Saturday, May 10, 2008

What your favorite well-dressed detective is wearing

The New York Times profiles the wardrobes of New York detectives in an article headlined "Dressed for a Meeting, Ready for Mayhem," an unusually snappy turn of phrase for the Times, which prizes subtlety in its display type.

The article quotes one Detective Kevin P. Schroeder, who says:

"`I like room in [my suit jacket] because of my pistol, my handcuffs, my radio,' Detective Schroeder said. `You want it a little bigger than you normally would get.'

“`I try to wear my less expensive suits if I am going out to track a bad guy,' he added."
Fictional detectives, too, are defined in part by what they wear, from Sherlock Holmes and his deerstalker cap to Ken Bruen's Jack Taylor, an ex-cop who refuses all demands from the force to return "item 8234, me old Garda coat."

The deerstalker is an integral part of our image of the detective, the coat an integral part of the character's own self-image. But how about you, readers? What other fictional sleuths are inextricably associated with articles of clothing? How do the clothes make the man or woman when it comes to your favorite fictional detectives?

© Peter Rozovsky 2008

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11 Comments:

Blogger Linkmeister said...

Columbo and the raincoat. Snap-brim fedoras (Timothy Hutton playing Archie Goodwin on the A&E series). I don't know if Kinsey Mulhone and V.I. Warshawski have constants in their attire.

May 10, 2008  
Blogger Gerald So said...

Spenser used to wear a navy watch cap, but he's probably best known for baseball caps and running shoes. The shoes used to be New Balance, but I think he's gone to better known brands.

May 10, 2008  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Oh, yes, Columbo and the rumpled raincoat. That show was probably the first fictionalized crime to which I developed a strong attachments, and the coat probably did as much as Columbo's infuriating way of questioning suspects to cement the character's popularity.

Gerald, I was living in Boston when Robert B. Parker was publishing his early novels. I guess Spenser wore down-market sneakers then because I remember nothing about his shoes.

May 10, 2008  
Blogger Linkmeister said...

How could I forget Thomas Magnum and his Tigers ballcap with aloha shirt?

I think a lot of my imagining characters (20th century ones, anyway) comes from the film versions. Detectives wore fedoras in the 40s because Bogey wore one in The Maltese Falcon.

I can't think of any British detectives other than Holmes who wore anything extraordinary, but then most of the British crime fiction I read has the C.I.D. or some local constabulary involved, so there's not a lot of room for individualism.

May 10, 2008  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

You're probably right about our mental images of characters coming from their physical images in movies. Oddly enough, I don't especially picture Humphrey Bogart when I read Hammett or Chandler.

I mentioned Bill James in a recent post. Two of his characters are marked not by articles of apparel but by the types of clothes they wear: Assistant Chief Constable Desmond Iles and the expensive, beautifully fitting clothes of which he is so proud, and DCI Colin Harpur's informant Jack Lamb, with his eccentric combinations of military attire.

May 10, 2008  
Blogger Philip said...

Poirot's dandiacal appearance is very much part of his character from the first book on. Carol O'Connell's Mallory -- an extraordinary invention, not least because she and the other regulars emerge as full-blown characters in O'Connell's first novel -- is striking in appearance partly because of her casual but extremely expensive and stylish wardrobe, most notably her tailor-made jeans.

James' having Iles in expensive suits is true to reality. Detectives, at least in the UK and the US, and not just the most senior, do have a propensity to expensive wardrobes. One detective who passed through the Law and Order series had his shirts custom-made in Rome. If coupled with the ownership of porsches and yachts, I should think that might call for a visit from Internal Affairs.

May 10, 2008  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

I like the idea of tailor-made jeans. As it happens, someone suggested Carol O'Connell and Mallory to me yesterday. It may be time to follow up the suggestion.

I had Poirot in mind when I posted the comment, but more for his general appearance than for particular articles of clothing, unless one counts a mustache as a fashion accessory.

The article to which I linked in the comment makes the same point you do: that detectives dress well. But Iles seems outstanding even among detectives in this regard. It's not just the apparel, in other words, but the care Iles devotes to it, whether on the job or paying disturbing attention to Harpur's older daughter.

I was also going to suggest that Harpur does not dress especially well, but it's only Iles' insults that create that impression, I think.

May 10, 2008  
Blogger pattinase (abbott) said...

I wonder if fashion become more important in period pieces. And certainly more important in series' detectives. Setting your story in another period seems to necessitate the clothing, music and automobiles of that time.

May 10, 2008  
Blogger Linkmeister said...

Ok, y'all got me curious, so I Googled Carol O'Connell and found this description of her books and her character Mallory.

Reading that, I'm struck by the similarities between Mallory and J.D. Robb's Eve Dallas.

May 10, 2008  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Or, to state your point another way, Patti, writers of period pieces may feel compelled to emphasize the period, and they do so often through clothes. But here's a thought: Robert van Gulik set his Judge Dee mysteries in Tang Dynasty China. Naturally, characters occasionally reach for objects they have stored in the sleeves of their robes -- a picturesque detail to contemporary readers.

Now, think of the countless examples in contemporary fiction of a man reaching for the keys in his pants pocket, a woman nervously fingering the bodice of her dress, a gangster overdressed to impress, and so on. Imagine a hypothetical reader from a culture unfamiliar with Western dress. Would such a reader regard those examples as important cues, the way we regard dress in a period piece?

May 10, 2008  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Linkmeister, I have just followed suit and printed out that article. The description is pretty close to rhapsodic. This O'Connell might well be worth looking into.

May 10, 2008  

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