eating and they’re reading more food labels than ever before. Comfort food is certainly still alive and well in the South, but the modern belle may eat a kale salad for lunch and fried chicken for supper. After all, there are some problems that only a healthy serving of homemade mac-n-cheese can solve.
Of course I have written this post in jest hoping to bring a smile to some of my CWT friends. However, it should be said that the modern Southern belle is not just one type of lady. She can be short or tall, rich or poor, married or single, or even a Northerner. Gasp! As a matter of fact she can be from anywhere. Swoon! All you need to be a belle is some grace and gentleness with a hint of fire. After all, our claim to fame is that we’re a force to be reckoned with. I’d like to think Scarlett O'Hara would agree.
So what do you think ladies? Are you a belle at heart? Gentlemen, have you encountered any belles lately? Share your thoughts @nitrofd, @Jimklag, @7th Mississippi Infantry, @John Hartwell, @Southern Unionist, @NH Civil War Gal, @grace, @Belle Montgomery, @Zella, @AshleyMel, @Karen Lips and all the rest.