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.

IMG_20170628_0001

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.

LC140_1_Zoom

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!

Photo on 28-6-17 at 5.07 pm.jpg

Advertisements
Stockings and suspender belts

Olive Schreiner

“We are a race of women that of old knew no fear and feared no death, and lived great lives and hoped great hopes; and if today some of us have fallen on evil and degenerate times, there moves in us yet the throb of the old blood.” Olive Schreiner

Olive_Schreiner02
Olive Schreiner

Most people, when they think of Olive Schreiner, remember her classic novel The Story of an African Farm. (Originally published in 1883 under the pseudonym Ralph Iron). I was scratching through my Long Drawer and came across the quotation cited above. According to my notes I originally found the quote in Mary Daly’s Pure Lust.

IMG_5100

Olive Schreiner was born in 1855, the twelfth child of missionary parents, with more children to follow. Olive Schreiner’s mother appears to have abused her children, thrashing them for the smallest misdemenour. One such sin that earned five-year-old Olive fifty lashes was hanging on the door handle and saying “Ach!” a Dutch word and speaking Dutch was forbidden in the Schreiner household. It seems the injustice of the many vicious beatings was the main reason Olive, at as an eight year old, rejected the religion of her parents and refused to go to church. Nevertheless, she inherited her mother’s intellect, her ethical fervour and her longing for the infinite. Perhaps, in the shocking abuse of her childhood, Olive subliminally received the secret, ambiguous knowledge of the power of women?

When Olive was nine, her beloved baby sister, Ellie, died. This was seen as punishment for Olive repudiating her parents’ faith. She was devastated and cradled Ellie’s tiny corpse in her arms all day and into the night. After Ellie was buried, she stayed near the grave and talked passionately into the tiny mound of earth. In later years, Schreiner said that the death of her baby sister was the most important event of her childhood: it was to Ellie that she owed her lifelong love for women, her mystic faith in the unity of the cosmos, her pacifism, and her desire to be a doctor (Letters, 29 October 1892).

Her rebellion against Victorian and parental mores saw her become a feminist, a best-selling writer and intellectual, philosopher and a celebrity of her time.

The first time I read anything by Olive Schreiner was in an anthology of South African stories Veld Trails and Pavements given to me by a friend of the family. I was a teenager and didn’t have much understanding. I can’t remember Olive Schreiner’s stories very clearly but I do remember that they haunted me for a long time and I had to return to it again and again. I didn’t know you could write sad stories that did not have a happy ending. I didn’t know you could fit an enormous amount of emotion into a one or two page story. I don’t have the book anymore although I can see it in my mind’s eye and I found this image on the Internet. I don’t remember any of the other stories in the anthology, not even the H. C. Bosman.

435994_150826155837_scan0004

Screen Shot 2017-03-10 at 2.49.11 pm

I have borrowed quite considerably from Anne McClintock’s paper Olive (Emilie Albertina) Schreiner for this blog post. The original paper can be accessed here.

Reference: *Anne McClintock. “Olive (Emilie Albertina) Schreiner.” British Writers. Ed. George Stade.: Supplement 2: Kingsley Amis to J. R. R. Tolkien. New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1992. Literature Resource Center. Web. 4 May 2010.

*Anne McClintock was born in Harare in 1954. She is a writer, feminist scholar and public intellectual who has published widely on issues of sexuality, race, imperialism, and nationalism; popular and visual culture, photography, advertising and cultural theory.

Olive Schreiner