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 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 Antebellum Period. It was based on the young, unmarried woman in the plantation-owning upper class of Southern society.[1]


The image of a Southern belle is often characterized by antebellum 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, parasol umbrellas and hand fans are also often represented.[1]

Southern belles were expected to marry respectable young men, and become ladies of society dedicated to the family and community.[1]The "Southern belle" archetype is characterized by Southern hospitality, a cultivation of beauty, and a flirtatious yet chaste demeanor.[2]

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, Steel Magnolias, and Sweet Home Alabama.

While the term is commonly used to indicate positive characteristics, it's not without controversy, with claims that the caricature could only exist in the context of a system of slavery that allowed it. Sam Biddle wrote in a piece for Gawker that:

Praising the loyalty and generosity of the Southern Belle is about as cheery as celebrating the camaraderie of the Hitler Youth, the fresh air of the Trail of Tears, or the cardiovascular benefits of the Bataan Death March. You can find something fun in any horror of history! And the Belles of today do exactly that—if you bring up slavery, they'll point to all the nice parts about the Old South. The architecture, the parties, the sipping of cool drinks on warm porches. Oh, the fields? Those fields are just for growing delicious strawberries and tomatoes for folks to enjoy. Nothing more.

Every perk and beautiful part of white plantation life was created through black slavery. If Belles were patient and gracious, it's because forced black labor enabled it. If the Southern life was pretty and sophisticated, it's because slavery afforded it. Everything pleasant about Belle-hood was a function of human suffering on a vast scale—it's conceptually impossible to separate the society bankrolled by slavery from the slavery itself. [3]

Dick Pope, Sr., famed promoter of Florida tourism, played an important role in popularizing the archetypal image.[4] Hostesses at his famed Cypress Gardens were portrayed as Southern belles in promotional materials for the theme park.[5]


  1. ^ a b c "History Engine: Tools for Collaborative Education and Research | Episodes". Retrieved September 26, 2013. 
  2. ^ "Anatomy of a Southern Belle | Deep South Magazine – Southern Food, Travel & Lit". June 2, 2011. Retrieved September 26, 2013. 
  3. ^ Biddle, Sam (Oct 14, 2014). "The "Southern Belle" Is a Racist Fiction". Gawker. Retrieved Nov 6, 2014. 
  4. ^ APPublished: January 30, 1988 (January 30, 1988). "Richard Downing Pope, 87, Dies; Promoter of Florida and Tourism - New York Times". Retrieved September 26, 2013. 
  5. ^ The Lakeland Ledger, January 29, 1988. Vol. 82 No.99 Pg11A

See also[edit]

External links[edit]