My aunt was a tall, hard-featured lady, but by no means ill-looking. There was an inflexibility in her face, in her voice, in her gait and carriage, amply sufficient to account for the effect she had made upon a gentle creature like my mother; but her features were rather handsome than otherwise, though unbending and austere. I particularly noticed that she had a very quick, bright eye. Her hair, which was grey, was arranged in two plain divisions, under what I believe would be called a mob-cap; I mean a cap, much more common then than now, with side-pieces fastening under the chin. Her dress was of a lavender colour, and perfectly neat; but scantily made, as if she desired to be as little encumbered as possible. I remember that I thought it, in form, more like a riding-habit with the superfluous skirt cut off, than anything else. She wore at her side a gentleman's gold watch, if I might judge from its size and make, with an appropriate chain and seals; she had some linen at her throat not unlike a shirt-collar, and things at her wrists like little shirt-wristbands. (13.109)
This first extended description of Miss Betsey fascinates us. Why? Well: look how different Miss Betsey's physical appearance is compared to soft, fair Mrs. Copperfield or Dora. Miss Betsey is the only woman in the novel who successfully raises a family (well, David) by herself (as opposed to Mrs. Steerforth, Mrs. Copperfield, and Mrs. Heep). What distinguishes her from these other women is that she keeps getting marked as masculine: she is "hard-featured," with "unbending and austere" features. Her dress is plain and "more like a riding-habit with the superfluous skirt cut off, than anything else." In other words, she is remarkably plainly dressed, to be "as little encumbered as possible." She even wears "a gentleman's gold watch." Miss Betsey's power in the household seems to be the result of her unusually independent, firm ways – and this independence demonstrates itself in her masculine appearance. So, there's a subtle equation here: feminine = weak; masculine = strong.