A lavallière, also called a pussycat bow, is a style of neckwear often associated with women's and girls' blouses and bodices. It takes the form of a bow tied at the neck similar to those tied around the necks of kittens and cats.
While bows at the neck had been worn since at least the 19th century, the term "pussy cat bow" took hold in the 20th century.
The lavallière in 19th century France
The lavallière is a type of cravat similar to the bow tie that was popularly worn in the 19th century in France. It is of similar fashion to the bow tie, but has a larger knot and drooping ends. The length of the scarf can be up to 1.60 metres (5.2 ft) long and is knotted in the same way as a bowtie, but forms two falling shells and two free ribbons. The name is associated with the Duchess of La Vallière (mistress of Louis XIV). It was primarily worn by women, artists, students, and intellectuals associated with the political left in 19th century France.
In 1934, the St. Petersburg Times offered a pattern for an Anne Adams dress featuring a convertible collar which could be worn in four different ways, including as "an intriguingly feminine pussy cat bow tied high under your chin." In 1947, pussy cat bows were part of the look inspired by Gibson Girls and 1890s fashions created by designers such as Omar Kiam.
Meg Whitman, the former President and Chief Executive Officer of Hewlett-Packard, explained in a documentary that women began wearing the lavallière in place of a tie when entering the workforce in the 1960s.
During the 1980s, the pussycat bow blouse became a key part of Margaret Thatcher's political image after she became Prime Minister of the United Kingdom in 1979, and became closely linked with her. Thatcher reportedly said she thought bows were "rather softening" and "pretty", and at her funeral in 2013, the then Prime Minister's wife paid tribute by wearing a pussycat bow blouse. The Thatcher look was imitated by other female politicians.
During the 2016 US presidential election, Melania Trump wore a Gucci pussy bow blouse during the second presidential debate. This caused some to question if it was deliberate, coming just two days after her husband, Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump, was revealed to have spoken of being able to "grab them (women) by the pussy" in a video clip, which gained widespread attention and condemnation. Melania Trump wore a pussycat bow when discussing cyberbullying in August 2018, renewing speculation that she was trolling her husband.
In 2018, women and men in Sweden took to wearing lavallière in support of Sara Danius, who had resigned from the Swedish Academy for her handling of the aftermath of a sexual assault incident involving Jean-Claude Arnault.
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