Feminist History of the Pussy Bow


The pussy bow – a large floppy bow attached to the neck of a blouse or tied around the collar – is my all-time favorite fashion accessory. And nobody rocked the pussy bow better than one of my personal fashion icons, Blair Waldorf (exhibit A and B).

Yesterday, I uncovered an amazing PBS documentary on the history of modern feminism — Makers: Women Who Make America. This 3-part series is amazing and inspiring, and I was surprised to learn an interesting little history of my favorite accessory.


In the 1980s, as women entered the executive world of business, and with no female examples to turn to, they interpreted the male dress codes and standards that surrounded them. The pussy bow was the female equivalent of the bow tie or neck tie. It was their attempt to be feminine while still fitting into a male world. 


For so many reasons I particularly related to this little history of the pussy bow. Just the other day my appearance and the way I dress came up in conversation with my advisor and some other faculty members. Because they only want the best for me, they mentioned that sometimes I can dress too feminine and that this femininity might diminish my academic achievements and how seriously I am taken as a scholar. Of course my department embraces my fashion sense and they have never underestimated me because it, but that doesn’t mean it won’t be a problem elsewhere. I know they only bring it up so I can be prepared. As an attractive, feminine, and petite woman I have to be aware of how my appearance will affect my career (how willing I am to change because of this is another story).


While I appreciate having an open dialogue about it, I still get so ragey when I think about the politics of dressing for women. In one sentence I am praised for how well I did on my comprehensive exams and awarded the honor of distinction, and in the other sentence I am cautioned against being too feminine and fashionable. The idea that one of these negates the other is still very prevalent in our society. Of course a man would rarely have to worry about this. Is it even possible for a man to dress too masculine? 


This, ladies, is why feminism still matters and why I will continue to rock my pussy bow with pride! Not only because I like it and want to be fashionable, but also as a thank you to all the amazing women who came before me and made my career and way of life possible. We still have to fight the good fight, but as this wonderful documentary shows, we have come a long way!


You can watch all three parts of the documentary free on PBS’s website: part one || part two || part three


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