Fashion has always been filled with mysteries: What is hiding behind Karl Lagerfeld’s sunglasses? How can there be more than 52 fashion weeks in a year? Lotion and denim—meant to be?
Then, there are some things we don’t even need to question. As long as there have been sleuths—whether in fact or fiction—there has been clothing to covet, be it elaborate disguises or the more traditional trench coats. We got our Wornettes to get to the bottom of the case in figuring out who the best-dressed detectives are.
Dr. Julia Ogden (CityTV/CBC’s Murdoch Mysteries)
As Murdoch Mysteries‘ token “New Woman,” Dr. Ogden is a doctor, early forensics specialist, and women’s health advocate. She is also intellectually and temperamentally a perfect match for the series protagonist, Detective William Murdoch, and their partnership is the heart of the show. Her style reflects her position as a woman in a world of men, and she is almost always wearing menswear inspired pieces like ties, vests, and separates. But as the show has progressed and her presence has become more accepted (and she has moved away from the autopsy table), her dress has grown softer and more feminine. In the season 5 finale, she sexed it up completely in a black and red, low cut, sleeveless, beaded and sequined ball gown, the perfect outfit for a woman who is about to leave her husband for another man in 1900. Intelligent, brave, and forward-thinking, she’s the woman I would want to be if I were alive in Victorian Toronto—heck, she’s the woman I want to be now. // Megan Patterson
Hercule Poirot (multiple Agatha Christie novels)
“The neatness of his attire was almost incredible,” Captain Arthur Hastings remarked about his old friend Hercule Poirot in The Mysterious Affair at Styles. “I believe a speck of dust would have caused him more pain than a bullet wound.” Useful, when one’s job is solving crimes.
Agatha Christie introduced her diminutive, fastidious, and arrogant detective in the ’20s. She couldn’t have known that the transplanted Belgian, with small mincing steps, would follow her the rest of her life. Poirot was laid to rest the same year as his creator, in 1975. By then, his three-piece suits, bowler hats, and patent leather shoes were ludicrously out of date. But it’s fitting that a character that Christie described as a “detestable, bombastic, tiresome, ego-centric little creep,” would stubbornly cling to his jazz age style in the era of punk.
Poirot’s most famous attribute was without a doubt his moustache—a small handlebar, always perfectly waxed. In some Poirot films, he’s even shown wearing a moustache-net while sleeping. When dressing actor David Suchet, the definitive Poirot from the BBC series, the costume designers tested 40 fake moustaches in order to find the most symmetrical one. For costumers, as well as detectives, details are of the utmost importance. // Max Mosher
Jessica Fletcher (CBS’s Murder she Wrote)
It ain’t easy maintaining a sleepy east coast lifestyle while catching crooks on the regular in rural Maine, but Jessica Fletcher pulls it off with as much flair as guile. Whether she’s unearthing a crime at a Native American archaeological dig, dining with one of her countless nieces and nephews, or sleuthing with Magnum PI on a trip to Hawaii, she does so with an elegance that can only come with knowing that her night out will end up with her talking to the cops (seriously, does nobody question that wherever she goes, reckless murder tends to follow?). With clip-on earrings, jaunty hats, houndstooth jackets and a scarf collection that would earn jealous glares from the likes of Nancy Drew, her mix of belted, shoulder-padded mackintoshes and smart button-down vest combos offer up the best of nor’eastern fashion that makes us all want to curse, “clam dip!” // Whitney Wager
Where in the world is Carmen SanDiego? We never actually figured that out, but her tomato-red trench coat remains unmistakeable. Sandiego was the title outlaw of the 1980s children’s computer game where players scoured the globe looking for clues of the thief’s whereabouts. SanDiego wore the classic bank robber’s uniform of all black, topped off with a bright red floor-length trench coat and matching fedora, always poised for the getaway. It’s a testament to her stealthiness that she could remain perpetually untraceable while wearing some of the most noticeable clothes, earning her the apt nickname of “The Lady in Red.” Sure, unlike the other names on this list, SanDiego was more a crime starter than a crime solver, but her conspicuously coloured trench was the ultimate subversion of classic detective attire. // Isabel Slone
Marilyn might have sung “Diamonds are a girls best friend,” but it could have easily been said by the French courtesan Mata Hari, who was executed during WWI for being a supposed double agent. Often seen lavished in exotic diamond head-pieces and decadent silks fit for a bold spy disguised as an Egyptian goddess, Mata Hari’s glamour possessed an intruding sexiness uncommon during the still reserved days of Edwardian Europe.
