Thanks to quarantine I feel myself regressing to movies I’ve watched in my youth. And one stands out as one of the first films to catch my eye for fashion: a Sherlock Holmes adaptation that actually makes a strong case for late Victorian-fashion.
Don’t forget to listen to the podcast and follow along!
- 0:20 Introduction
- 0:55 WAYWT
- 3:25 “There’s nothing more important than fit pics.”
- 4:25 Movie & Show Recommendations
- 5:15 Sherlock Holmes
- 8:50 “(Sherlock) was really formative for me and one of the first movies that I thought had such cool fashion.”
- 10:55 “I think I just like period pieces with cool action sequences…the second Sherlock film has a gatling gun – immediately on board.”
- 11:50 “This film has it all: it’s got cool style, a good score, and a good interpretation of Sherlock Holmes.”
- 12:45 “I’m the Mandarin bitch.”
- 13:00 Plot
- 18:30 Fashion of the Film
- 18:55 “We’ve seen people wear old 1900’s clothing…but it’s very rare and doesn’t give you a holistic sense of how people dressed back then.”
- 24:15 Sherlock
- 25:10 “In earlier interpretations, Sherlock was a dignified Frasier-type…but this time they give him the quirky genius Mark Zuckerberg-type.”
- 38:40 “This outfit really got my bones hard I guess.”
- 44:45 Watson
- 59:55 “He’s very put together, it’s always a three piece suit almost cut the exact same way, in varying degrees of tweed.”
- 1:01:15 Blackwood
- 1:04:50 “His combination all together is vampiric, which is what they were going for – he’s undead.”
- 1:05:40 Others
- 1:05:45 “Extras tend to have a bit more vintage accuracy…a lot of time they’re wearing vintage.”
- 1:11:50 Q&A!
It should surprise no one that I’m a dork, especially when it comes to my taste in “cinema”. I mean I do watch good films, but I definitely have a soft spot for fun! As a result, the movies that I tend to pay attention to for menswear aren’t the Clark Gable or Anthony Perkins lead ones, but the silly action ones that have decent style. This is most evident in my blog posts for Fantastic Beasts or Gangster Squad!
In that same vein, 2013’s Great Gatsby remains the pivotal film that got me into vintage style, and by extension classic menswear. But it wasn’t the first movie with style that caught my eye. That honor belongs to Guy Ritchie’s Sherlock Holmes, whose Bohemian-clad, action-oriented take on Doyle’s character intrigued a high school freshman way back in 2009.
There’s just something about this movie that really intrigued me. It could just be at the time, I was around 13 years old and like many nerdy tumblr guys, I had a fascination with “dapper clothing”. The only difference was that Victorian style (or vintage style in general) was just more ornate and interesting than whatever popped up on the cover of GQ. So wonderfully embroidered waistcoats, boots, and tweed jackets really caught my fancy, though for the record, I never actually dressed like a Victorian gentleman. The fact that the main character was an “intellectual” and an outcast resonated with my tween self.
I shuddered as I wrote that.
The fact remains that this film was just super cool and a fun take on the famous literary character. A fun score by Zimmer, epic action scenes, and British accents really cemented it as a guilty pleasure even now! Again, I never was the hipster watching French New Wave or even a Wes Anderson film in my youth. I was just a nerdy normie (still am).
Now the costuming in the film appears to be rather well done, considering it’s a silly action movie. Of course, that could simply be because anything pre-1910s is not my forte. However, to my untrained eyes, it’s a much better effort than say Gangster Squad (where everything looks fake) or the Great Gatsby (where they go for an idealized look). In that regard, it’s similar to the efforts made by Fantastic Beasts, which was surprisingly decent, bar a few fun choices that could be explained by the Wizarding World in which it takes place.
According to interviews with the costumers, they did their best to make it period accurate, as evident in this article or even this other blogger (whose coverage of the film probably beats out this one). It’s been a long time since I’ve read the books, but I don’t think that much of the “sartorial details” are made in the books outside a few references to grabbing a coat or perhaps wearing a suit to out in. So for the purposes of this review (of sorts), we can just compare it to what we can surmise was the typical fashions of the time.
Victorian tailoring (which is not my strong suit whatsoever) is a bit hard for me to describe. It truly is a different beast when compared to ivy, disco suits, or even Golden Era Tailoring! Could be because it’s just straight up crazier in the small details (with proto-suits and frocks) but also because existing pieces seldom exist today and no one really wears the style today, outside of historical societies and steampunk cosplayers (and in those cases, the liberties can be played up). It’s funny because in reality, I believe the looks are a lot more subdued than you think they are. And thats why I think the costuming in Sherlock is quite effective!
