Gentleman Jack series is a movie that definitely got some attention. We’ll remind you that it shows a real-life story of a 19th-century lesbian Anne Lister. But this historical drama is interesting not just because of this piquant detail, but also due to the stage costumes of its characters. And, of course, Anne Lister is the first person on the list of the most eccentric and offbeat costume owners. Her outfits have to be a mix of masculine and feminine features, cuts, colors, silhouettes, etc. Like a corset under the male shirt and vest.
This article is based on the video from a YouTube channel “Costume CO”.
In this article, we take a closer look at the costumes of Anne Lister portrayed in the series “Gentleman Jack”.
Suranne Jones says in a BBC behind-the-scenes video that “Anne Lister was born in 1791 in Yorkshire, Halifax. She was a diarist, a lesbian, a traveler, an entrepreneur, a self-educator, and an all-around brilliant woman”.
Tom Pye, costume designer for this series, says “Anne Lister's sexuality and her unusual style of dress was an interesting challenge. I felt this was a key design brief for the show to make her character believable, while also expressing just how unusual she was for her time. I feel I've done my job if the audience fully understands why locals nicknamed her Gentleman Jack or mistook her for a man”.
Tom also says, “Suranne is a very beautiful and elegant, feminine woman, so we needed to work quite hard to make the qualities of Anne Lister believable”.
He adds, “There's a suggestion within her diaries that she was clearly conforming to some degree and wearing female clothing, but a number of these terms suggest styles more popular in the 1820s rather than the 1830s. I concluded that context was going to be essential to understand Anne in comparison to other women”.
Suranne Jones says, “The hair on the collar is from a very famous portrait. We didn't try to beautify me in any way. Eventually, we came to this place where we liked the look, which was kind of top half male, bottom half female, so she's still wearing skirts. And then we added a top hat so that she's stuck out in a crowd. And then we gave her a cane which is, obviously, for the day very masculine”.
Tom Pye adds, “I also had to support Suranne in forming a character that would leap off the page, so she probably is a slightly theatricalized version of the true Anne. I doubt Anne Lister really wore a top hat and her tailors may not have been quite so sharp”.
Like many of the headwear worn in the show, Anne’s top hat was made by milliner Sean Barrett.
Here's an example of a white beaver man's top hat with grosgrain ribbon trim. It's from The V&A and is made between 1830 to 1840 and labeled “Made in London”. This hat is 7.5 inches (19 cm) tall.
The V&A states that most top hats were initially made from beaver felt, and so this example from the 1930s is fairly typical of its time.
Because of the top hat, hair and makeup designer Lyn Davie had to create a 19th-century hairstyle for Anne that would look good with or without the hat.
Suranne Jones says that they added some braids for height and gave her side rolls, which they called “croquettes” named after the cylindrical-shaped food.
In the opening sequence, we see Anne getting dressed in her underpinnings, which include this set of stays or corset.
Suranne Jones says, “Anne Lister does a lot of things in a corset that women of the day wouldn't normally do in corsets. She climbs walls, rides carriages, she walks very fast”.
Tom Pye says, “Suranne suffered most from her corset. We had to alter that to make it more flexible to allow for all the physicality of the role. We used a method I learned from Parkinson Gill, theatrical costumiers who makes my costumes for ballet, whereby we removed panels in her corset and swapped them for a kind of fabric called ‘powernet’, which totally solved the problem whilst keeping a good corseted shape”.
In this screengrab, you can see Anne inserting a wooden busk into the center front pocket of the corset.
Here's a picture of the carved wooden busk. It was made by Nadia Oh with decorations that include Anne Lister's initials, the Yorkshire rose, Shibden Hall, and a Latin phrase at the top that translates roughly as “Just and firm of purpose”.
This 1830s English bone corset from The V&A in London is a very close likeness to Anne’s. It's made of buff canvas.
The men's drawers or underwear are worn over top of the corset and buttoned up at the front.
This example of a pair of French linen drawers, hand-sewn with linen thread, are made between 1775 and 1800.
The V&A states, “The waistband buttons in front and usually features eyelet holes at the back. These were tied with linen tape allowing a degree of give in an age before the use of elastic clothing.
Anne Lister makes her show debut in this costume upon her return to Yorkshire. The double-breasted coat was made by tailor Dan Ashworth at Cosprop, London.
This is what the coat looked like before it was waxed and broken down by Nicolina Griffiths.
In this image of the back of the coat, it's all of the fine hand-sewing details that really lent to the historical authenticity of this costume.
Here's an illustrated example of a French gentleman's greatcoat, sometimes called a “carrick” or “garrick”, a type of traveling riding coat from an 1811 fashion plate.
And while the coat is typically a men's garment, women did adopt this silhouette for themselves. You can see that there isn't too much difference between the men's greatcoat and this women's wool pelisse from the Snowhill Wade Costume Collection. With its multiple cape layers, the collar is faced in silk velvet and the coat dates between 1820-1830.
“Regarding Anne's perpetual mourning dress and her reason behind it”, Tom Pye says, “I wasn't fully believing her reasoning for the blackest morning. She did say that in the diary but I'm sure it was also about wanting to adopt a more masculine color palette, too”.