When Greta Garbo played her in the 1931 film Mata Hari, the velvets, the furs, and the intoxicating amount of bling undoubtedly became one of the strongest focal points in every scene; so exuberant are they that it puts every modern-day Kardashian’s luxury to shame. But it’s not the excess of luxe that makes Mata Hari a fashionable dream—with a hazardous history of prostitution, seduction, and espionage. It’s the way in which all her diamonds are threaded with dangerous mystery, intrigue, and two-facedness that allow her and her style to become the quintessential archetype for dicey femme fatale glamour. Even James Bond called her his first true love. // Paulina Kulacz
Lana Kane (FX’s Archer)
Archer is one of those cartoons in a post-Simpsons world in which you can’t let its animated facade fool you—this is not a show for kids. It constantly straddles the line between delightfully subversive and obnoxious bro-humor with its frustrating Don Draper-meets-James Bond protagonist, secret agent Sterling Archer. Lana Kane (Aisha Taylor) is Archer’s ex-girlfriend and coworker, her no-bullshit attitude providing him much needed foil. And though the way she is drawn recalls ridiculously sexist notions of female anatomy seen in many male-targeted comic books (seriously, her chest-waist-hips ratio makes Barbie look like a stick) she actually gets to fight crime wearing relatively sensible clothing. OK, her high-heeled boots are a little nuts (though impeccably badass), but she’s got a whole wardrobe of these turtleneck sweater dresses that she wears to the office that scream, “I Enjoy Being an Attractive Lady But Also it is Important That I am Comfortable While Doing Behind The Scenes Intel Work Yet if Need be I can Also Easily Kick Your Ass in This Skirt, Also: Check Out My Gun Holsters; I Have Two of Them.” If only my own knitwear could be so badass. // Anna Fitzpatrick
Harriet the Spy (1996 film adaptation of Harriet the Spy by Louise Fitzhugh)
Forget typical trench-coats and fedoras. Eleven year old Harriet M. Welsch does her best secret snooping in classic ’90s grade-school style. Solid tees are layered over long-sleeved stripes, jeans and hoodies are very baggy, and plaid flannel is never far out of sight. On duty, Harriet (played by Michelle Trachtenberg before she became an evil mastermind) wears a bright yellow raincoat and a matching utility belt (it holds up her massive jeans and carries vintage spy supplies); her ever-present “PRIVATE” notebook is tucked in the front of her jeans and binoculars hang around her neck. Harriet is always ready for action, whether she’s hiding in a rich lady’s dumbwaiter or hanging from her best friend’s window ledge. Most of the time she’s sticking to practical pieces in primary colours—except when she’s dancing to James Brown in an onion costume. // Stephanie Fereiro
Joan Watson (CBS’s Elementary)
Being TV’s first gender-swapped Watson wasn’t enough for Joan—she also had to have a pretty wicked sense of style. As a born and bred New Yorker, I suppose this only makes perfect sense. When we think of Dr. Watson from other adaptations of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes stories, we typically think of someone very stuffy and buttoned up, and his style has always reflected that. Jane Watson on the other hand, exudes fresh breath of casual air, in her demeanor and her clothing. Her wardrobe is the exact opposite of the stuffy Victorian gentleman’s—flowy tops, leggings, perfect unstructured jackets, LOTS of New York-appropriate black, and miniskirts (girlfriend loves a miniskirt, and has on more than one occasion worn a leather one). Lucy Liu makes it all look effortless in that infuriating way she has, even the parts that involve dead bodies (which is, of course, most of them). // Megan Patterson
illustrations // Jenn Woodall
To see more stylin’ detectin’, check out our Nancy Drew inspired editorial in issue 9 of WORN Fashion Journal.