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Southern Belle is a subculture common in the American South which is associated with upper class white women.

History

The Southern Belle came about in the mid-19th century among the Southern plantation class. These women were the daughters of wealthy landowners who lived lives of leisure due to the fact that their families owned slaves. When they grew up, they married other wealthy landowners, forming a network of families with shared values who controlled society and politics.

The American Civil War put an end to the Southern Belle - without slaves, the lifestyle could not continue. The cost of rebuilding plantations destroyed during the war was immense, due to economic inflation. Many families relocated to England, marrying into the British aristocracy and European nobility. Those that remained in the South struggled but clung to their roots - their family names.

The modern Southern Belle might have her own career, but domestic skills like cooking and hosting parties are considered valuable ones. After marriage, she might quit her job to become a stay-at-home mother. She might distance herself from negative stereotypes by embracing Americana style Southern Pride rather than Confederacy style Southern Pride. There is some crossover with the Tradwife movement, evidenced in the desire to please her husband and reflect well on him.

There is also the Black Southern Belle, a Black upper class woman who values Black history and tradition. She is a supporter of Black owned businesses, and the preservation of Black history. She may be a graduate of a HBC (Historically Black College) and/or a member of the Black Sorority, Alpha Kappa Alpha.

Criticism

The issue with the appreciation and romanticization of the Antebellum South is of course the issue of how they received their wealth: chattel slavery. The plantation homes, elaborate dresses, and bounty of food were all produced by slaves, who were abused, killed, and dehumanized for the sake of enriching the white slave-owning class.

People who are able to gloss over this aspect often are oblivious or willfully ignorant of the horrors of slavery. This continues racism present in this day, as understanding the history of the South explains why Black Americans continue to be disenfranchised in contemporary society.

Aesthetic appreciation for Antebellum Southern society is also one of the ways modern Confederate supporters encourage sympathy for the "Lost Cause."

Visuals

  • Big, poofy dresses
  • Large hats
  • Parasols
  • Large plantation houses
  • Immense lawns
  • Brightly colored flowers
  • Peaches
  • Cotton fields
  • Spanish moss

Values

  • (Christian) Faith
  • Community
  • Family
  • Femininity
  • Hospitality
  • Material wealth
  • Tradition

Fashion

The 19th century Southern Belle wore huge poofy dresses stretched out over hoopskirts or crinolines. Nowadays this is worn only as a costume for a Founder's Day parade or history related special event.

  • pearl stud earrings
  • pearl necklaces
  • gold lockets
  • large straw hats
  • floral print dresses (Lilly Pulitzer is a popular brand)
  • tea length dresses in pastel colors
  • eyelet lace dresses

Stores

Media

Literature

  • "Désirée's Baby" by Kate Chopin
  • Gone with the Wind by Margaret Mitchell

Movies

  • Gone with the Wind (1939)
  • Jezebel (1938)
  • Sweet Home Alabama (2002)
  • The Beguiled (2017)
  • The Fox Hunter (2020)
  • The Notebook (2004)
  • The Princess and the Frog (2009)

TV Shows

  • Hart of Dixie (2011-2015)
  • Mercy Street (2016-2017)
  • Southern Charm (2013-)
  • True Blood (2008-2014)


Gallery

Resources

Books

  • A Southern Belle Primer by Maryln Schwartz
  • Some Day You'll Thank Me for This by Gayden Metcalfe and Charlotte Hays
  • Suck Your Stomach in and Put Some Color On! by Shellie Rushing Tomlinson
  • Whiskey in a Teacup by Reese Witherspoon
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