Calling All Steel Magnolias: Come Out From Behind Your Ruffles

sent this to me from her store, telling me it made her think of Bozo. Which is a reaction I completely understand, but don't share — this dress makes me think of a particular kind of woman who is all ruffles and sweetness on the outside, but inside is made of pure Kevlar, reinforced with carbon steel.

You know the type, I'm sure — they're a staple of soaps both day- and night-time — pretty, frail, completely ruthless. They (or their costume designers) like pastels, ruffles, bows, matching bags and shoes … and, occasionally, for a change of pace, red negligeés. The storylines write themselves.

Now, don't get me wrong; I'm not saying that you can't look pretty and have power. Quite the opposite. What I'm saying is that you shouldn't use looking pretty to pretend you DON'T have power … while wielding the equivalent of a ten-megaton bomb. If you can make or break multinational corporations and destabilize smaller republics while trying on marabou slides in the shoe lounge at Saks, fine. Just don't put on a "little ol' me? I don't have two brain cells to rub together!" act while doing it.

I see less and less of the "little ol' me?" act these days, and that's encouraging. Because it's only by acknowledging that, yes, in fact, you DO have power, that you can accomplish things directly, that you can say "Do this because I said so," that the game will change so that direct power, wielded by women, becomes an everyday occurrence. When people ask "How did she make that happen?" and are interested in the actual work, and not any purported relationships of the woman in question, the world will be safe for ruffles as ruffles, and not as camouflage netting over machine-gun emplacements.

And, as someone who likes both ruffles *and* running the show, and makes no secret of either, I'm hoping that day comes sooner, rather than later.

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0 thoughts on “Calling All Steel Magnolias: Come Out From Behind Your Ruffles

  1. What a timely post. Just yesterday my co-workers and I had a discussion about women and power. Xena never got all coquetish– unless she was plotting to turn the tide in a very dramatic, Amazonian way.We have a co-worker who pulls the “poor little me” card out on men, then tries to be all alpha female on the rest of us. We have no part of it. Own your power, girly girl- or be forever dismissed by the rest of us!

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  2. This reminds me of the evil homeschool co-op director who had the audacity to tell me that my 15yo dd would “have trouble finding a mate if she didn’t stop talking so harshly to the boys.” You can imagine the ire that this invoked in me. My response was that my dd has two brothers and lives in a neighborhood of boys and, since all the kids in her co-op class were boys, I was glad to see that she would stand up for herself against them. And that if anyone would have trouble finding a mate, it’d be me — and I’ve been married 20 years.And then I yanked her outta that co-op so fast the director’s eyes bugged out.Steel magnolia — that’s exactly what my dd is. And good for her for being one.

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  3. I think the dress need a collar or something. I like ruffles, but this dress looks a little strange. I can’t put my finger on it.

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  4. Oh, hear, hear! Erin, may I polish your ruffles, Ma’am? There’s a 70s-era British SF show that’s not easy to find; I fell into it on BBC one year, and it was wonderful. The Anti-Hero was female, and totally owned her power. She started out as the “villain,” but nowadays, I think there are people who’d see her role differently. As it was, she was strong enough to be plausible as the villain, which shows some respect right there. So if you ever come across some ancient videos of “Blake’s 7,” enjoy them!Lisa, and when ALL the girls stand up for themselves, the boys will either choose amongst those girls, each other, or a life of singleness. Pretty simple, really.

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  5. SERVALAN!!!!!!!!!!!!!WOOT!Oh back to the here and now,I was also recently thinking about the ‘poor lil oh me’ type females I worked with in the 80’s and early 90’s and am so glad they are becoming an extinct species.

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  6. Something is wrong with the sleeves. Are they SUPPOSED to be 3/4? They look like full sleeves just drawn short. How would you bend your arm in that cuff?

