Life in the Rural South · Southern Women

Beauty and the Southern Woman

When thinking of the Southern woman, I am willing to wager that for most people one of the first images that pop into mind is Scarlett O’Hara. In all her curtain bedecked, petulant beauty. She is a prime example of  one  of the main archetypes of Southern beauty-the belle. The Southern Belle to be precise.

To be a proper souther belle you, of course, have to follow certain tenents.  You must  dress in floral prints and pastels, match your purse to your shoes, and, for heaven’s sakes, do not ever emerge from the house without clean panties (what if you were in an accident? Would you want the doctor to see you in dirty drawers?) or your face on.

“Your face” is southern for makeup.

Though I admit when I was growing up I remember my Mama sending me back to my room on numerous occasions because my clothes did not match, I had a strong predilection for patterns, I do not remember a great emphasis being placed on what my Grandma called “outward adornment.”

I have been rereading through my Great-Aunt Margaret’s Memoirs as I work on this blog and I came across a passage I found fascinating.

Another attempt to be beautiful was tried one Easter Morning. It was said that if you washed your face in dew before sun-up on Easter Morn your freckles would disappear. I got up before daylight and went to the wheat field. There I had plenty of dew to wash those freckles in. It must have worked for I never had freckles after that year. 

This made me wonder, were there any other interesting beauty rituals in my family? So I asked my Mama, my Aunt Shirley, and my sister about their beauty routines as children and as adults.

The Opal Aunt Shirley refers to is her older sister. Aunt Opal is 11 years older than Aunt Shirley and once she started working, until she had children of her own, she made it a priority of hers to provide her baby sister with store-bought clothes.

Mama after listening to Aunt Shirley talk about her clothes, chimed in that the bulk of her clothes were hand-me-downs and homemade. Mama said her older sisters Joanne and Susan used to love getting boxes of clothes from their Cousin Olivia. Olivia was an only child (Very unusual for the time. Mama was 1 of 8, Aunt Shirley was 1 of 6) and her parents showered her with pretty things. Cousin Olivia’s Mama was a teacher and her Daddy worked for a local business. They had much more disposable income than either Grandpa or Aunt Shirley’s Daddy-they were both farmers. For both Mama and Aunt Shirley clothes that did not have a practical purpose were almost unheard of.

I found it intriguing that for the women of my family the beauty routines so commonly associated with the South were basically nonexistent. Much of that was due to economic necessity, as Aunt Shirley said, you counted yourself lucky if you had a tube of lipstick.

But even after time passed and they began to earn their own money-it still was not something they spent their money on.

Photo Credit: Tonynetone Beauty and the Southern Woman

2 thoughts on “Beauty and the Southern Woman

  1. I’m really enjoying your blog, Julie! The premise is great and it’s interesting for me, as a native Southern Californian, to hear viewpoints from women across the country in the South. I love that you interviewed the different generations in your family. A beauty routine seems so simple, and yet can be quite telling about a person and their lifestyle.


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