What IS a Dame?

Dametown is a place where dames are celebrated, appreciated, advocated, venerated, illuminated, cultivated, stimulated, instigated, sometimes exonerated. This begs the question, “So, what IS a dame?” As Justice Potter Stewart famously said about pornography, “I know it when I see it”, in many ways damery isn’t easy to describe, what I know a dame when I see one.

Let’s take First Ladies, for example. Betty Ford? Yes. Hillary Clinton? Of course. Barbara Bush? Yes. Laura Bush? Um…maybe not. Bette Davis? Hell yeah. Betty and Veronica? No. But there are all kinds of dames, and all kinds of ways for one’s inner dame to express itself. Joan Crawford, Joan of Arc, Joan Rivers — all dames, all expressed their individual damery differently.

But there are some key attributes. Generally, most dames have all or most of the following qualities:


There are all kinds of ways a woman can be strong.  She may be physically strong. She might exhibit endurance, persistence or an iron-will. She might be brave – in that she feels the fear and does it anyway. A dame doesn’t back down. She can be fierce and feisty, or quietly unwavering, but either way she knows when to stand her ground.


There’s also more than one way to be smart. There’s book-smart, but alternatively a dame might have real street-smarts, or just be a real smart ass. An uneducated, illiterate woman might have the experience to make her worldly wise or an expert at her craft. Whatever her assets, a dame knows how to use her own particular brand of savvy to navigate her world.


Do not confuse style with fashion. My homeless friend, Eve, rocks a fanny pack, cut-up sweatshirts and a panoply of pants she finds and uses scissors or belts (or belt-like objects) to tailor them in creative ways. She always rocks various necklaces (or necklace-like objects). And she always looks cool. She dresses with intention. She is conscious about how she expresses herself with what she wears. Back when I was a second-grade teacher, a fellow teacher always wore the same camel-colored chinos and white-button-up shirt every day. I thought Mrs. Sigman was so cool. Her uniform may not have grabbed Bill Cunningham’s  attention, but it was her thing.  Again, she dressed intentionally.

Whether she’s slaying with an eccentric glamour like a Diana Vreeland, getting her Calamity Jane on, or Hillary wearing a white pantsuit  at the Democratic Convention, dames don’t just grab whatever’s on sale at Talbot’s. They have an idea of who they are or what they want to communicate, and their attire shows it.  Their style may be an anti-style, or a consistent uniform of jeans and vintage tees, but dames have style. And if people don’t like that style, or mock that style, one thing is true for all dames: they don’t really give AF. Dames dress to please themselves.


Don’t get me wrong; some dames can be major beeyotches. A lot of women live in a world where they have to be strong and get shiz done. And some ladies are just plain bitchy by nature. Some women are super cranky. But a dame has a squishy sweet center. (The words “heart of gold” spring to mind.) Scratch a dames hard exterior and you will find that kind, sentimental core. Bea Arthur was famously a hard-ass, but she loved animals and was a strong advocate for voiceless critters. A true dame has the proverbial heart of gold. Maisie in all the Maisie movies, vampire-slayers, girls with dragon tattoos, just about every female hard-ass or hooker in a movie – they’re tough but kind when it counts. (Even the ‘devil’ who wore Prada had a soft side. Have you ever seen the deleted scene?)


In addition to being the name of one of the greatest magazines ever, dictionaries typically define sassy as “lively, bold, and full of spirit; cheeky.” The Urban Dictionary says sassy is, “Someone that is just the coolest person ever, and uses sarcasm in the coolest and funniest of ways.” When I say dames are sassy I’m talking about a kind of willingness to speak up — and stand up for what they believe is right. Dames will snap back with a snappy comeback. They’re often the first to break the rules, or the first to enforce them. Sass might manifest as wit, brazenness, or maybe a quiet refusal. No matter how it shows up, you can bet that dames will not let others define them, put them in a box, or decide for them what’s “appropriate” behavior for a lady. Dames got no time for that; they’re too busy being dames.


Just like there are all kinds of ways to be smart or strong, there are many different ways to be sexy. Dames sometimes conform to society’s conventional or obvious sex appeal “ideal”, but just as often dames define or defy sex appeal in their own individual ways. Frida Kahlo, Mae West and Patti Smith are good examples.


Basically, dames are women who are intent on living their best life, with their best selves. You don’t have to necessarily tick all the boxes to be a dame, but it’s a good idea to work on it. If you think you’re not a dame, think again. Inside most women is a dame eager to come out and dame it up. My hope is that Dametown can inspire you to set her free and let your dame flag fly!



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