In general, most of Victorian-era menswear looks the same for me and probably for you too. There are a lot of top hats, stiff collar shirts, and black suits for upper class gentlemen, tweed suits for the middle class, and odd jackets, work pants, and bowlers for the everyman. Separates of class by fashion was certainly a thing, but in terms of design, it’s pretty similar to the fashions of the 1910s to early 1920s, with a few oddities thrown in. This is evident in illustrations and photographs.
Let’s look at the picture above, which according to google, is from the 1890s. It appears to be a flannel or tweed 3PC suit and if we’re just briefly looking at the cut, it’s fairly standard and classic. The shoulders look natural and unpadded, the arm holes are high, and the trousers are straight cut (perhaps a bit on the wide side). There aren’t any cuffs, but that was certainly the style until we got the late 1910s or so. Doesn’t look too weird right?
The details get weirder when we take a closer look. Firstly, the jacket is cut much longer that what you’d see in classic menswear; if he were standing it would probably go beyond the thumb. This was the style of the time, where traditional tailoring was starting to change from full length frocks and tail coats.
The button positioning and placement should catch your eye next, being very high and spaced rather far apart. You can really see where classic ivy sack suits like ones from Brooks Brothers or J. Press would evolve from, though the spacing is much more conspicuous. At this time, all buttons (or just the top one) was meant to be fastened, resulting in much more cylindrical appearance that definitely looks antiquated when compared to even the suits of the 1920s.
Lapels were actually rather modest in their dimensions, since they lead to the top button rather than the midsection of a jacket. The only real oddity is in the placement of the gorge (which was rather low) and how “open” and angled the notch was.
Now obviously regular suits weren’t the only thing people wore back then, which only adds to how different the Victorian era was. As you can see in the picture above, there were a multitude of different styles, ranging from frocks to variations on black tie. Some jackets had the waist stitch, as seen on the right most suit. Others had exceedingly curved quarters, taking what they could from the designs of a frock. Overall, slightly-long jacket length, nipped waists, and slim sleeves and legs were the all the rage.
Black jackets and grey odd trousers (in checks or stripes) were very common for the period, as morning dress was in full form. This was a period of “multiple outfit changes” for occasions of the day after all. Choosing which variation to go with, as well as the type of cravat or neck scarf, was the main way men would infuse personal style into their attire.
Stiff detachable collars were also an important component of Victorian menswear and if the stories are true, it was so men could wear their shirt multiple times and only wash their collars. They were also meant to be worn high on the neck and were “standing” upright, though variations did exist.
Overall, many of this could be said for 1910s or early 1920s style, just with a few tweaks and changes. The concept of fashion for fashion’s sake didn’t really come about yet, so there wasn’t a lot of changes from decade to decade, at least from what I can tell in the late Victorian Period.
We start our analysis with the attire of Sherlock Holmes, the world’s greatest detective. Now as plebian as I am, I did not really watch the Basil Rathbone series, so my only form of sartorial knowledge of the character came in the form of stereotypical inverness/deerstalker ensemble. But like I said earlier, Holmes’s outfits were never outright stated, and many people assume that he would be dressed as a typical “gentleman” would, suits, frocks, capes and all.
In the Guy Ritchie film, they instead play into his Bohemian nature, as detailed in A Scandal in Bohemia. The 2009’s Sherlock is unkempt, rude, and confident in his own intellegence, echoing a certain other genius in RDJ’s repertoire. And like Tony Stark, Holmes dresses unconventionally, especially when compared to his compatriots like Watson or DI Lestrade. Instead of tennis shoes and slacks as Stark does, Holmes opts for a mix of soft collared dress shirts with a cravat, elegant (but soon disheveled) frock-esque jackets, gorgeous embroidered waistcoats, and pinstriped odd trousers. Despite how dressy he seems to be, Sherlock has an air of nonchalance and slouchyness to him. Maybe that’s why I like him!
Holmes seldom deviates from this uniform throughout the film, swapping out pieces as he goes. I believe the film actually takes place over a few days (three?), so it makes sense that he doesn’t go through many changes; he’s often staying up fighting in boxing matches or thrown in jail which doesn’t give him a chance to swap an outfit fully.
