38. 1908 Anne of Green Gables

“A child of about eleven, garbed in a very short, very tight, very ugly dress of yellowish gray wincey. She wore a faded brown sailor hat and beneath the hat, extending down her back, were two braids of very thick, decidedly red hair. Her face was small, white and thin, also much freckled; her mouth was large and so were her eyes, that looked green in some lights and moods and gray in others.

So far, the ordinary observer; an extraordinary observer might have seen that the chin was very pointed and pronounced; that the big eyes were full of spirit and vivacity; that the mouth was sweet-lipped and expressive; that the forehead was broad and full; in short, our discerning extraordinary observer might have concluded that no commonplace soul inhabited the body of this stray woman-child of whom shy Matthew Cuthbert was so ludicrously afraid.

Matthew, however, was spared the ordeal of speaking first, for as soon as she concluded that he was coming to her she stood up, grasping with one thin brown hand the handle of a shabby, old-fashioned carpet-bag; the other she held out to him.

“I suppose you are Mr. Matthew Cuthbert of Green Gables?” she said in a peculiarly clear, sweet voice. “I’m very glad to see you. I was beginning to be afraid you weren’t coming for me and I was imagining all the things that might have happened to prevent you. I had made up my mind that if you didn’t come for me to-night I’d go down the track to that big wild cherry-tree at the bend, and climb up into it to stay all night. I wouldn’t be a bit afraid, and it would be lovely to sleep in a wild cherry-tree all white with bloom in the moonshine, don’t you think? You could imagine you were dwelling in marble halls, couldn’t you? And I was quite sure you would come for me in the morning, if you didn’t to-night.” *

Our first glimpse of a little girL, who, created in such a way, by Canadian author Lucy Maud Montgomery, that she has, without stop, captivated readers for the past 110 years, and come to be loved the world over, and recognized as an icon of early Canadiana. I have put “Anne” in when the book was written, although the story is set in the late 1890s. Not my usual angle on things “clothingcanadafashion”, but sometimes it isn’t just about the actual date or the actual clothes…

Anne has been brought to the screen many times, and in the most significant, was costumed by the inimitable Martha Mann, a Canadian icon in her own right. I found Martha’s words on her task to elegantly expand on what I am saying.

“…can it ever be perfect?

With a property like “Anne” the real problem confronting the designer of the clothes is that one is dealing with such a familiar story – everyone has an image of what Anne looks like! What is of course interesting about all of this is when you actually go back to Lucy Maud Montgomery and read the book again you discover that your own impressions are wrong, (and so usually are everyone else’s.)…

Our main concern was to keep the clothes as “real” as possible. True reality is not possible in film, or on the stage, the audience brings too many preconceptions of the past with them, and to a certain extent the designer must satisfy those conceptions.

“When we apply our own taste to any historical period, we immediately fictionalize the past,”, whether last week or two centuries past! I had spent hours looking at likely sources for the patterns Marilla and Rachel Lynde would have had access to make their clothes. The Delineator (the predecessor of the Butterick pattern books) were invaluable. But again a problem! Looking at pattern books for 1897 through the eyes of 1987 even the simplest blouse looks like a couture original – forty-seven ¼” pin tucks in the bodice of a house dress!

That was my major concern and where my major design decisions had to be made, trying to retain the sense of rural Canada 1894-1898 and yet give the clothes a look and a feel that a modern audience was going to believe.” **

Today, I give you no pictures, I leave it up to  Ms. Montgomery to feed your imagination!

*Excerpt From: L.M. Montgomery. “Anne of Green Gables.”
**Costume Society of Ontario Volume 16 Summer 1986