Show Her Where to Park Her Girdle*

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.

20 Comments

Filed under Agatha Christie, Camilla Läckberg, Deborah Crombie, Gordon Ell, Janet Evanovich

20 responses to “Show Her Where to Park Her Girdle*

  1. this is so interesting and great presentation to read and learn, there are so deep values.

  2. Absence of underwear figures in Arnaldur Indridason’s Voices.
    http://bookloons.com/cgi-bin/Review.asp?bookid=7144
    I bet other birthday suit variations occur often in the genre.

    • Ah, you’re right, of course, Tim. And thanks for that reminder. Voices is a fine novel, and that series is excellent. I appreciate your filling in that blank. Thanks for sharing your review of it, too. And yes, there are, indeed, other mentions of people wearing nothing but what nature granted them.

  3. Whoever would have guessed there would be so many references to underwear in crime fiction! 🤣 You’re a marvel at finding all these connections, Margot! I truly don’t know how you do it… 😀

  4. Spade & Dagger

    I seem to remember Stephanie Plum was also very interested in Ranger’s underwear choices (day job versus private life!) when she stayed at his apartment to evade some bad guys.
    I probably remember this example because it amused me at the time, because I can’t really recall the specifics of other examples I’ve read (including the detectives who find large sized female underwear & clothes in a man’s house so no one is sure who exactly is wearing it & for what motive).

    • You do have a good memory, Spade & Dagger. You are absolutely right about Stephanie Plum and Ranger. And you’re right; there are all sorts of examples of unusual underwear in people’s houses in crime fiction. I suppose detects get used to that sort of thing.

  5. Thanks so much for the shoutout – it is my week on your blog with this AND department stores to divert and entertain me! So the least I can do is offer you some more…
    -Christie’s Murder at the Vicarage has very surprising comments from the vicar about knickers, and there is the vital question of whether Anne Protheroe could have hidden a gun in her underwear: Miss Marple claims to be able to tell just by looking that she couldn’t.
    -Frances Crane, the Applegreen Cat, has characters developing a marvellous new thread which will make for strong stockings. But could these textile developments have a vital wartime role as well, and is the secret worth killing for?
    -Christie again: in Sleeping Murder a woman has packed up to run away – apparently. The men all accept this fact. But the lady’s maid says: she packed the wrong underwear for the clothes. She took the right AMOUNT of clothes, but they didn’t go together, she didn’t take her evening garter belt and bra… no woman would miss those out. Evidence that a man packed the bag, and she did not choose to leave.
    What a great topic this is! But you knew I’d say that, didn’t you 😉 ?

    • 😆 Yes, I did know, Moira. I’m so glad you got the chance to read this, and it’s my pleasure to plug your blog. Thanks also for those great examples. Trust you to choose exactly the right ones, too! I knew you’d be able to add to this post. And it’s interesting how often Christie wrote about underthings. There’s even a scene in Hickory Dickory Death where one character is looking frantically for something among his girlfriend’s possessions – including her underwear. There’s something about that scene, both tense and a bit funny at the same time in an odd way.

  6. Patti Abbott

    I would hate to hear a detective sum up what my underwear says about me. Having been brought up on my cousin’s outgrown underwear makes a certain worn softness feel right.

    • I wouldn’t want a detective’s summing- up of my underwear, either, Patti. And whether it’s from wear, fabric, or something else, soft underwear is comfortable.

  7. Absence of underwear also figures in Bodies Are Where You Find Them, A Michael Shayne story by Brett Halliday. The movie Kiss Kiss Bang Bang was loosely based on that book.

  8. kathy d.

    Girdles? Garter belts? Lingerie? I thought I was at the wrong blog and was at Clothes in Books for a moment. What a topic!
    I can’t believe girdles and garter belts still come out, as I thought they went out with manual typewriters.
    I do remember those days in high school.

  9. Col

    One I’m reading at the minute seems to dwell on our protagonist’s choice of outfit, including her underwear, which is kind of slowing thing down for me. Not sure you can have a discussion about ladies underwear and not mention Bridget Jones and her belly warmers!

    • You’re right, Col! Bridget Jones’ belly warmers have to be mentioned, and I’m glad you did! I do know what you mean about descriptions. It’s always a tricky sort of a question: how much description is important to a story v how much is too much.

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