Southern belle dresses often conjure images of Scarlett O’Hara from Gone with the Wind and other characters from that film, although many forget they lived during an era in which slavery existed. History must remember this aspect.
These women were dedicated to upholding the traditions of their time. Although modern fashion may no longer feature notable key fashion features like hoop skirt gowns or sinching corsets, there are still various ways to honor Belles of the olden days.
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1. Large Hooped Skirts
Southern belle dresses feature large hooped skirts, or crinolines as they were commonly known that give their dresses their classic fairy-tale appearance. Although these traditional petticoats date back centuries, modern southern belles have seen significant evolution, still carrying on traditions passed down through mothers and grandmothers but becoming more independent over time.
Hoop skirts first became fashionable during the 1860s, shortly after spring steel’s invention. Women found comfort wearing it; its flexible spring steel allowed them to move more freely without feeling restricted by traditional baleen and horsehair dresses of that period. Hoop skirts became widely worn, often featuring elaborate embellishments such as lace draping or bows on the hoop.
These undergarments were controversial. Critics from both press and ministers condemned them for being impractical and dangerous in areas with fire or flame, yet many women wore them anyway (Mary Todd Lincoln’s dressmaker Elizabeth Keckley being one such former slave), perhaps as an act of cultural resistance against oppressive white society. Some scholars argue this is symbolic.
2. Caged Cincoline
Women of the antebellum South were committed to upholding Southern tradition, making a large hooped skirt an integral part of daily attire. Starting their day by donning stockings and long chemise, then layering multiple petticoats until reaching the desired effect; often, this was supplemented with caged crinolines, which served to lighten their weight; the final look would often include accessorizing with a bonnet hat and jewelry for an accented finish.
Today’s modern southern belle still wears pearls but has forsaken her caged crinoline in favor of more practical attire. While she remains career-driven, she still displays traditional Southern traits through her soft drawl and her affinity for wearing conventional dresses to special events like debutant balls.
Blouses are among the most fashionable pieces of clothing you can wear to channel Southern Belle vibes. Constructed from various fabrics such as silk or cotton, blouses come with different necklines ranging from the classic poet shirt blouse to reverse, Peter pan, or revere collar styles for maximum impact.
Popular blouse designs feature ruffles and ridges to resemble traditional southern dresses and gowns. These versatile pieces can be worn alone or paired with skirts to form an ensemble; sleeve, 3/4 length sleeve, or even sleeveless styles can be manufactured for different occasions.
If you want to channel your inner southern belle, make an effort to exude charm and femininity through your mannerisms, appearance, and speech. Be kind and welcoming towards others to cultivate the persona of an authentic Southern belle! Join local groups that hold traditional events like horse Derbys, tea parties, or debutant balls where these activities take place to experience being a genuine southern belle!
4. Hoop Skirts
Hoop skirts were an iconic element of southern belle dresses known as panniers in France. While cage crinolines were only affordable to upper classes, hoopskirts became more affordable over time, and soon, women from all income levels began donning them, thus causing social change across society, from carriage styles to tables with railings installed to protect from being knocked over by women with gyrating skirts, their popularity caused quite an impactful transformation.
Hoop skirts may no longer be as widely worn, but they still serve a purpose when used appropriately, such as for under very full-skirted wedding gowns. Hoop skirts also remain essential parts of living history costuming. Extraordinary Alterations in Anoka County, MN, offers personalized assistance when finding the ideal hoop to accompany any dress!
Southern belles represent various ideals, including innocence and purity, so their dresses typically represent these ideals. Their dresses tend to be long, flowy, and light-colored – to embody this style, try dressing in pastel colors or white, wearing pearls as an embellishment on elbow-length gloves to complete the look – for best results, attend one of many classic social events that continue today such as horse races or debutant balls –
Ribbons are an integral component of southern belle dresses. Made of materials such as paper and synthetic fibers, ribbons come in various colors and textures and may even feature printed designs, words, or symbols woven directly onto them for decoration or sewing onto clothing projects. Ribbons can now be incorporated into wedding gowns as decorations, as well as handmade clothes, to add elegance. It comes in many styles ranging from grosgrain ribbon with its distinctive ridges to delicate lace ribbon for crafting projects and more!
Southern belles today may no longer wear large hooped skirts and caged crinolines, yet they still carry on traditions associated with being Southern belles. While career-minded and independent, they also love dressing up for events such as horse races, inauguration balls, and high tea.
Two Cumberland offers an assortment of Southern boutique clothing items to help you create your own modernized Southern Belle signature look. Be sure to accessorize with pearls or dainty hats to stand out truly.