During a late night raid to stop a cult ceremony, we see Sherlock’s first outfit which is a great first example of his uniform. A black frock coat with a striped waistcoat help him blend in with his surroundings and remain sharp. He actually sports a band collar shirt (or rather, shirt with its detachable collar detached) isntead of his usual standing collars and accents it with a dark red cravat. One quick scene of him taking out a criminal reveals that he has microchecked grey odd trousers, making this a fun play on morning dress, if his jacket is indeed black.
When we see him the next morning, basking in the glory of we see one of Sherlock’s favorite shirts: a soft collar shirt with a pleated bib front. It appears to be true vintage, but it’s most likely a 1930’s soft tuxedo shirt or dress shirt; with its rumply appearance and off white color, it works as a generic Victorian shirt. I have a feeling that he actually wears this shirt for most of his scenes, though in other appearances it’s pressed and the collar is worn up.
The real oddity is his dressing gown, which looks like it’s been torn up by dogs. It seems like it used to be a classic burgundy color (with a black satin lapel), but it’s been browned by age. Again, I don’t know what late Victorian dressing gowns look like, but this achieves it’s goal in looking very antique-d and perfect for a Bohemian Holmes.
You can expect this uniform (dress shirt + gown) whenever we see Holmes at home at 221B Baker St.
When Holmes is told to wear a jacket to dinner with Watson and Mary, he wears a jacket. It’s not true evening wear, but this is Sherlock Holmes we’re talking about!
Holmes wears a tailcoat suit that looks largely similar to a white tie tuxedo. In an interesting move, the peak lapels are doubled, which I believe is a Victorian detail. Now to make it look a bit older and eccentric (as tail coats haven’t changed much over the years), Holmes wears his with his trademarked embroidered waistcoat and his white pleated shirt, this time with the collar turned upwards (most likely to echo traditional stiff collars).
Instead of a bowtie, Holmes opts for a cravat. It’s black with white stripes, making for an elegant look, but to me, it just looks like a wide necktie worn like a cravate due how to big it is.
We get a better full look at his outfit when he gets picked up after a night of boxing to see Lord Blackwood. It’s definitely more slouchy in typical Sherlock style: his cuffs are undone and his cravat has sunk low on his chest, becoming almost like a jaunty scarf. i actually really dig this look, since its almost similar in vibe to something from SLP or general rockstar chic. I wouldn’t do a straight recreation of it today, but it’s got me hankering for more edgy fits for myself.
Now we’ve come to Sherlock’s ultimate outfit, the one that got me hard for menswear (and not graphic tees and plaid shorts) all those years ago. Its my favorite one from the film!
For investigating the site of Lord Blackwood’s tomb, Sherlock goes all out. A blue wide waled corduroy jacket is the star of the outfit. To me, it’s reminiscent of a peacoat, since it has a wide ulster-esque lapels and a long length (reaching the hips), though it is single breasted rather than double. It also features vents in the back and buttons on the back, a little detail found on Victorian jackets.
Under the jacket Sherlock yet again wears a velvet(?) waistcoat that is dark green with gold floral designs. A black and gold cravat echoes the waistcoat wonderfully, worn over what seems to be a soft collared cutaway collar dress shirt. For trousers, Sherlock wears dark grey pinstripe trousers, again drawing connotations to morning dress.
A black well-worn fedora and round glasses help complete the look and give this an Oscar Wilde-ian/Bohemian charm. Fedoras weren’t worn often by men until the 1900s and before that, they were a women’s hat. Holmes’s use of it may not be period accurate (or appropriate for his sex), but it hammers in how weird he is compared to other people. In fact, his whole outfit accomplishes that point.
And yes, I know how steampunk-chic this outfit is.
In the climax of the film (and after a few casually disheveled fits), Sherlock returns to form with his uniform. This variation has another velvet waistcoat (with brass buttons) and a striped scarf (instead of a cravat), worn with his customary striped oddtrousers. His jacket is a beauty, being a tailcoat with wide notch (or ulster?) lapels made up from an exploded tartan in dark green and red. It even has embroidered frog closure for that extra Victorian detailing!
Even though it’s just another version of Sherlock’s uniform, it feels like it’s echoing previous outfits (his evening suit and his opening attire) in order to provide some closure to the Blackwood conflict. We gotta finish off strong!
In most adaptations (especially in stereotypical ones), Watson is Sherlock’s bumbling sidekick that is only there to marvel at the detective’s mental prowess. Here, he’s made to be more of a foil to Sherlock’s anti-social (and out right dangerous) behavior, keeping him grounded and human through playful insults and twisting his arm. It’s only natural that Watson’s attire helps to hammer this point, being rather put-together in comparison to Holmes’s mishmash of styles.
