Comparing Detectives (and Clothing Them)

Agnetha, aged 16-17
Agnetha, aged 16 – 17

As you may know, A Tale of Jackets and Phones is my stand-by project, the one I wish I could work, had it not less priority than WTCB. I was recently thinking about the MC, teen investigator and general busybody, Agnetha, and her style, something which I feel is still lacking. I haven’t yet crafted something so…distinct in the way she dresses.

Granted, she’s a lot more glamorous and easier to dress by the time she’s eighteen (think: a coat like the one Brett is wearing below but in a lighter colour like lilac, and blouses and skirts) and she was a Sixth Form prefect, so that became her well, but, in her fourteen-year-old mind, despite how spotless in logic it might be, she’s not worked out a specific style yet.

And this has always tripped me. I do need something suited to her fastidious mind more than normal, nondescript twenty-first century gear.

So, how does one start clothing the amateur detective?

Well, here I’m looking to, and shifting my inspiration from, my three favourite detectives. Evidently, though I’m noticing a theme that none are contemporary (or, for that matter, contemporaries), each is very different when it comes to their style, both during investigation and in their dress and self-admiration. Laying aside plot, character and dramatisation, the reason these three detectives are memorable to me is because the author has described them exactly. Or, rather: given enough text for costume departments to devise a unique outfit for the character.

On the other hand, modern dress is difficult to emulate in fiction, simply because, unlike the times of Holmes and Poirot, our culture(s) have no ‘set’ design. Still, I believe it’s worth my time devising a new set of outfits for Agnetha to wear in OJAP, since that may well define her in the years to come when she’s met with readers. Besides, as these three show, not only can outfit define a character from their peers, but it can also reflect their intrigue of mysteries. Their exteriors must reflect the order or chaos of their interiors.

As I say about the story:

“It[…]will appeal to fans of Poirot and Nancy Drew who like their sleuths with a little more snark.”

David Suchet’s Poirot

Dapper and decisive, Suchet has a different outfit for each scene, but all are filled with the same concentrated intelligence that Poirot carries. In one of his earliest cases when he was still a member of the Belgian police force, he was given the brooch he subsequently wears. Most outfits Suchet wears in his performances include this emblem of his past, though not all pictures do show it, sadly. Much like Nancy Drew (and Agnetha), Poirot does not seem to have a ‘set’ choice of fashion except that of being, as I say, ‘dapper’ in its broader sense. He respects the dress of the times, but also vary from it, partly because of his status as a foreigner, wearing a distinct tie with a plain jacket, or gloves mismatching his colour scheme.

Jeremy Brett’s Holmes

You’ll see that, naturally, Poirot and Holmes have similar dress in basic: gloves, cane, coat, hat, bow tie. Often double-breasted and double-cuffed jackets for respect of society. However, Sherlock is often portrayed in much more muted colours, the blacks and whites of his up-down moods. Especially in the case of my favourite Holmes, Jeremy Brett, his eccentricity central to every detective is displayed through his mannerisms and distinctly aloof behaviour than through the shine and colour of his clothes, whereas Poirot’s is through a blend of both.

Then we come to the stark change of style and gender! After all, the one thing that Agnetha cannot emulate, even through her scant knowledge of the above characters, is their age and masculinity. That’s not who I made her. Instead, I do think of her as some kind of modern Nancy Drew – a grittier, harsher young woman with problems beyond her mysteries, problems which actually link her to her first murder-plot and, though differently, to the last in her original trilogy.

Characters don’t tend to become detectives without these problems and quirks of character anyway. Poirot, one could argue, since he is more straight-edged than most ‘tec characters, has his Belgian disposition and his obsession with cleanliness. Sherlock has his drug problem and “high functioning” sociopathy.

Get me this dress now!

Classy, yet youthful, Nancy Drew’s 50s outfits (she went through many evolutions since the beginning of the franchise in the 30s, but Emma Roberts’ portrayal is my favourite, as I believe she encompasses the entirety of the Nancy in my head) express an individuality – and through it, strange interest in mystery – very different from that of her peers. Nancy is relatable to Agnetha, since they both are constrained by their youth and societal expectations, whereas the two detectives above had their jobs solving crime.

I think what I’m looking for in terms of a modern, fourteen-year-old Agnetha is the mix of all three. I want the femininity of Nancy’s 50s outfits, skirts and neat patterns, but I want a practicality seen by Holmes, whilst keeping a kind of eccentricity displayed by Poirot’s clothes. It’s less a question of blouse/shirt, trousers/skirt, makeup/none (in fact, Agnetha puts on makeup in one scene, so I know for certain that she does doll herself up, even then), and more a question of how I’d like to see her, were she portrayed on the visual medium of screen or stage.

Agnetha, aged 12
Agnetha, aged 12


3 thoughts on “Comparing Detectives (and Clothing Them)

    1. Thanks 🙂 I don’t tend to, but some of my characters have a ‘signature piece’ or something that they tend to wear in my head.

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