When Marilla Cuthbert is introduced in the opening chapter of Anne of Green Gables, she is described as not having any romantic qualities: Marilla was a tall, thin woman, with angles and without curves; her dark hair showed some grey streaks and was always twisted up in a hard little knot behind with two wire hairpins stuck aggressively through it. She looked like a woman of narrow experience and rigid conscience, which she was; but there was a saving something about her mouth which, if it had been ever so slightly developed, might have been considered indicative of a sense of humour.
And although this literary depiction of Marilla suggests that character is unimaginative and stern, she becomes something of a style icon in the recent streaming adaptation of Anne with an E. Marilla's knot remains, and her clothing is still unadorned, but costume designer Anne Dixon has added one accessory - a corset-like thick brown leather belt - That intrigued me so much that I contacted Dixon to ask about it.
Image: Anne, Marilla and Matthew in Netflix's adaption of Anne of Green Gables. Image Courtesy of Anne Dixon.
'We tried to keep it all real, and I figured a farmer, a man, would have a good basic leather working belt', Dixon said via email. 'What would be the equivalent for a woman working a farm?’ She noted that the sashes/cummerbunds of the times were made from silks, velvets and tapestries, embroidered, pleated and decorated. She wondered what a character like Marilla would wear, as she was 'thrifty, utilitarian and very sensible'.
'A sturdy leather version came to my mind', Dixon said,' still feminine in shape but completely functional. We played with the shape and made a number of prototypes until we proportionally had the right width and curves. We overlapped it in the back and attached and secured it with a smaller belt.
Image: Anne and Marilla in in Netflix's adaption of Anne of Green Gables. Image Courtesy of Anne Dixon.
And the corset influence? 'We didn’t get a fitting with our actress and our stunt double until the very last minute', Dixon said, 'and I figured let’s make a design element of it––so we overlapped the back making it adjustable. It most definitely is an original!'
Thus the character who eschews puff sleeves and insists on plain fabrics for dressmaking has unexpectedly become a style icon, over a century after she was introduced.
Visit our blog again tomorrow for more text and textiles by Kate Cavendish.