Southern belle

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This article is about the archetype. For other uses, see Southern Belle (disambiguation).
Cover illustration of Harper's Weekly, September 7, 1861 showing a stereotypical Southern belle

The Southern belle (derived from the French word belle, 'beautiful') is a stock character[1] representing a young woman of the American Deep South's upper socioeconomic class.


The image of the Southern belle developed in the South during the so-called "antebellum" era. It was based on the young, unmarried woman in the plantation-owning upper class of Southern society.[2]

Sallie Ward, a Southern belle.


The image of a Southern belle is often characterized by fashion elements such as a hoop skirt, a corset, pantalettes, a wide-brimmed straw hat, and gloves. As signs of tanning were considered working-class and unfashionable during this era, parasols and fans are also often represented.[2]

Southern belles were expected to marry respectable young men, and become ladies of society dedicated to the family and community.[2] The "Southern belle" archetype is characterized by Southern hospitality, a cultivation of beauty, and a flirtatious yet chaste demeanor.[3]

For example, Sallie Ward, who was born into the Southern aristocracy of Kentucky in the Antebellum South, was called a "Southern belle".[4]


The Southern belle archetype has been criticized as part of an overall idealization of the American South in popular culture.[5][6] Slavery figured strongly into the region's economy during the plantation era. In turn, the image of the idyllic Southern plantation is considered by many to be insensitive to the plight of slaves.[7]

In popular culture[edit]

During the early 20th century, the release of the film Gone with the Wind popularized the image of the Southern belle.

Southern belles have also been featured in A Streetcar Named Desire, The Glass Menagerie, Jezebel, Fried Green Tomatoes, Wacky Races, Steel Magnolias, and Sweet Home Alabama.

Dick Pope, Sr., famed promoter of Florida tourism, played an important role in popularizing the archetypal image.[8] Hostesses at his famed Cypress Gardens were portrayed as Southern belles in promotional materials for the theme park.[9]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Southern belle". TV 
  2. ^ a b c "History Engine: Tools for Collaborative Education and Research | Episodes". Retrieved September 26, 2013. 
  3. ^ "Anatomy of a Southern Belle | Deep South Magazine – Southern Food, Travel & Lit". June 2, 2011. Retrieved September 26, 2013. 
  4. ^ Clark, Thomas D. (2015). The Kentucky. Lexington, Kentucky: University Press of Kentucky. pp. 238–255. 
  5. ^ Biddle, Sam (October 17, 2014). "The 'Southern Belle' is a Racist Fiction". Gawker. 
  6. ^ Boyd, Elizabeth (August 21, 2015). "Remove the Southern belle from her inglorious perch". The Washington Post. 
  7. ^ Cox, Karen L. "The Ongoing Allure of the Antebellum South". Pop South. 
  8. ^ APPublished: January 30, 1988 (January 30, 1988). "Richard Downing Pope, 87, Dies; Promoter of Florida and Tourism - New York Times". Retrieved September 26, 2013. 
  9. ^ The Lakeland Ledger, January 29, 1988. Vol. 82 No.99 Pg11A

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