"The New Prettiness": The Resurgence of Traditional Femininity in Decor

"The New Prettiness": The Resurgence of Traditional Femininity in Decor

Carolyn Purnell
Feb 23, 2012

If you frequent any other decor blogs, you'll know that there's been a widespread fascination with all things pink, blush, gold, glittery, soft, and generally "feminine." Even here on Apartment Therapy, we've talked about how pleased we are to see this delicate side emerge in home decor. But whence comes this penchant for prettiness?

Don't get me wrong; I'm downright giddy to see sequins, eye-popping pinks, delicate pastels, and rococo accents in decor, but I do notice that this desire is part of a larger trend for all that is "soft," "demure," "delicate," and "feminine." (As a disclaimer, I want to emphasize that I consider the strict separation of male and female aesthetics fallacious, but this gender-based stereotype still exists, and this is part of what I'm interested in exploring.)

In the March issue of Elle, Daphne Merkin investigates the resurgence of this classical model of femininity in fashion, where '50s-influenced dresses, nipped waists, lace, and pencil skirts, are currently all the rage. She concludes that what she calls the "New Prettiness" is a response to difficult economic and political times as well as a feeling that the world is moving too quickly:

"The success of Mad Men, among other backward-looking phenomena, suggests that they also speak to some part of ourselves that doesn't want to construct a working model of femaleness from scratch each day. I can't be alone in sensing a withdrawal from embattled agendas of self-definition, especially among younger women, as well as a renewed interest in traditional modes of femininity..." (page 200).

Is the New Prettiness in decor a reversion to traditional aesthetics in an attempt to escape current cultural and social instability? And if so, can we consider it as another facet of the same push that has revived a widespread love of vintage, mid-century modern, and DIY?

It does seem that many trends right now are historically oriented, and Merkin makes some excellent points, but I'm somewhat uncomfortable with describing this "resurgence of the feminine" as an avoidance of creating new female identities. While I don't deny that nostalgia often results from a troubling present, reading many fashion and design blogs has, if anything, convinced me that this trend isn't a simple appropriation of old modes of femininity. Many of the same bloggers who rejoice in pink and frills also delight in leather accents, natural history objects, and dark, "masculine" wall colors. The New Prettiness has arrived alongside a new, eclectic ethos that valorizes creativity and vibrancy just as much as softness and tradition.

There is an unashamedness to the New Prettiness that I really admire. To my mind, women in the past have often had to choose between being the traditional, pretty woman and the modern, hard-edged female, but the New Prettiness has a new attitude that goes along with it: we can indulge in soft, gentle decor as much as we'd like without sacrificing our boldness or originality. This means that, aesthetically, I can be feminine in a traditional way without fitting all the old stereotypes that used to accompany it. Perhaps the New Prettiness isn't so much an escape from creating new female identities as an assertion that a woman doesn't have to choose a single feminine identity anymore.

Dorm Style: Modern Feminine
Sleeping Beauty: Pale Pink Bedrooms
Maegan's Unabashedly Feminine Home Office Tech Tour
Angelique's Feminine Vintage Harmony House Tour
Chic Color Combo: Pink, White, and Grey
Pink Accents in the Kitchen

(Images: 1. Designers Guild via House of Turquoise , 2. Elle Decoration UK via Apartment Therapy , 3. iVillage via House of Turquoise, 4. Molly Luetkemeyer via View from My Heels, 5. Lonny Mag via View from My Heels, 6. Canadian House and Home, 7. House Beautiful via Gorgeous Shiny Things, 8. Katie Ridder via Habitually Chic, 9. Habitually Chic)

More posts in Discover Your Home Decor Personality: New Traditional
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