June is LGBTQ Pride Month, so we’re featuring fabulous queer frock flicks each Thursday. Queer folks have always been part of human history, long before there were words to describe these identities and orientations. But now we can and will say GAY! (and LESBIAN! and BI! and TRANS! and QUEER!) proudly, whether or not others try to legislate or pray it away.
Tipping the Velvet (2002) is based on Sarah Waters’ first novel, and this is one of those rare times when both the source and adaption are equally awesome. We’ve mentioned this three-part BBC miniseries a few times before, talking about how good a book adaption it is, how much we enjoy the sex scenes, how fun the cross-dressing is, how corsetry plays a key role, and how it’s an excellent and entertaining example of queer representation in media. All still true, but how about we look at the costumes too? Because Tipping the Velvet not only has all these fantastic qualities, it also has attractive and reasonably historical costumes!
The protagonist, Nan Astley (Rachael Stirling), starts as a working-class girl, earns her way into middle-class life via the stage, drops a little bit back down, then is plucked from the streets and elevated to the high upper-class, kicked down to poverty, and finds her way back to working-class life. All of this is shown purposefully and clearly through costume, something I’m always pleased to see (since some productions can’t hack it). Costume designer Susannah Buxton did a lot of British TV and movie work, and later went on to create the costumes for the first season of Downton Abbey (2010), the second season of Poldark (2016), plus Galavant (2015). Here, she created a believable world from the small seaside village where Nan was born to the vaudeville stages of Victorian London to the city’s lesbian underworld to the socialist suburbs. This background lets you sink into the pathos of Nan’s love life and delight in her erotic discoveries.
When Nan joins Kitty (Keeley Hawes) on stage, there’s lots of cross-dressing variety that finally makes Victorian menswear look interesting IMO. They wear a range of styles and classes, which will serve Nan well in her later life as a street hustler.
Nan and Kitty also go out on the town in these lovely bustle evening gowns — Nan’s in white with red and Kitty’s in green with black.
Of course, in a show about sex, their undies are shown a fair bit, as this promo pic hints at.
As successful actors, they get nicer daytime womenswear too.
But when Nan and Kitty break up, Nan begins a downward spiral. She briefly meets working-class Florence (Jodhi May), who she’ll remember for later.
Nan is saved from the streets by wealthy pleasure-seeker Diana (Anna Chancellor), who outfits her new friend in fine menswear and exotic costumes.
When Nan leaves Diana’s house, she seeks out Florence, though at least a year has passed. Florence, her brother, and a baby they’ve taken in become Nan’s new family.
At the very end, Kitty returns just to tempt Nan when she’s finally happy.
But Nan stays with Florence and even takes her to seaside hometown to visit her parents.
Check out Tipping the Velvet for a saucy story and good costumes!