Sunday, 20 October 2013

Dress Down Sunday: Laughing Torso by Nina Hamnett

published 1932  chapter 4




LOOKING AT WHAT GOES ON UNDER THE CLOTHES






I lived at the flat at Chiswick with my Grandmother. I wore a stiff linen collar and tie and corsets with bones in them. A few years later I cast them aside. My Grandmother and an elderly cousin said that it was indecent and disgraceful and women’s backs were not strong enough to support themselves; I am now forty-one and my backbone has not yet crumpled up…

I was now sixteen. I drew from the nude at the Art School, but I had never dared to look at myself in the mirror, for my Grandmother had always insisted that one dressed and undressed under one’s nightdress using it as a kind of tent. One day, feeling very bold, I took off all my clothes and gazed in the looking-glass. I was delighted. I was much superior to anything I had seen in the life class and I got a book and began to draw.


observations: Nina Hamnett had a splendid and unashamed idea of her own good looks. She seems ready to take her clothes off and dance at the most casual request – the picture above is almost too modest for her self-descriptions - and there is a great story much later when she is staying with friends in the south of France:
One morning I was standing in the middle of my room with no clothes on, assuming a variety of poses and looking at myself in two mirrors, so that I could see the effect all round. The window was open and suddenly the round red face of a workman appeared. He had come up a ladder and was engaged in painting the house. I stood still with shock, and so did the astonished workman. I then walked up to the windows and closed the shutters.

-- it’s her flat description of what she was doing that I find so endearing.

In a previous entry on her, we showed some brightly-coloured stockings: she is very interested in legwear, and says she had long feet with nice toes which she was very proud of.
I had a wonderful collection of stockings at that time and wore flat-heeled shoes with straps on them like children do. They made my feet look very large. They cost five francs and were worn by concierges. I had red stockings and yellow stockings and some that looked like a chess board.

She would have loved the modern MyTights website and these from Pretty Polly:
 





And she tells us about Gertrude Stein’s legwear:
She wore in the winter thick grey woollen stockings and Greek sandals. The stockings had a separate place for the big toe, as the sandals had a piece of leather which went between the big toe and the other four toes.
And there is a funny story where a pedlar selling silk stockings tells her they would be ‘an investment’ for her, and she is complimented because he thinks she is a ‘lady of loose morals’.

More from Nina Hamnett: click on the label below.

The picture, from Wikimedia Commons, is from the cover of an American magazine called Puck.

8 comments:

  1. Moira - I just find that old fashioned attitude (dress beneath you nightdress) so endearing in its way. Very...period if I can put it that way. I think one of the more fascinating changes in society came after WWI, when those attitudes really underwent a revolution. Oh, love those tights, too. :-)

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    1. AS modern women, it's hard for us to imagine - but then Nina Hamnett managed to throw off the restraints without shame or guilt. Way ahead of her time...

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  2. This is amazing and interesting and funny. And shocking to have been written in 1932. I would love to be that uninhibited but never ever could or would.

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    1. I know - she is a very modern person, who doesn't seem to let the standards of her time affect her at all... I admire her for that, but it is startling.

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  3. Hamnett won't be making it onto my wishlist, I'm afraid.

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    1. I've only just noticed that her last name is very similar to that of Dashiell Hammett, and in your particular case I would stick to DH rather than NH!

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  4. She partly earned her living as a model - might explain the posing. I'd love to know what kind of dancing she did. Probably the popular "Greek" kind.

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    1. I love her because she is so vain and so open about it, and so funny. I see her dancing as a cross between Isadora Duncan and Josephine Baker.

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