''A Southern Belle Primer'' -- Marilyn Schwartz's new book focuses on the folkways of Southern womanhood

”In the South, a girl’s first can of hair spray is more important than her first bra,” says Maryln Schwartz, author of A Southern Belle Primer: Or Why Princess Margaret Will Never Be a Kappa Kappa Gamma. Shellacked blond hair aside, how can you spot a Southern belle? Well, if the perfectly manicured nails and the genuine pearls don’t give her away, here are some more pointers: ”For one thing, even if they’re 90 years old, Southern belles call their father ‘Daddy,”’ says Schwartz, age 47, a Dallas Morning News columnist. ”They have a deviled-egg plate in the cupboard and they’d drink iced tea in the middle of a blizzard.” But don’t be fooled. ”A Southern belle is perfectly capable of being President — it’s just a bigger coup to be Queen of the Natchez Pilgrimage.”

She should know. Schwartz spent the last two years doing research in the folkways of Southern womanhood. ”I wanted to see if the hard-core Southern belle was alive and well — and she is,” she reports. Schwartz interviewed bevies of belles about making the right chicken salad (no dark meat), getting into the right sorority (Kappa, of course), and choosing the proper silver pattern: ”When a girl picks Grand Baroque at age 11, she hasn’t just decided how to set her table, she’s charted her course in life.”

But does any of this matter any more? Of course, says Schwartz. Just look at ABC’s Diane Sawyer, a classic Southern belle if there ever was one. ”The same stuff that won her an America Junior Miss title got her that interview with Boris Yeltsin.”