Monday, June 20, 2011

Fashion and private investigation: A brief historical overview

In 1929, Dashiell Hammett introduced the popular character Sam Spade in The Maltese Falcon.

A new client, Miss Wonderly:
She was tall and pliantly slender, without angularity anywhere. Her body was erect and high-breasted, her legs long, her hands and feet narrow. She wore two shades of blue that had been selected because of her eyes. The hair curling from under her blue had was darkly red, her full lips more brightly red. White teeth glistened in the crescent her timid smile made.
The same client, the next day:
Miss Wonderly, in a belted green crêpe silk dress, opened the door of apartment 1001 at the Coronet. Her face was flushed. Her dark red hair, parted on the left side, swept back in loose waves over her right temple, was somewhat tousled.
The same client (now calling herself Brigid O'Shaunessy), shortly thereafter:
She had put on a satin gown of the blue shade called Artoise that season, with chalcedony shoulder-straps, and her stockings and slippers were Artoise.

In 1973, Robert B. Parker introduced the character Spenser in The Godwulf Manuscript.

An unnamed administrative assistant for the campus security office at a Boston university:
[A] post-co-ed blonde in high white boots came in. She was wearing something in purple suede that was too short for a skirt and too long or a belt. Above that was a scarlet satin long-collared shirt with puffed sleeves and a deep neck. Her thighs were a little heavy, but maybe she thought the same of me.
An unnamed professor of psychology (same university) conducting class:
She wore a dark maroon silk granny dress with a low scooped neckline. The dress was covered with an of-white floral design that looked like hydrangea. Her long black hair was caught back with a gold barrette. She wore large round horn-rimmed glasses, and was smoking a corncob pipe with a curved amber stem.
Terry Orchard, a robbery suspect found next to a dead body:
Her hair was loose and falling forward as though she were trying to dry it in the sun. She wore only a pajama top with designs of Snoopy and the Red Baron on it, and it was from her that the faint kitten sounds were coming.

With the first three instances (to appropriate a Douglas Adams line), you can imagine the smoky tenor saxophone music building on the soundtrack. With the second three, all you can hear is the kazoo.

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