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  7. Yes, but why does this pattern say “La Nouvelle Vague” on in French? I think that means “New Wave”, and wasn’t that some school of film making in the late sixties in France and Europe? Is the character on the pattern envelope meant to look like a heroine in a Nouvelle Vague film?

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  8. I’m a big fan of the new vagueness.Wasn’t it Bill Blass who said he didn’t like ruffles because they were so redundant?My tough-as-nails but delicate appearing Southern paternal grandmother wasn’t the ruffle-type. She was more of a brooch-type.This was a woman who served pie at every meal, and when I asked her if she had any cookbooks, she looked a little stunned, and said “I don’t need recipes, I know how to make anything!” She made every meal from scratch!And all this – without ruffles!

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  9. great post; but please. can we just euthanize this dress? it looks like an apron spit up all over the poor woman’s front.sincerely,thorn

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  10. I must second Shannon Stoney (and anonymous); no French woman, in a Godard film or not, would be caught dead in such a dress. Methinks La Nouvelle Blague would be a better title.

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  11. The bib effect on the front is a bit off somehow. I’m not entirely sure the dress is to blame tho, since the models are exaggerated even for a pattern illustration.It occurs to me that a medium scale polka dot for the body, a small scale polka dot for some of the ruffles, and a solid for other ruffles could look rather good. Trim edges with contrasting ribbon. The black and white versions shown are a little austere. It may be the dress needs *more* ruffles to balance properly.

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  12. Feminism: everybody still seems to need more of it.As for the ruffles: Emily has come very close to describing this dress so that it makes sense, which I think is quite an accomplishment on her part! Could the REAL problem with the pattern be that Advance’s ill-named “nouvelle vague” line was sponsored by Celanese, a Texas-based maker of chemicals and artificial fibres? (If you click on the photo, you’ll see that Celanese fabrics are the first recommendations.) With that in mind, the ruffles take on a sort-of “polyester cowgirl” air–not that “polyester cowgirl” is ALWAYS a bad look, but I think it most successful when ironic…

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  13. Great post, Erin. I’ve worked with that type too and find them incredibly annoying. I have no problem with strong personalities–I like them, in fact–but don’t pull the “poor dumb me” crap.As for the dress, it’s the shape of the yoke–that elongated “u”–that makes the dress look “off”. It looks too much like a baby’s bib. If the shape were changes to a semi-circle or something along those lines, the dress and its ruffles would look much better.

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  14. DD is taking community college classes now. Her history prof is a sexist pig, and allows the boys — who sit opposite the girls in the room, as though a line was drawn down the middle — to make disparaging remarks about the girls. I told dd that all she needed to do was to just go and sit among them. Not say anything, just sit there and grab her power.Couldn’t talk her into it, but hopefully she understood what I was saying. I hate girls being pushed around by boys, just because of the gene pool.

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  15. This was a prevalent attitude when I was a young girl, but it was different in the south. You could be soft and feminine, but were expected to buckle down and take care of things if life got rough. Maybe it’s because the women in my family were strong for the most part, except for my mother who had to learn the hard way! I will admit to batting my big green eyes at guys to get things done–but I never really like getting greasy! I’ve always been a lady and expect to make my own way, so do my daughters.

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  16. Lisa, these kids are in college and are still “boys and girls”? That is seriously strange. Most have gotten over that by the time they’re out of junior high.And your daughter should report the instructor or start making snarky remarks. Out loud. During lecture. I’ve done both.

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  17. DD said that an “older lady” aka “40 or so” called the prof out in class, and told her that she wouldn’t be treated as though she was stupid. He backed down, and she got all kind of extra credit points after that.She and her friend are thinking about filing a grievance against him.

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  18. ok.. a more petite ruffle and its a go for me. love this post. and…La Belladonna… might I ask if you know a Jamie and Claire Fraser?

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  19. Erin, I love the dress only because it evoked such a great blog from you. Otherwise, it make me think of a wimple with ruffles. I forget which order of nuns had an elongated oval wimple-bib; imagining them with a ruffle around them makes me laugh hard enough to get my knuckles smacked with a ruler.

