I am re-evaluating the late-middle-aged to elderly women in fiction, and sometimes in life, who waft multiple layers of scarves (probably silk chiffon) behind them, and send their companions/daughters/whoever back to pick them up or get another one. In fiction, the scarves seem to indicate a charming femininity that the younger narrator or POV character feels she lacks, and of a certain type of privilege (the sort that has a companion, daughter, or someone to go fetch another scarf).

An Alice Adams story I love, “Home is Where,” features one of these ladies (“lady” seems more the mot juste than “woman,” in this context). The narrator writes, “My mother is one of those women who, having been great beauties, forever retain that air . . . . All my life I had watched her performances with a defeated, angry envy, as I too deferred and waited on her. . . . Now she came in, scarves floating around that faded golden head”  (159). Granny in The Fair Adventure is another floaty-scarf lady (maybe it’s a Southern thing).

I always used to take the narrator’s word for it.

Now I think that lady is suffering from hot flashes. Instead of constantly taking off and putting on layers of clothing, she loosens or snugs up a scarf or so. If the scarves waft elegantly, so much the better; one doesn’t want to mention personal matters that are none of anyone’s business.

Adams, Alice. “Home is Where.” Beautiful Girl: Stories by Alice Adams. New York: Pocket Books, 1978. 155-177.

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