In almost every scene, Watson’s attire is immaculate. While it isn’t overly formal, he’s usually wearing some form of 3PC suit, hat, and overcoat. In true late-Victorian fashion, Watson’s jackets are natural shouldered, feature four buttons (and fasten at the top), and have flat front, high rise (props to him for wearing them at the right height), straight leg trousers. I do like that the costumers gave Watson interesting cloth, from brown herringbone tweeds to a a grey/red windowpane. It shows that Watson is a man of good taste but also has the bonus of setting him apart from the other sartorial characters of the film.
For shirts, he opts for stiff detachable club collars, yet another contrast to the soft standing ones worn by his detective compatriot. I like that you can tell their detachable, revealed by the gold stud in close-up shots. Watson pairs his starched white collars atop striped shirts, yet another (easy) way to achieve a vintage look. The costumers also add an extra flair with the cravat necktie, tied rather loosely around the neck (in true period fashion).
Overall, Watson’s suits look period accurate and are most likely specially made/designed for the film. Even though they are quite contemporary in cut (look at the high armholes and slim arms!), the other particulars make it look quite Victorian like the use of wide flaps (on the breast pocket no less) and fun decorative seams. It just goes to show that you need more than tweed to have a period look; the small details matter!
In the opening scene, we see Watson’s full attire sans overcoat and hat. It’s a brown houndstooth tweed that I love, which is unsurprising due to my love of brown tailoring. It could be said that this is a “sporting suit”, since if it was truly formal, he’d be in something akin to morning dress or a evening wear.
Other than the cool fabric, the suit is rather par-for-the-course. It has the wide set buttons, top fastening, an angled breast pocket, and rather fun modest lapels. We can expect this same cut for all of his other outfits, down the striped shirt and plain tie.
When we see Watson doing actual doctor duties, he surprises us by wearing a morning frock coat over two pieces of his windowpane grey tweed suit (which we will see later). The coat is cut long with very prominent peak lapels and a close fit, which results in a very elegant silhouette. I’m pretty sure true morning dress would utilize a dedicated waistcoat and trouser, but perhaps the costumers didn’t want to spend too much on new outfits; as you recall many pieces are reused and worn multiple times in the film.
In any case, it’s a good approximation of what a gentleman would wear in the day time. Watson probably knows the “rules” of the period and him wearing this coat over his tweed ensemble is him following suit. It also makes him look much more put-together than Holmes’s ratty robe in the next few scenes.
The only time Watson deviates from his typical sartorial attire is during his dinner with Mary and Sherlock. Black tie/evening wear would be appropriate for this, as Sherlock appromixates, but instead, Watson wears an absolutely badass look. It seems to be some form a military tunic accented with black silk; it reminds me of what Raoul wears in Phantom of the Opera during the masquerade. Unfortunately we don’t see much more of this phenomenal outfit as he storms out when Sherlock unwittingly offends Mary Morstan.
Watson comes back to form when he picks up Sherlock after his night of boxing. Now we can see him proper: with hat and overcoat included!
This suit is similar to the brown one worn at the beginning of the film with a few changed details. First, the material is different, being a grey worsted with a red check (though promo shots show that it has other colors too). Next, it has flapped pockets, including a flap over the breast pocket! We don’t get to see these details just yet, but luckily Watson wears the same suit again later in the film.
The real interesting point here is his overcoat, which is rather rumply and casual considering what Watson wears underneath. It looks to be made of some cotton or linen, which leads me to believe it’s some sort of workwear chore coat. The use over a suit is an odd one, but we don’t have long to dwell on it, as Sherlock later steals it to pursue Irene Adler; it is absent the rest of the film.
Watson retains the same grey windowpane suit when accompanying Sherlock to the site of Blackwood’s tomb. Here, he replaces the tan chore coat with something more appropriate: a brown double breasted overcoat. It’s definitely a beauty, pairing well with his brown hat and contrasting against the grey suit. I did notice the low gorge of the lapels, which is interesting, but add to the period look.
A light brown herringbone tweed suit makes an appearance before the climax, which is worn during their trip to the slaughterhouse and subsequent rescue of Irene Adler. Again, this 3PC follows suit with the other ones Watson has worn, though this one has a true sport lapel. In interesting move, Watson ditches the tie and stiff club collar, making him look just a tad casual and slightly inline with Sherlock’s dock worker outfit.
Watson brings back the grey windowpane jacket for the final battle with Blackwood’s goons. Note the soft shoulder and high armhole; great stuff for a what is presumably a custom made suit for the film! This time, he goes it without an overcoat, so we can finally see all the great details that lurked beneath.
