Detection through fashion

the book:

The Advocate's Wife by Norman Russell

published 2002   chapter 6 set in the 1890s


Inspector Box perched himself on a tall stool, and watched Anton Berg as he spread the green silk dress carefully over a wide, shallow table standing before a tall, uncurtained window in one of the many rooms at Syria Wharf. Below them, the Thames was alive with river traffic, stately merchant ships, busy coasters, and officious tugs, but Mr Berg’s keen, dark eyes saw only the green silk dress

‘Would you say, sir, that it was a young woman’s dress?’

 ‘Young? There are degrees of youth, Mr Box. This dress would not look amiss on a lady in her late thirties. It would be frightful on a young person of twenty. On a lady of – shall we say, forty-five, fifty? – it would be perfect.’

‘You’re a shining ornament, Mr Berg. You’re helping me to see this dress in its proper light. I knew you would! How much would a dress like that cost?’

‘This? You would pay thirty guineas for such a dress in Bond Street. I tell you, Mr Box, I think I know who made this dress. Do I know this business or do I not?...’

observations: Norman Russell has written two series of detective stories set in Victorian times – lots of period detail and solid-seeming research, if this one is typical. There is a huge market for such books, and as soon as you see that the publisher is Robert Hale you know exactly where you are, and that there’ll have been a big sale to the crime sections of public libraries. It’s certainly a good enough read, and naturally Clothes in Books absolutely loves the idea of detection via clothes examination. We should set ourselves up as forensic fashion experts – ‘ah yes, the cut of the skirt and the label inside tell me all about the wearer, from age to social status…’

Links up with: This
AS Byatt heroine wore green, as did a Royal lady living anonymously. A dress trimmed with green was key in this murder story.

The picture, by Antonio Maria Esquivel, can be found on
Wikimedia Commons.


  1. Moira - Thanks for this perspective on dresses. I also happen to really like historical mysteries and absolutely the prospect of finding clues in the style and cut of clothes is interesting. I've heard Norman Russell's name but haven't tried his series (yet...).

  2. Like Margot, I haven't read any Norman Russell. What a lovely dress!


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