One of the intriguing aspects of the Jack the Ripper case is the fact that many men – quite a few of them journalists, and at least one of them a police officer – decided to dress up as women in the hope that they would lure the perpetrator of the Whitechapel murderer into approaching them, and, in so doing, be able to apprehend him.
However, there were other occasions when men in female attire were found walking along the streets of Victorian London, and some of the incidents – as well as the reasons they gave for being so dressed – were, to say the least, intriguing.
THE AUTHOR LUKE LIMNER
On Friday, 26th June, 1891, an author, who gave his name as Luke Limner, appeared before the magistrate Mr Newton at Great Marlborough Street Police Court, on a charge of being dressed as a woman in a public place.
Mr Newton was, by this time, already notorious as having been the magistrate whose court musings led to the Miss Cass saga of 1887.
AN AUTHOR IN WOMEN’S CLOTHES
And, as the following story demonstrates, he had lost none of his irascibility by June, 1891.
Many newspapers covered the story, the majority of them obviously taken from a single syndicated source which probably originated from a news agency.
The London Daily News covered the full story in its edition of Saturday, 27th June, 1891:-
AN ELDERLY MASQUERADER
“An old gentleman, of sixty-five, who gave what he termed the nom de guerre of Luke Limner, and who said that he lived in Ormonde-terrace, Albert-road, Regent’s Park, was charged before Mr. Newton, the magistrate, at Marlborough-street to-day, with being in the public thoroughfare dressed in female attire.
His appearance in the dock was grotesque.
He wore a blue serge skirt, fringed with red, a black jersey bodice, which by its appearance suggested the presence of corsets and padding, a fashionable light-coloured cape with Medici collar, and a pair of unusually large high-heeled shoes.
The most incongruous feature of his attire, however, was a dark green matador hat, encircled by a narrow yellow ribbon, and decorated with three large black and yellow pom-poms, and two streamers half-a-yard long falling behind.
LEAVE THE LADY ALONE
Detective-Sergeant Scott said that at about 12 o’clock last night he saw the old gentleman, who, in addition to this disguise, was wearing a mass of artificial curls on his forehead, walking along Regent-street, arm-in-arm with a woman, and, on account of what some bystanders told him, he approached him, and peered into his face.
The woman told him to “leave the lady alone,” but he tried to raise the heavy black veil which covered the strange lady’s face.
The latter, however, knocked his hand away, but, satisfied of the person’s sex, he took him into custody.
The old gentleman was found, on examination at Vine-street Police-station, to be fully attired as a woman.
HIS REASON FOR BEING SO-ATTIRED
When asked by the magistrate whether he had anything to say, the prisoner pleaded that he was quite justified in dressing up as he did and he continued, “I am an artist and the writer of one of the most popular little works extant.
Encouraged by the fact that my publisher is just about to issue a fifth edition of it, I conceived the idea of writing a book called Madre Natura upon ladies’ attire, and, of course, I could not properly understand the subject unless I had had experience in wearing a modern woman’s outfit.
How could I tell whether corsets and high heels really hurt if I did not walk about in them?
This hat, you know, was originally worn by men, but now it is adopted by women. This cloak (pointing to the high shoulders and Medici collar) was fashionable in the reign of Henry VIII. This (kicking up his skirt) is, I can assure your worship, remarkably airy and nice in this sultry weather.”
THE MAGISTRATE BOUND HIM OVER
Mr. Newton inquired of the gaoler whether the prisoner was known?
Prisoner:- “Oh, everybody knows me”.
Mr Newton gave him a warning and bound him over in his own recognisance in £5 to behave with more propriety in the future.”
A NEWSPAPER OPINION
The same day, Saturday, 27th June, 1891, The Birmingham Mail opined about the case in an editorial:-
When a man reaches sixty-four it is about time he became staid.
It is all very well in the farcical comedies for old gentlemen to be getting into embarrassing situations so that other people may laugh, but it is not proper in real life.
HE CUT A WOEFUL FIGURE
Therefore, we must remonstrate with Mr. Luke Limner, who yesterday cut a woeful figure in a London police court.
His head was bald, his nose surmounted by a pair of spectacles, he wore a blue serge skirt fringed with red, a black bodice, a fashionable light coloured cape with Medici collar, a matador hat, and a pair of high heeled shoes.
Popular opinion is very tyrannical in the matter of dress.
Nobody can be eccentric in this particular without exposing himself to scoff and jeer.
IT IS NOT ALLOWED
The law, however, does not deprive a man of the liberty of selection, so long as it is decent masculine attire, but it will not allow males to deck themselves in female attire.
It is not quite so severe in the contrary direction.
Fashion at times takes feminine dress into very close resemblance with masculine garb, but the police have never been audacious enough to interpret that into infringement of the law.
Still, Mr. Luke Limner cannot be justified. High-heeled boots and corsets – it is too dreadful to further particularise.
A PLAUSIBLE DEFENCE
His defence is plausible, but not convincing.
He says he is a great writer, and that he contemplates producing a trenchant work on woman’s dress, and how, he enquires, is he to know whether high heels and corsets hurt, unless he had walked about in them.
IT CANNOT BE TOLERATED
If he wants to experiment with instruments of torture he should go to the Tower of London, where they have “the maiden,” which is the original of the modern corset and the “foot wrench”, which suggested the nineteenth-century high heeled boot, or, at any rate, should keep within doors.
We really cannot tolerate old gentlemen with gray moustachios and bald heads masquerading in “the fashionable cloak.”
It may be that, in the time of Henry VIII, the young bucks of the Court wore such garment; it is also quite correct that in Spain the matador hat is worn by men, but they are totally unfit for a man who has reached years of discretion, and who has cultivated a shining cranium.”