“In the few portraits of Anne that do exist, she is clearly depicted wearing a brown pelisse and a red heart pin”, Tom adds. “So I used this as a license to not take the black only role. Seriously, if brown was okay, I assume she must have worn a rather monochrome palette but maybe not strictly all black. So I crept in grays, silvers, dark blues, and browns. I felt that was the most important thing was that she looked nothing like the other female characters”.
The heart-shaped pin was made to replicate the one seen in her portrait. It was created by Stefan's Jewellers in Cheshire.
Here's one of the many waistcoats or vests that Anne wears.
Waistcoats are typically a man's garment, but all of her waistcoats are modified to fit her form, with the corset underneath. Anne always keeps her silver pocket watch in her waistcoat pocket.
Here's a close-up of it from the opening.
This silk satin brocade single-breasted waistcoat features a shawl collar. It's dated between 1830-1840 and it's from the Snowhill Wade Costume Collection.
Anne also wears men's shirts. This British linen shirt dated between 1830-1840 is from The Costume Institute at The Met. The sleeves are one-piece and gathered into the drop shoulder, but a gusset has been added under the arm to allow for additional movement.
Tom Pye says that “Anne Lister's footwear was as practical as could be. She only ever wore strong leather boots in either black or brown and, usually, she wore gaiters over these. You can see the black ones in the credits sequence.
And she also has an even more sturdy pair made from hard brown leather. The gaiters exaggerated the size of her feet, but they also reflect her interest in being practical and being able to be free.
Anne is using a buttonhook to close the buttons on her gaiters.
Here's an example of linen gaiters or spatterdashes or spats for short from a slightly earlier period, dating 1800-1825, from the Snowhill Wade Costume Collection.
Anne Lister also wears spencer jackets. The spencer jacket pictured on the left was made in the 1830s. According to The V&A where this costume is held, this type of short jacket which ends at the waist is known as a spencer. The spencer was initially a men's garment. It is said to have originated in the late 1790s, taking its name from George Spencer, the 2nd Earl Spencer. It was one of the few women's garments that were tailored during this period.
This particular spencer jacket is from Tom Pye’s influence board. It’s dated 1815 and is from the Kyoto Costume Institute in Japan.
Anne’s spencer jacket sits just above the natural waistline, which was the fashion of the time, and it features a stand-up collar, shoulder epaulettes, and a box-pleated tail.
The tail detail is a carryover from the 2nd half of the 18th century and a popular women's short fitted jacket called a “pierrot”, which is French for “sparrow”.
The standout feature are the rows of braids and buttons inspired by this 1910 military-style redingote, also from The Kyoto Costume Institute.
According to the museum, the Brandenburg style, as it was called, gained inspiration from the French hussar worn by Napoleon's light cavalrymen.
Women's clothing was strongly influenced by the functional and practical style of men's and military wear.
Anne's business suit was made by Dan Ashworth at Cosprop, London.
You can see how much labor goes into creating a historical coat with this example of the hand-sewing on the back of the collar by Dan.
This double-breasted linen jacket was made from the fabric supplied by Whaleys Bradford Ltd. in the UK.
Because Anne Lister walked everywhere and so that Suranne was able to have a full range of movement in her costumes, a lot of this had to be worked out long before they got to set.
Tom Pye also said that “Her whole costume took quite a battering. There was constant maintenance needed for all of her clothes as well as her boots. Funnily enough, that echoed much of what I read in Anne Lister's diary. There are so many entries of her sister Marian mending things for her, it seems to be a daily event. And it was for us, too”.
This is Anne's black pelisse dress. With its silky texture and velvet trimmings and buttons, this is a more feminine silhouette for Anne, although she does incorporate her cravat and pocket watch into the ensemble. She wears this look to Vere Hobart's wedding in Episode 2 and then to court to meet Queen Anne of Denmark in Episode 8.
To give you some perspective, this English silk pelisse dates about 1820. According to The V&A, this is an example of a pelisse robe or a dress in the style of a coat. It was often worn for walking or visiting during the day. Unlike most other dresses of the period, the pelisse robe opens down the front and has a wide collar.
Here's a view from the back of the pelisse. Notice the angled shoulder seams and full gathers at the center back, typical of the silhouette seen in the Regency era.
Of course, the standout feature is this tall military-style hat made by Sean Barrett.
Tom Pye took inspiration for the hat from this French 1814 portrait of Carolina Murat, Queen of Naples.
Here's Anne's ball gown.
The silhouette for the gown is similar to this fashion plate from The Met, which was published in 1834 in St. Petersburg. Pictured on the right, is a white ball gown with colored floral embroidery on the skirt and beret sleeves.
The beret sleeve pictured on the left, which is generally worn for evening, is made out of a large circle of fabric. This circa 1830 English woman's dress is from The Los Angeles County Museum of Art and it's made from silk plain weave organza and silk satin.
And the sash is similar to Anne's gown, a reference to the military uniform of the hussars.
The feathers in Anne's incredible updo were supplied by Sean Barrett.
In Episode 8, we finally arrive at Anne's wedding outfit. In a true departure from the black and brown and gray palette, Anne dons this beautiful blue tailcoat with this lively blue jacquard waistcoat.
This style of collar pictured here is called an “M-notch” because of its resemblance to the letter “M”.
Here's a close-up of the beautiful cobalt blue and ivory fabric of the waistcoat.