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For other uses, see Gamine (disambiguation).
Audrey Hepburn has been cited as an iconic example of a gamine.

A gamine is a slim, often boyish, elegant, wide-eyed young woman who is, or is perceived to be, mischievous, teasing or sexually appealing.

The word gamine is a French word, the feminine form of gamin, originally meaning urchin, waif or playful, naughty child. It was used in English from about the mid-19th century (for example, by William Makepeace Thackeray in 1840 in one of his Parisian sketches), but in the 20th century, came to be applied in its more modern sense.


In 1997 the publisher HarperCollins drew up a list of 101 words – one a year – that defined the years 1896 to 1997.[1] "Gamine" was chosen for 1899, being described by Philip Howard in The Times as follows:

An elfish young woman. Audrey Hepburn in Roman Holiday was the archetypal, unforgettable, adorable gamine.[2]

Gamine has been used particularly of such women in the performing arts or world of fashion. In that context, the closest English word – of Anglo-Norman origin – is probably “waif” (although “gamine” is often seen as conveying an additional sense of style and chic). For example, in a press release of 1964, impresario Andrew Oldham described the 17-year old singer Marianne Faithfull as "shy, wistful, waif-like";[3] and writer and musician John Amis referred to German-born actress Luise Rainer (b. 1910) as Paul Muni's "waif-wife" in the 1937 film, The Good Earth.[4]

Gaminerie has sometimes been used in English with reference to the behaviour or characteristics of gamin(e)s.

Gamines in silent films[edit]

In the early 20th century, silent films brought to public attention a number of actresses who sported a gamine look. These included the Canadian-born Mary Pickford (1892–1979), who became known as “America’s Sweetheart” and, with her husband Douglas Fairbanks, was one of the founders of the film production company United Artists; Lillian Gish (1893–1993), notably in Way Down East (1920); and Louise Brooks (1906–86), whose short bobbed hairstyle, widely copied in the 1920s, came to be regarded as both a gamine and a “Bohemian” trait (this style having first appeared among the Paris demi-monde before World War I and among London art students during the war.[5]) In 1936, Charlie Chaplin cast his then-girlfriend Paulette Goddard (1910–1990) as an orphaned gamine in one of his last silent films, Modern Times.

Audrey Hepburn and gamines of the 1950s[edit]

In the 1950s “gamine” was applied notably to the style and appearance of the Belgian-born actress Audrey Hepburn (1929–1993): for example, in the films, Sabrina (1954) and Funny Face (1957). Hepburn also played the role of the gamine Gigi in New York (1951) in the play of that name, based on the novel (1945) by Colette, who had personally "talent-spotted" her when she was filming in Monte Carlo.[6] On film and in photographs, Hepburn’s short hair and petite figure created a distinct and enduring “look”, well defined by Don Macpherson,[7] who cited her “naïveté which did not rule out sophistication”, and described her as “the first gamine to be accepted as overpoweringly chic”.

Other film actresses of the period regarded as gamines included Leslie Caron (b. 1931), who played the leading role in the 1958 musical film of Gigi; Jean Seberg (1938–79), best known in Bonjour Tristesse (1957) and Jean-Luc Godard’s À bout de souffle (1960); Jean Simmons (b. 1929), for example, in Angel Face (1952); and Rita Tushingham (b. 1940), whose first starring role was in A Taste of Honey (1961). The French singer Juliette Greco (b. 1926), who emerged from Bohemian Paris in the late 1940s to become an international star in the 1950s, also had gamine qualities.

1960s and beyond[edit]

In many ways, the “gamine look” of the 1950s paved the way for the success of the English models Jean Shrimpton (b. 1942), one of the first to promote the mini-skirt in 1965, Edie Sedgwick, Twiggy (b. Lesley Hornby, 1949), who became the "The Face of '66",[8] and Kate Moss (b. 1974), associated in the 1990s with the “waif” look and what, notably through an advertising campaign for Calvin Klein in 1997, became known as “heroin chic”. Moss set a trend for “wafer” thin models which was satirized in Neil Kerber’s strip cartoon, "Supermodels", in the magazine Private Eye. Reviewing the film The Devil Wears Prada (2006), David Denby described a "montage of semi-starved beauties pulling on lingerie and clothes as they dress for work ... like the lock-and-load scenes of soldiers strapping on their weapons in war movies"[9] Natalie Portman and Audrey Tautou are also described as gamine.

