Painted Lady [pānt•əd lā•dē]


1. a colloquialism given to elaborate houses built in the Victorian or Edwardian — and sometimes Queen Anne — styles of architecture that use bright, multicolor paint jobs to emphasize the intricate designs of the homes’ facades.

2. Vanessa cardui, Vanessa virginiensis: a genus of colorful butterfly found in North America, Europe and Asia known as the painted lady. The subgenus Vanessa virginiensis is only found in North America and is known as the American painted lady.

3. slang, archaic: a prostitute.

4. The Painted Lady Lavender Farm and Garden: a quaint stop on U.S. Highway 101 south of Ilwaco, Wash., on the Long Beach Peninsula located in a purple historic house with eccentric statues, ponds and foliage. As the name implies, lavender is abundant and featured in products, including essential oils, lemonade and more.

5. Painted Lady Gin: an award-winning, floral-forward American-style gin heavy with lavender. Produced by Pilot House Distilling in downtown Astoria and named in ode to the city’s vibrantly painted domiciles.

The first known reference to the common name of the butterfly, also known as a belle dame in the French, is in 1699, though the taxonomy of the lepidopteran Vanessa cardui was not recorded until 1758. The term “painted lady” or “painted woman” as derogatory slang was most active in the 19th century.

Interestingly, the term as it applies to Victorian and other styles of brightly painted dwellings does not first come into use until very recently in 1978. While it was fashionable in the Victorian era to paint houses in splashy, vibrant hues (some critics at the time described the fad as gaudy and too loud), it was not until the publication of writers and literary agents Elizabeth Pomada and Michael Larsen’s photo essay on San Francisco’s famous row of houses across the street from Alamo Square titled “Painted Ladies: San Francisco’s Resplendent Victorians” that term came into vogue. It has since expanded rapidly to include any home intricately painted and multicolored and built in the style of these eras, from Baltimore to New Orleans to Astoria and anywhere in between.

“It isn’t all about the lavender at the Painted Lady Lavender Farm. ‘For me, it’s just the entire romance of the garden,’ says Sue Wallace … The Wallaces were stunned by the herb’s amazing scent, its history, its versatility and its healing powers. They planted as much as possible upon their return to Washington.

After the fields of light purple lavender began to flourish, some folks in the area began to call Sue ‘The Lavender Lady.’”

—​“Fairy-tale farm,” Coast Weekend, July 3, 2008

“‘The 3,512-square-foot, four-bedroom Foard House is offered for $324,990. It is ready for a buyer who wants to add a few touches to recapture the painted lady’s original charm.”

—​Nancy McCarthy, “Queen Anne on the hill,” The Daily Astorian, Oct. 30, 2015

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