The Feminist History Behind Your Floppy Bow Blouse, Which Is Actually 'Pussy Bow Blouse'

The resurgence of pussy bow blouses—women's shirts with big, floppy bows at the collar—is more than just another example of retro fashion. There's a deeper context going on that we weren't even aware of until watching Makers: Women Who Make America, the three-hour documentary on the history of modern feminism that aired on PBS last night. (Did you miss it? Watch it online in its entirety here.)


During the segment about when women began landing jobs as corporate executives—previously considered a male profession—in the '70s and '80s, Meg Whitman, CEO of Hewlett-Packard, explained that being among the first of her kind in the job, there were no established examples of how to dress as a businesswoman, so female execs looked to their male coworkers for their cues. Whitman says:

We used to dress in suits with a skirt and a jacket with button-down shirts and a little bow tie, because that was sort of our interpretation of the man's tie…It was our attempt to be feminine but fit into what was then a male world.

Other trailblazers concur: that's how the floppy bow thing started in corporate America. Interestingly, the documentary doesn't mention that these are called "pussy bows." I always thought that was weird, but figured there was surely some kind of innocent reference (willow? cat?) that was just beyond my wheelhouse. But no. Since pussy bows were invented to be a sort of "girlie tie" it would appear that the name actually refers to the euphemism for female genitalia. Frankly, I think that makes it more awesome. It's so feminine that it's vaginal. The true offense here is that American Apparel is selling them as "secretary blouses".

The renaissance of the pussy bow isn't merely a nod to '80s office attire—it's a tribute to the female pioneers in high-level executive positions; the boss ladies; the first HBICs. It's great when feminism is trendy, even if nobody realizes it.



OK, I watched the whole documentary, and I can I just say that, while the floppy bow shirt part was an interesting sidebar, there was waaay more interesting stuff we should be talking about from that show. One of the huge parts was how the Republican "family values" platform that we know today basically came about as a backlash to the women's equality movement. Anyway, everyone should watch that show. It was pretty amazing.