This weekend, I found myself swept up into a trip to the North Carolina Azalea Festival in Wilmington, NC. Despite having grown up in NC, I’d never been to the Azalea Festival before, and I didn’t really know anything about it.
One of the main events, perhaps the main event, is the tour of chosen gardens throughout the city. Unfortunately for them, there was a sudden freeze earlier in the week, and many of the azaleas had wilted or died. However, that didn’t detract from the rest of the flowers and garden designs. Nor did it detract from the belles.
Belles? Yes, belles. Young women dressed in antebellum period costume, in all the gardens. The story is that the tradition started when five daughters of garden club members dressed in costume to sit in some of the gardens. People loved it so much, the tradition has now grown to the point that 100 high school girls are enlisted. There are multiple belles assigned to each of the gardens, and their entire job is to sit and look pretty.
This is actually harder than it looks, of course. Wearing hoop skirts, petticoats, lace gloves, holding a parasol, and having one’s hair all up in a ringletted bun could get old after a while of sitting there with nothing to do but smile and be charming. One begins to feel sorry for real belles, if this was historically part of the role. (At least corsets were not a requirement for the current belles.) Luckily, the Azalea Festival organizers are aware of the boredom aspect, so each belle only has to be in one place for a two hour shift, and then they are moved either to a new position at the same house, or to a different house.
Unsurprisingly, if you know me, the belle in purple is my favorite. She was also in a very pretty garden, with lots of candles and white lights strung up, so I imagine when it was lit at night, it would have been gorgeous. If you look at the larger picture, you might be able to see that there’s a candelabra hanging from the tree over her head. I also think the girl in yellow had the “look picturesque” thing down pat.