Sherlock Holmes often wore an "ear-flapped travelling cap". That’s right - there was never any specific mention of the iconic accessory we most associate with his character. That particular head-gear was first dreamt up by illustrator Sidney Paget - who took this description to mean a deerstalker hat. Thus it was that a hat, alongside the memorable images of cape, pipe and magnifying glass came to be linked with only one literary character. Indeed, not only is it not necessary to have read anything by Arthur Conan Doyle to recognise Sherlock Holmes, his appearance is so familiar that one needs only to look at the silhouette on the tiles at Baker Street tube station to know whose profile it is.
Sherlock Holmes is often regarded as one of the most recognisable literary figures of the late 19th Century, with only the occasional curiously named Dickensian character to contest his fame. In fact, his renown spreads far enough that one knows who he is, regardless of whether or not they have read any of the stories. I for one have never indulged in ‘A Study in Scarlett’ or ‘The Hound of the Baskervilles’ – although the complete works is looking immensely tempting in my local Waterstones. And yet, despite my ignorance in most things Holmes-ish, I still know plenty about his appearance and attire.
There seem to be certain books, authors/poets and characters that transcend their pages to take on a life of their own. What they come to represent is something beyond the original work. Someone who is a “bit Brideshead” could be thought of as part of the privileged aristocracy, an Oxford-ian or aesthete perhaps, or simply a religious noble with a little too much appreciation of champagne. Furthermore, ‘Byronic’ and ‘Heathcliff-like’ seem to have become rather interchangeable when it comes to descriptions of dark and brooding types. Such phrases, among countless others, are indicative of one of the ways that literature has infused day-to-day life.
Similarly, we often rely on books to inspire us. A fashion shoot somewhere wild could be deemed as having a ‘Wuthering Heights’ feel, while anything even vaguely whimsical is assigned an ‘Alice in Wonderland’ comparison – regardless of whether or not blue dresses and Cheshire Cats are involved. Although the same books can be peddled over and over again, becoming more repetitive than the adverts one sees on the London Underground, there is a certain joy in using words and descriptions as a creative stimulus. And so here I am taking my style credentials from Sherlock Holmes, complete with a second hand (charity shopped) deerstalker hat and vintage leather gloves. Not sure what he would have made of the Laura Ashley velvet shorts though - even if they were cleverly customised from some too-short trousers. The jumper is vintage Jaeger, the shoes were a present (they’re Office), the tights are from Next and all other accessories are vintage.
Oh, and the title? I’m afraid to say that Sherlock Holmes never uttered those words – it’s actually “exactly, my dear Watson”. It’s like a glorified version of Chinese Whispers.
Do you have any other literary or film inspirations and references you use? I would love to hear about them.