Other gamines[edit]

Others who have been described as gamines include Danish-French actress Anna Karina (b. 1940); American actresses Julia Roberts (b. 1967) (she was often compared to Audrey Hepburn at the start of her career), Edie Sedgwick (1943–1971), Elizabeth Hartman (1943–1987), Mia Farrow (b. 1945), Sissy Spacek (b. 1949), Winona Ryder (b. 1971), [10][11] Michelle Williams (b. 1980), Gwyneth Paltrow (b. 1972),[12] and Calista Flockhart (b. 1964);[13] English actresses Carey Mulligan (b. 1985), Suzannah York (1939–2011),[14] Suzanna Hamilton (b. 1960), Helena Bonham Carter (b. 1966), Elisabeth Sladen (b. 1946), Carole Ann Ford (b 1940) [15] Tara FitzGerald (b. 1967), Olivia Williams (b. 1968), Rachel Weisz (b. 1971);[16] Portuguese actress Maria de Medeiros (b. 1965); French actresses Juliette Binoche (b. 1964) and Vanessa Paradis (b. 1972); New York model Tina Chow (1951–92), whose "gamine look made her the darling of [photographers] Cecil Beaton and Arthur Elgort";[17] Russian tennis player Anastasia Myskina (b. 1981), who was French Open champion in 2004; and the singers Cat Power (Chan Marshall, b.1972) ("The French, in particular, took to her gamine looks and confused air"[18]), Keira Knightley (b. 1985),[19][20][21] Zooey Deschanel (b. 1980), Ginnifer Goodwin (b. 1978), and Emma Watson.[22][23]

Penelope Chetwode (1910–86), later Lady Betjeman, wife of the Poet Laureate, John Betjeman, was described by Betjeman's biographer A. N. Wilson as "gamine of feature, but large-breasted".[24] Corinne Bailey Rae alleged that she was called a gamine in her song, "Choux Pastry Heart" (2005).

In Gideon Defoe's book, The Pirates! in an Adventure with Napoleon, the author describes some women of the isle of St. Helena as quite gamine.[25]

In E. L. James' book, Fifty Shades of Grey, Anastasia Steele, the main character, questions of her college roommate Kate, "How does she do it? Even ill she looks gamine and gorgeous,..." [26]

Japanese 1990s J-Pop rock band vocalist Maki Watase was called a "spry gamine firecracker" in a review in the New Music Express.

La Strada, Klute, Nikita and Amélie[edit]

Among the notable gamine characters of film are Gelsomina, the street performer from La Strada, played by Giulietta Masina; Bree Daniels, the prostitute played by Jane Fonda (b. 1937) in Klute (1971) (whose hairstyle was sometimes referred to as the "Klute shag"); Nikita (Anne Parillaud, b.1960), the titular punkish junkie in Luc Besson's 1990 film; and, most recently, Amélie (Audrey Tautou, b.1978) in the 2001 romantic comedy of that name.


  1. ^ See The Times, 3 November 1997
  2. ^ The Times, 3 November 1997
  3. ^ Faithfull – An Autobiography, 1994
  4. ^ The Oldie, August 2006
  5. ^ Virginia Nicholson (2002) Among the Bohemians
  6. ^ Judith Thurman (1999) Secrets of the Flesh – A Life of Colette
  7. ^ Stars of the Screen (Marks & Spencer, 1989)
  8. ^ "The face of '66" BBC News
  9. ^ New Yorker, 10/17 July 2006
  10. ^ Why do I hate her so? The Independent 12 March 2004. (12 March 2004). Retrieved on 18 October 2011.
  11. ^ Winona Ryder | Winona Ryder: Then and Now. Retrieved on 18 October 2011.
  12. ^ The Austin Chronicle 2009-02-27. (27 February 2009). Retrieved on 18 October 2011.
  13. ^ People Magazine 11 May 1998. (11 May 1998). Retrieved on 18 October 2011.
  14. ^ Susannah York, the gentle star of 1960s cinema, dies after battle against cancer | Film | Guardian. Retrieved on 18 October 2011.
  15. ^ Movies – Movies, film, Hollywood, business, entertainment – – Retrieved on 18 October 2011.
  16. ^ Richard Ward, She, July 2005
  17. ^ The Times, 2 November 2006
  18. ^ Sasha Frere-Jones, The New Yorker, 10 December 2007
  19. ^ SUMMER MOVIES; Keira Knightley: Acting Without the Acting Out New York Times 9 May 2004. (9 May 2004). Retrieved on 18 October 2011.
  20. ^ Keira Knightley cuts it as the cruel flirt in Misanthrope The Sunday Times 20 December 2009. (14 October 2010). Retrieved on 18 October 2011.
  21. ^ Is Keira Knightley’s gown totally ugly/strange or lovely? 3 March 2010
  22. ^ Emma Watson loves Lancôme Trésor Midnight Rose perfume | InStyle UK. (28 July 2011). Retrieved on 18 October 2011.
  23. ^ Amy Childs and Emma Watson – Which celebrity is the youngest?, MSN UK/Celebrity, p. 1 
  24. ^ A. N. Wilson (2006) Betjeman
  25. ^ Gideon Defoe, The Pirates! in an adventure with Napoleon, 2008, p. 64
  26. ^ E. L. James, Fifty Shades of Grey, 2011, p. 3

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