Simanaitis Says

On cars, old, new and future; science & technology; vintage airplanes, computer flight simulation of them; Sherlockiana; our English language; travel; and other stuff


BRTISH MEN’S fashion has been jazzed up by Benedict Cumberbatch of BBC’s Sherlock, and thus I believe it’s not inappropriate to examine the sartorial style of the real Sherlock Holmes. The world’s greatest detective was hardly a fop, yet he clearly had a sense of late Victorian propriety.

Let’s look at the sartorial Holmes in today’s item, then his latter-day spirit, Mr. Cumberbatch, tomorrow.

Dr. John H. Watson describes what a perfect clothes horse Holmes was: “In height he was rather over six feet, and so excessively lean that he seemed to be considerably taller.” What’s more, Holmes knew when to spiff up and when it was appropriate to go casual.


Holmes in his dressing gown. Image by Sidney Paget for “The Man with the Twisted Lip.”

Was the dressing gown blue (as in “The Man with a Twisted Lip”), or purple (“The Blue Carbuncle”) or, at its most renowned, mouse-colored (“The Bruce-Partington Plans” and “The Empty House”)?

All three, said Sherlockian scholar Christopher Morley: “This particular gown was blue when new…. It had gone purple by the time of ‘The Blue Carbuncle.’ During the long absence 1891 – 1894, when Mrs. Hudson faithfully aired and sunned it in the backyard, it faded to mouse.”


Day wear at home, 221B Baker Street. Image by Sidney Paget for “A Scandal in Bohemia.”

London attire for Holmes during the day included a frock coat, tie and waistcoat. On the town, he wore a top hat or bowler and sometimes carried a walking stick. Being a proper Englishman, he knew as well about the protocol of evening wear.

I’m reminded of Rob Walker (, English motorsportsman—and gentleman—who raced his Delahaye in the 1939 Le Mans.


Rob Walker pilots his Delahaye in the 1939 Le Mans. Image from Rob Walker, by Michael Cooper-Evans, Hazelton, 1999.

It’s said Rob drove in a pinstriped suit, but pitted at dusk to change from brown shoes to evening’s black. Another variation of the tale suggests his crew signaled him in to help finish the last of the champagne, but I doubt Rob would have permitted running out so early.


Country attire, en route. Image by Sidney Paget for “Silver Blaze.”

Our familiar images of Holmes, in Inverness cape and deerstalker cap, are from his adventures in the country. He wouldn’t dress this way in town.


Town attire; Watson carries a walking stick. Image by Sidney Paget for “The Hound of the Baskervilles.”

Nor, by the way, did Holmes ever smoke a calabash pipe. This was a later theatrical affectation by actor William Gillette; he didn’t want the pipe to interfere with his delivery.

Trust the original source, artist Sidney Paget, to recognize the properly sartorial Holmes—with the proper pipe.


Holmes, with pipe, and Watson, evidently in town during the day. Image(s?) by Sidney Paget for “The Adventure of the Greek Interpreter.”

But wait! Here’s a mystery worthy of the great detective himself: Which of these two images is the original and which is a phony?

Proposed solution tomorrow. ds

© Dennis Simanaitis,, 2014


  1. sabresoftware
    June 3, 2014

    Picture on the left is the fake. Holmes was right handed.

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This entry was posted on June 2, 2014 by in The Game is Afoot and tagged , .
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