Do you know who Roy Raymond was? That name may not be familiar to you, but the name of the company he founded – Victoria’s Secret – may very well be. Raymond built an extremely successful business on the assumption that buying underwear and lingerie isn’t just a routine sort of thing, like buying socks usually is. The story is that he got the idea for the company because of being embarrassed at buying lingerie for his wife in a very public department store. The Victoria’s Secret experience was designed to be more private and more luxurious.
The fact is, underwear and lingerie can give clues about a person. And, let’s be honest, beneath stacks of underwear is a classic place to hide things, at least in crime fiction. That’s part of the reason that real-life and fictional police look through victims’ and suspects’ most personal items when they’re trying to get information on a case. And we see underwear and lingerie being used in several other ways in the genre, too.
For instance, in Agatha Christie’s Cards on the Table, Hercule Poirot investigates the stabbing death of the very enigmatic Mr. Shaitana. There are only four possible suspects: the other four people who were in the room at the time of the killing. What’s interesting about these people is that Shaitana had hinted that each one had gotten away with at least one murder. So, the most likely possibility is that one of those people killed Shaitana to keep him quiet. At one point in the story, Poirot pays a visit to Messrs. Harvey Robinson’s, which sells women’s clothing, lingerie, and stockings. There, with no apparent embarrassment, he buys nineteen pairs of stockings, which certainly raises the eyebrows of the jaded women who work there. Fans of the story will know why he makes that purchase, and it’s interesting to see how he is treated in that shop.
In Deborah Crombie’s In a Dark House, Superintendent Duncan Kincaid and his partner, Sergeant Gemma James, investigate when the body of an unknown woman is discovered in the ruins of a warehouse fire. The police try to identify her by consulting reports of missing persons. The job is made a bit easier because there are really only four women reported as missing who match the description of the dead woman. One of those women is Elaine Holland. At one point, James visits Holland’s home, and, with the permission of her roommate, goes through her things. As she searches the missing woman’s underwear, she finds some surprising things. James’ discoveries don’t solve the mystery of whose body is in the warehouse, but they do show how revealing underthings can be (yes, pun intended).
Camilla Läckberg’s The Ice Princess introduces her sleuth, crime writer Erica Falck. In the novel, she returns to her home town of Fjällbacka to sort through her parents’ things after their deaths. While there, she gets drawn into a murder investigation when her former friend, Alexandra ‘Alex’ Wijkner is found dead. The investigating officer, Patrik Hedström, has always liked Erica, and she him, but nothing ever came of it. Now, the two begin the first stages of a relationship, with all of the awkwardness and fun that happens at that stage. In this scene, for instance, Erica is preparing for Patrik to come over to her home:
‘The first dilemma had arisen…when, like her favorite literary heroine Bridget Jones, she was faced with the decision of which panties to choose. Should she wear a beautiful, lace-trimmed thong, for the slim eventuality that she and Patrik ended up in bed? Or should she put on the substantial and terribly ugly panties with the extra support for tummy and backside, which would increase her chances that they might end up in bed at all?’
After all, it is important to make a good first underwear impression…
Gordon Ell’s The Ice Shroud tells the story of the murder of Edie Longstreet. When her body is found frozen in a river not far from Queenstown, Detective Sergeant (DS) Malcom Buchan takes the case. He’s recently moved from Dunedin to head the Criminal Investigation Bureau (CIB) for New Zealand’s Southern Lakes District, and this is the first murder case he’s headed up in this area. Buchan and his team begin their investigation with a look at the victim’s business and personal relationships. It turns out that Edie and her business partner, Linda Priestly, owned a lingerie shop called Figments. It’s an upmarket place, the sort that tourists, rather than locals, frequent. The shop wasn’t doing very well at the time of Edie’s death, but the victim seemed to be in no need of money. So, one lead involves finding out where her money came from, since it didn’t come from store profits. Another lead to follow is Edie’s relationships with other business owners in the area, and with people who came to the shop. And then there’s her personal life, which provides several possibilities. In the end, Buchan and his team find that Edie was a more complicated person than anyone knew, and that that played a role in her murder.
And then there’s Janet Evanovich’s Stephanie Plum. Fans can tell you that she is a fugitive recovery agent – a bounty hunter – who works for her cousin’s bail bond agency. But that hasn’t always been her job. She used to work as a lingerie buyer for a department store. So, she’s familiar with all sorts of different underthings. When she was laid off from that position, she had to get work elsewhere. She took what was supposed to be a clerical job at her cousin’s agency as a temporary measure. But, as fans know, it turned into a permanent job finding people who don’t want to be found.
There are many, many other examples of underwear, lingerie, and the like in crime fiction. One post isn’t nearly enough to give all of the examples. But I know where you can go for a much more extensive resource. Check out Moira’s excellent blog, Clothes in Books. You’re in for great discussions of all things wearable in fiction. And especially check out Moira’s Dress Down Sunday feature on that blog, in which she discusses what goes on under the clothes. G’wan, you’ll be glad you did.
*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Fred Ebb and Bob Fosse’s Overture/All That Jazz.