Style Court

Textiles, Art History, Gardens, and a Little Mental Traveling with Courtney Barnes 2006-2016


Feminine, Not Girly

 [Photos one and two my own. Leftover paperwhites stand-in until I can get my hands on some white oleander like Deborah Needleman's.]

Feminine, not girly. I put the phrase out there a few years ago. Maybe I was hoping it would catch on like pearl clutching or maybe I meant to keep up a regular blog feature centered around the words.

[All photos on my scrapbook page, above, are by Ngoc Minh Ngo from Garden Design's November-December 2011 piece about Deborah Needleman's dream-worthy surrounds.]

Regardless, in my head, I still use the phrase all the time. For me, this book cover (Erica Tanov's bedroom in detail with flowers by Nicolette Owen of Brooklyn’s Little Flower School shot by the amazing Ngoc Minh Ngo) embodies it. The look is unabashedly feminine but not at all twee. And it's an end result I aspire to. More and more I find myself editing -- changing the back of a bookcase from yellow to the darkest ebony, questioning whether or not I've got enough aged, battered stuff to balance out the pretty, and donating or re-imagining things I've outgrown. 

Apart from the book, today's ultimate example of feminine, not girly is Deborah Needleman's garden. Her country place has popped up in conversation here before but not as seen through Ngoc Minh Ngo's eyes for Garden Design, November-December 2011. With so many garden shows opening across the U.S. in February and March, it's a nice time to revisit Cynthia King's Needleman interview, too. Check it out here.

[Photo by Thuss + Farrell from Matthew Robbins' Inspired Weddings, Stewart, Tabori & Chang, 2012.]

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Laura Casey Interiors said...

I love the phrase, it's sticking with me! Feminine, not girlie is the perfect way to say it.

Emile de Bruijn said...

The whole feminine-masculine spectrum and its various expressions is fascinating. Medieval Japanese aristocrats used to shed tears at the drop of a hat, which was considered an appropriate expression of their cultivation and refinement. And I was just commenting over at Two Nerdy History Girls that although dandies are often considered effeminate, Beau Brummell was the acme of 'masculinity', with his skintight trousers, understated colours and emphasis on scentless cleanliness. And then there is the whole issue of how the exotic is sometimes (but not always) associated with the feminine, such as the use of chinoiserie elements in bedrooms in British country houses.

But of course your version of 'feminine, not girly' transcends the masculine-feminine dichotomy by also being an expression of your own subtle and unique taste, as expressed in all your posts :)

Style Court said...

Laura -- maybe it will catch on after all :)

Style Court said...

Emile -- so fascinating. Especially how cultural views vary from century to century, place to place. We'll be thinking a lot more about dandies soon, with Cult of Beauty coming to the U.S. and I love your point about chinoiserie. I definitely think today, particularly over here, it's considered very feminine (funny to think of the original Prince of Wales connection) while japonisme tends to be embraced a bit more by guys :)

Style Court said...


There must be hundreds of related dissertations out there!

Emile de Bruijn said...

It hadn't occurred to me that japonisme was in some ways a masculine taste, that is a thought-provoking idea.

I was recently reading Edmund de Waal's fascinating family memoir The Hare with Amber Eyes, in which he relates how Charles Ephrussi, a wealthy man about town, collector, art historian and critic (who can be glimpsed in Renoir's The Boatmen's Lunch) collected Japanese art in the 1860s and 1870s. The fascinating thing, from the point of the masculinity/femininity spectrum, is how he shared his interest in Japanese objects with his married lover, Louise Cahen d'Anvers, and they both collected at the same time and from the same dealers. De Waal suggests that Charles even transferred some of his attraction to Louise to the beautiful, sensuous objects they collected together (including the netsuke carving of a hare mentioned in the title), as his published descriptions of some of them seem to indicate.

Style Court said...

Emile -- thanks so much for introducing me to the memoir and Charles Ephrussi. This gives me more to think about.

I'm being really loose and broad, and am probably thinking of japonism in the U.S. and England as much as the French japonisme. Along with some of the late-19th-century Japanese-influenced Western furniture, other decorative arts and all the fine art, I keep thinking of the 20th century, too: Frank Lloyd Wright and his interest in the Japanese aesthetic and maybe even Steve Jobs' attraction to minimalism and Japanese sensibility :)

Thinking of the couple you described reminds me that many of the Japanese-inspired ceramics created at the end of the 19th century and into the 20th -- the Western potteries -- are equally associated with men and women.

Janet said...

This is something I struggle with all the time. And now that I share my space with a gentleman, I have been trying to tone down even more. I don't think I was every "girly" (at least not since the pink and white stripes of my childhod bedroom), but my decorating style has always been unabashedly feminine. But, I do think every room could use a "woman's touch" (however subtle).

Cathy of Eyelash Growth said...

Feminine not girly keeps me thinking. Love this post. Great work!