Pussy Bow Pleases Feminists

Pussy bows are oversized bows tied around the neck of a blouse and have gained popularity recently, linked to feminist power.

Women’s rights and sexism have come to the forefront of national news, in large part due to the presidential race. The two major candidates are seemingly polar opposites on the feminism spectrum this year. Hillary Clinton will potentially be the first female president of the United States, while controversies surround Donald Trump due to sexist comments both past and present. The Washington Post released a video of him lewdly commenting on women with “Today” show host Billy Bush. The video’s most memorable comment? “Grab them by the pussy.”

Ironically, at the second presidential debate just days after the controversy began, Melania Trump chose to wear a pussy bow. Now, people are wondering whether this is a meaningless choice, an abstract way to support her husband or a subtle nod to the garment’s feminist history.

Pussy bows, oversized bows tied at the neck of a blouse, have gone in and out of style since they first became popular in the 1930s. “Pussy bow” is a shortened version of “pussycat bow,” a term the St. Petersburg Times coined in a 1934 pattern for an Anne Adams dress. One of the ways the collar could be worn was “an intriguingly feminine pussy cat bow tied high under your chin.” The bows became popular as fashion statements and spins on vintage looks.

In the 1970s and 1980s, pussy bows took on a more feminist connotation. Women in the workplace began using them as a statement of power. Women were working their way up in the corporate ladder and the world at large, and they were trying to show that femininity could be strong.

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The bows became popular again in 2015, raising debate over whether the look is truly feminist. While pussy bow wearers see it as a statement of power and equality, critics think wearing a blouse with this feature is submitting to an oppressive, sexist culture with a particular view of how a woman should act and dress. Despite criticism each time the look reemerges, designers like Tory Burch and Alice + Olivia have included it in recent collections.

Ultimately, the decision to wear a pussy bow should be up to the individual. Those who rock them proudly to display feminism can continue finding strength in this way, but this style, especially today, is not mandatory for anyone who has a different taste or feels uncomfortable wearing it. Melania Trump seems likely to have worn the pussy bow simply for a fashion statement, but the look’s name and history certainly make it an entertaining choice within present discussion.

Pussy bows have stayed relevant, fluctuating between on-trend and simply acceptable, for more than 80 years. It will certainly be interesting to see how this discussion-worthy look continues to evolve and break social boundaries. The pussy bows of fifth-wave feminism are sure to make today’s seem tame, as we have already come a long way from the trendsetters of the 1970s and ‘80s.

A version of this article appeared in the Monday, Oct. 31 print edition. Email Ali Webb at [email protected]

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