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50 pages 1 hour read

Sarah Waters

Tipping the Velvet

Fiction | Novel | Adult | Published in 1998

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Symbols & Motifs

Men’s Suits

Tipping the Velvet focuses on male impersonation and 19th-century ideas about clothing. These suits symbolize how Gender and Performance connect. From the Vaudevillian suits Nan wears with Kitty on stage to the expensive clothes Diana buys her, these suits and their quality reflect how Nan performs her true self and gender. As Kitty comments on Nan’s boyish appearance in her first suit, Nan sees the distance between her gender presentation and her costume. She observes that she is “clad not exactly as a boy, but, rather confusingly, as the boy [she] would have been, had [she] been more of a girl” (120). Nan’s paradoxical claim calls attention to her failure to appear as either who she is or who Walter and Kitty want her to be.

As she joins Diana’s household, Nan finds a wide and expansive wardrobe open to her. These clothes fit her and make her the boy she wants to be, but at a huge cost. Diana’s most extravagant gift is a suit that Nan swears “[is] the richest and loveliest [she] ever wore” (268). Calling it a “coming-out suit” (268), Diana buys it for Nan’s introduction to the Cavendish Club and her wealthy friends.

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