Lord Blackwood is this film’s villain and an original one made for the film. He doesn’t appear very often (mainly because he’s presumed dead for some of it), but he absolutely steals the scene in his vampiric-inspired attire.
When we first see him, he’s wearing a religious tunic with gold embroidery; it makes sense since he’s a serial killer eyeing to lead the Order and Parliament. In the rest of the film, we see him proper: Blackwood is almost perpetually in a wide collared leather coat, wing collar (marking him above Watson in terms of formality), black cravat-necktie, and a burgundy vest. According to one of the articles I linked above, the coat is actually from the 1970’s (I’m not surprised), which they chose to layer with a fur collared overcoat to approximate a Victorian look; I’m sure villains, especially creepy cult ones, don’t have to be completely period accurate.
It really is clear that they wanted to dress Blackwood as an “updated” Dracula.
In most period films, most of the side characters and extras get to wear the real period accurate attire while the main characters get custom made clothing, which is usually bad. However, this film does a great job with both sides of the costuming, making it a treat for menswear enthusiasts who have the same dumb action taste that I do.
DI Lestrade has no real changes through the film and can perpetually be found in a bowler hat, black overcoat, and (presumably) a 3PC dark business suit. Like Watson, he has a coat, though he opts for a chesterfield model, which means that it has a velvet collar. Lestrade is also the only person who wears a geometric necktie, as the others either wear a plain one (Watson and Blackwood) or a cravat.
The goons all have an interesting style that isn’t the suspender-clad gangsters most people expect. They all have a similar look, being made up of mainly earth toned ensembles of odd jackets, waistcoats, and trousers, mixing in checks and pinstripes as needed. Band collars definitely abound, as they obviously would have no need for a starched detachable collar or a tie.
To me, they (and any non formal character) look a bit like Gangs of New York (which is set 50 years earlier), just without the tall top hats and tailcoats. It could all be on purpose, as their clothing is meant to look “older” compared to the more “modern” suits worn by Watson.
Dredger, despite being a rather minor character, has one of the coolest outfits in the film. I’m not sure if his outfit counts as “French workwear”, but he definitely stands out among the other goons. The melange jacket is nice, but the true star is the chambray-esque striped band collar shirt and double breasted corduroy waistcoat; it even has lapels!
If you showed up to Inspiration LA wearing true vintage versions of this, you’d be the talk of the show.
Lastly, we finish with attire worn by the Temple of the Four Orders. As they are all Lords (or in Standish’s case, an ambassador), they wear the most formal attire in the film, made up of satin collared frock coats (DBs no less), wing collars, and cravats. While I do appreciate the vintage look of a DB frock, I particularly like Standish’s red waistcoat. Like with Blackwood, its combination with black and grey makes for a very formal look.
I’ve gotta hand it to the production team behind this Sherlock Holmes adaption. Despite it taking place in a rather inaccessible era (for fashion), the costuming is really good, making late Victorian-era fashion, with all of it’s starched collars, cravats, and odd buttoning, look super cool. Quite obviously, Holmes & Watson take the cake, providing inspiration in the form of both a rockstar intellectual’s approach to frock coats and embroidered waistcoats to a good doctor’s tweed 3PC. Every character is done well and made in a way that is period accurate and stylish, something that is quite a feat.
Now you may not be able to wear the exact details and cuts, but we can certainly take a few cues from it! Natural shoulders, a full cut shirt, and a high rise trouser should be no brainer, but there are some other ones as well. For example, it’s making me think about wearing my jaunty scarf more often or even incorporate a jaunty bandana to evoke Sherlock’s lazy cravats. It’s also turning me over to waistcoats worn casually, though appearing like a hipster bartender is an easy trap to fall into. But it in a similarly costume-y way, Sherlock is selling that black fedora look.
Every time I watch the film, I wonder if my style will take a Victorian-inspired turn…somehow. It reminds me of how I was enamored with what Laurie wears in Greta Gerwig’s Little Women, which may or may not be a film I will cover the future.
In any case, if you haven’t seen Guy Ritchie’s Sherlock Holmes, you definitely should! It’s one of my favorites across a lot of of things: action, score, and especially fashion. With it’s dumb guilty pleasure fun, the film is very reminiscent of the original Pirates of the Caribbean Trilogy, infusing entertainment to a period far in the past. It really is a perfect flick when you’re stuck inside during quarantine.
Let your mind rebel at stagnation.
Always a pleasure,