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  20. Ooo…y’all pull those claws back in. As a born and bred, American by birth, Southern by the Grace of God woman of a certain age I can tell you without qualm that no self-respecting Southern woman would wear that …tacky misrepresentation of ruffles. In fact, ruffles have not been in style for at least a century because most southern women work with their hands and ruffles just get in their way. And please don’t sully the late American textile industry by besmirching Celanese. It is one of the corporations which helped to make our country great by providing jobs for men and women in the past mid-century. Only since 2005 has it been a publicly traded world-wide company. I remember driving past the Celanese plant in Rock Hill, SC delighting in the lights at night, seeing the tall steam towers and glass-walled factories, knowing that my friends’ fathers worked there. As for steel magnolias, we are just women who know how to persuade without bitchiness, to grieve stoically, to seduce without exposing too much skin, and to make anyone feel comfortable in most any situation. We suffer in silence, stand together in grief and joy, and hold together families. There. I think I’ve “faulknered” enough. Perhaps these are just the wishful ramblings of transplanted southern belle. Y’all have a wonderful weekend. I hope it’s pretty where you are, but if you’re in the storm path, please know that I’ll be praying for you.

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  21. Thank you, “ihaveanidea”, that was a beautiful definition of a steel magnolia. You’ve practically written a thesis on the late 20th century South in your three paragraphs. Textiles, indeed. I have never seen faulkner used as a verb, but am now in favor of it because it describes what you said so well. And we were in the storm path last night, but there are still a lot of azaleas hanging on out there today, and the magnolia by my office is still standing very straight and tall. Dawn

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  22. I immediately thought of clowns when I saw this dress, too. And why do the ruffles end and overlap at the bottom of the yoke? Is that to help them lie flat or something? I don’t get it. It makes a distracting dress look even more distracting.

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  23. I just had to leave a comment to say that I LOVE everything about this blog post, perhaps especially the comments. The admonition to own your power! The intelligent critique of the dress! The humorous descriptions of the yoke! The faulknering from Ihaveanidea! Awesomeness!For the record, while I don’t have an educated opinion about why this dress doesn’t work, my visceral reaction is, ugh.

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  24. Great post and comments, I agree! But doesn’t that black dress with white trimmings look just the thing for an Elegant Gothic Lolita?

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  25. I love ruffles as much as the next girl but this does seem a bit OTT even for me. Definitely keep it for the children however I do quite like the skirt on those dresses though. Girls who play that horrible “oh woe me” just irk me, honestly stand up show your claws and take your power. I’m the only girl in my computer class and loving it. I was a little nervous but have managed to hold my own. No sense in playing straight into gender stereotypes then wailing about “equality”. It’s an odd world.

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  26. Goodness, those ruffles bring out the ruthlessness in me! That’s surely one for the shredder, Erin.Oh La BellaDonna, you weren’t talking about Margaret Thatcher there, were you? Looked something like a villain to a whole lotta people over here in Britain in the late seventies and eighties – not exactly the doyenne of a lot of feminists of the time, though she certainly owned her power alright. Good subject, female power. I’m rather saddened that young women (well, in Britain anyway) are so busy embracing post-modernism that they appear to want to distance themselves from feminism (react like it’s a dirty word, or a bad smell). Better stop here as you all need a Monday morning women’s studies lecture like a hole in the head. Have a good week, everyone!

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  27. Hoorah for the idea! A world where we aren’t judged on our appearance. I’m a “big girl” and most people make the mistake of thinking I’m dumb. That is usually their downfall. But boy is it tiring dealing with the foolishness.However the dress for the dress’s sake just screams!”Take me out to dinner sweetie. I’ve already got my lobster bib on!”

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  28. Thanks for this post, Erin, and thanks for raising a boy. Got two girls, myself, but I’m doing my part with them in a neighborhood full of boys and feminists.

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