Stockings and suspender belts

Today at the shops, I saw a young woman with a tattoo that brought back a few memories. The tat was of seams up (or down) the back of her legs finishing at her ankles in a pretty scroll.

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In the days when women wore nylon stockings with seams, it was a battle to get the seam to run straight up and down (or down and up) one’s legs. Add to this the likelihood of snagging the sheer nylon fabric – usually on a rough nail thereby starting a ladder. Quickly, out with the colourless nail-varnish to stop the run from ruining the stocking. Do you remember?

One benefit of stockings was, if you did ladder one, you only had to replace one. That was if you happened to have one in the same denier and the same shade. Nylon stockings were expensive so this was seldom the case – hence the use of nail-varnish at both ends of the run. Naturally, the nail-varnish went through the stocking and the stocking then stuck to your leg.

Stockings stayed up, most of the time, because of a suspender belt. I’ve just Googled ‘suspender belts, images’ and I have to say the modern suspender belt looks nothing like the chastity belt style that we used to wear! The fashionable suspender belt now is, possibly, only available from an Adult Store. They still don’t look very comfortable and the feminist in me says they are more for the “male gaze” (as per John Berger, Ways of Seeing.) Nevertheless, I found this image and if you can extrapolate a thick, unattractive cotton instead of the rather fetching lacy garment pictured, you’ll get the idea.

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At the girls-only Anglican Church school that I attended in the 1950s, we were required to wear thick lisle stockings, the colour of toffee, especially on a Sunday. Lisle stockings are not particularly suited to the subtropical climate of Africa. They were decidedly uncomfortable and invariably sagged and bagged around the ankles. Indeed, these were not the ‘sexy’ fashionable nylon stockings beloved by the women during the Second World War. Neither were the suspender belts attractive or even comfortable. They were inconvenient and, for the most part, we loathed and detested having to wear them. Add to this the regulation school bloomers, made from a thick, unforgiving cloth and, if memory serves, dark brown in colour. Tight elastic at the waist and at the top of the legs didn’t help either. If you happened to have your periods, and being an all-girls-school most of us menstruated at the same time, you then had the belt that held your sanitary napkin in place under your suspender belt and your bloomers over the top. There is no way the bloomers would fit under the suspender belt! The strategically placed hooks, front and back, on the sanitary belt were incredibly uncomfortable.

Lisle stockings also had to have the seams straight. Many times, lining up for chapel, a student would be pulled out of line by an officious prefect because the seams of her stockings were crooked. Somewhere between 1957 and 1961 we were allowed to ditch the lisle stockings and wear nylons instead. Of course the seams still had to be straight. Rules were easily breached and punishment often followed – usually out of all proportion to the misdemeanour. Punishment ranged from demerit points, writing lines, learning by heart the most boring chapters in the King James Bible to whatever else the prefect could think of to humiliate you.

Once, I was caught reading Lady Chatterly’s Lover – although carefully covered in brown paper, I was sprung. At that time the book was banned in Rhodesia but I had somehow managed to get a copy. My punishment was to read one of the chapters aloud to a group of prefects. I do believe, in retrospect, that they were more embarrassed than I was. I’m not sure why the book was not confiscated but it wasn’t and I still have it to this day!

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Stockings and suspender belts

Into the city: a memory

Digging around in the box of photos I found this one. It brought back memories of going shopping in town when I was a little girl.

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A trip into the city, or ‘going to town’, was an adventure. Mother would wear a hat, stockings and sometimes she’d wear gloves. ‘Town’ was Salisbury, the capital of Southern Rhodesia. The road from the farm to town was mostly a gravel track and if the  Makabuzi River was up over the drift, well then you turned around and went home.

This photo was taken by a street photographer. I’m not sure what the black streak is – probably ink. This is an old photograph. Mum, Graham and me walking down the street with the Christmas shopping wrapped in brown paper and tied with string.

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Graham is my oldest brother. I think going to town was not a popular occupation for either of my brothers or my older sister (my younger sister was yet to make an appearance). I was taken along willy-nilly being the baby in the family. I see my mother has a tight grip on my hand. I have been told that I would often make a dash for whatever took my interest and I had the road sense of a caterpillar. Of course I did! I lived on a farm.

In the shoe shop we put our feet in a strange looking machine and the shop assistant would peer down a tube to look at the foot bones. This was probably a form of X-Ray machine and may account for some of the foot pain that I suffer as an old woman. I’ve only just thought of that! Shoes were not high on my priority list, most of the time I was barefoot – but not in town. Never in town.

I did disappear on one shopping trip and was found under a rack of dresses. We were in Sanders, one of the original department stores in Salisbury. Mum must’ve been shopping for clothes for herself and, being thoroughly bored, I remember dragging myself around on the floor. I remember because one of the shop assistants said, “Oh, so you’re cleaning the floor for us!” I missed the sarcasm but heard something that made me want to hide. In retrospect, I think I enjoyed the fuss when nobody could find me because I did the disappearing act quite often after that, in town and on the farm.

Going home was the worst part of going to town. Mother would make us gargle with a Dettol mixture in case we had picked up any germs. I can taste that mixture just thinking about it.

 

Into the city: a memory

Random Memories and Identity

Memories are not something with which you can argue. Family memories are so deeply personal and individual that siblings sometimes need to agree to disagree. Memories can bond family members together. When my sisters and I are chatting about old times it seems that we engage in a game, telling stories and remembering. Is this a way of bonding our relationship as sisters and friends?

I question where our character and our remembering come together to shape our lives, our identity. Is this part of our worldview? Is it a slow process that brings us to where we are in the present moment? Sometimes it may be that a crisis takes place and the repercussions are only felt many years later.

In my own experience, I remember a moment of crisis that made me question and reflect on my identity, my image of myself, as a white woman and a member of a minority ethnic group, in Rhodesia. This was in 1976 on a tourist bus in Greece—somewhere between Athens and Delphi. An Austrian man sitting next to me on the bus was highly skeptical that any white people who were not of British origin or close descent had settled in Rhodesia. I remember how hostile and defensive I felt that this stranger could, so arbitrarily, dismiss my background. This bewildering sense of being unseen, feeling unseen, is an experience Adrienne Rich expresses as psychic disequilibrium: “When someone … describes the world and you are not in it, there is a moment of psychic disequilibrium, as if you looked into a mirror and saw nothing”.

I have to say, this experience triggered my interest in identity and, many years later, informed my research for both Honours and PhD.

Random Memories and Identity