Wednesday, March 8, 2017

10 - The Dressing Gown of Many Colors

"He was clad in his dressing gown" [CREE] 

You'll find Sherlock Holmes lounging in his dressing gown in no fewer than 14 of the original stories. And yet, its color changed from story to story. Sherlock Holmes's dressing gown was alternatively purple, blue and mouse — how can this be?

We discuss the possibilities that scholars have put forth over the course of many decades and even add our own conjecture. Add in a quick primer on what dressing gowns are and what Victorian / Edwardian habits were that required them, and you've got the best podcast episode about dressing gowns and Sherlock Holmes you've ever heard.

A tip of the deerstalker goes to Bill Hyder, BSI, whose 1995 BSI Dinner publication "TRIFLES" contained this very topic.

Download | 7.25 MB 15:50

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The official Baker Street Irregulars tie, in the colors of Holmes's dressing gown

Music credits

Performers: Uncredited violinist, US Marine Chamber Orchestra
Publisher Info.: Washington, DC: United States Marine Band.
Copyright: Creative Commons Attribution 3.0


Narrator: [00:00:04] Welcome to Trifles - a weekly podcast about the Sherlock Holmes stories.

Clive Merrison: [00:00:09] It is of course a trifle, but there is nothing so important as trifles.

Narrator: [00:00:15] Yes the Colourman was Retired, the Three-Quarter was Missing and the Client was Illustrious. But there are so many other details to pick apart in the stories.

Jeremy Brett: [00:00:24] Pray be precise as to details.

Narrator: [00:00:29] You know the plots. But what about the minutiae? Have you ever wondered why Sherlock Holmes had three different colored dressing gowns? Or what a Crockford is?

Denis Quilley: [00:00:38] You are inquisitive, Mr. Holmes.

Jeremy Brett: [00:00:40] It's my business to know what other people don't know.

[00:00:45] Scott Monty and Burt Wolder will have the answers to these questions and more in Trifles.

Clive Merrison: [00:00:53] The game's afoot.

Narrator: [00:01:00] Episode 10: The Dressing Gown of Many Colors.

Scott Monty: [00:01:05] Hello and welcome to trifles that Sherlock Holmes podcast about oh those many details in the canon some of which may have appealed to you and come to your notice others which may have gone right over your head. I'm Scott Monty.

Burt Wolder: [00:01:21] And I'm over your head Burt Wolder.

Scott Monty: [00:01:23] No never. You're always under my feet - under my thumb. I don't know where you are. It's nice to have you around - over, under, or wherever you happen to be.

Burt Wolder: [00:01:32] It's nice to be round. And someday I'll be a triangle as well.

Scott Monty: [00:01:37] Everyone is getting into shape these days and the shape I have chosen is a pear. That seems to be the easiest one. Well, we said that we would talk about things like Sherlock Holmes, his dressing gown - and you know it seems like a pretty standard kind of thing. You know you think about Sherlock Holmes and obviously when people picture Sherlock Holmes in their head, they think of him with of course the deerstalker hat and the curved pipe and the Inverness cape. But what about Sherlock Holmes at home? You know he wasn't wandering around the Baker Street suite of rooms with the deerstalker on or with the Inverness on, so how did he relax and kind of kick back? And we of course know that there is only one story in which we hear of Holmes getting a little comfortable and putting on his slippers. And that was in "The Adventure of the Blue Carbuncle." That's right. They had just come back from that frosty night out and they tracked down James Ryder and Holmes said, "Here we are," cheerily, as we filled in the filed into the room. "The fire looks very seasonable in this weather. You look cold, Mr. Ryder - pray take the basket chair. I will just put on my slippers before we settle this little matter of ours." And of course in the Jeremy Brett Granada version you had that wonderful image of him actually putting the slippers on by the fire as they came home. So a wonderful kind of homey experience.

Burt Wolder: [00:03:13] I just wonder what it must have felt like to slide your feet into something that was so full of tobacco.

Scott Monty: [00:03:22] [LAUGHTER] Well, do you think - do you think he saved the other Persian slipper for wandering around the house or did you think he had traditional house slippers?

Burt Wolder: [00:03:30] Well personally I think that when he got back from a case he just put on his gym shorts you know like most Americans do today. [LAUGHTER]

Scott Monty: [00:03:37] And there you go. Oh well... we know of course that Holmes, like many men of his age, wore a dressing gown.

Burt Wolder: [00:03:48] Yes, well, it was a popular standard article of clothing in a world in which particularly in the chilly weather most of the heat is coming from a coal burning fire rather than from forced air heating and other things that people take for granted today and so one would wrap themselves up in a dressing gown and stay warm. But of all the articles of clothing, it is the one - now friends, you may not think anybody has gone through all 56 short stories for novels to identify how many times this article of clothing has been identified or an article of clothing. Well, you're wrong! Because we happen to know based on our sources that the dressing gown appears no fewer than 14 times.

Scott Monty: [00:04:34] Wow.

Burt Wolder: [00:04:35] In 14 different cases of Sherlock Holmes "The Beryl Coronet," "The Blue Carbuncle, "The Bruce-Partington Plans," "The Cardboard Box," "The Empty House," "The Engineer's Thumb," "The Final Problem," The Hound of the Baskervilles, "Lady Frances Carfax," "The Mazarin Stone," "The Naval Treaty," "The Resident Patient," "Man with the Twisted Lip, AND... The Valley of Fear.

Scott Monty: [00:04:51] That's easy for you to say.

Burt Wolder: [00:04:53] I'll say it again...

Scott Monty: [00:04:55] Now these this is just the time that that Holmes himself wore a dressing gown, because I'm sure there were other mentions of dressing gowns in the in the Canon, right?

Burt Wolder: [00:05:06] Oh I don't know. I don't know. That's just - oh no, yes this is Holmes's case. OK.

Scott Monty: [00:05:12] All right. So and it was it was not an uncommon and uncommon garment of the time.

Burt Wolder: [00:05:19] No, not at all.

Scott Monty: [00:05:21] And people getting comfortable after coming home from work is not a new phenomenon either. But typically - just for a brief primer here - the history of dressing gowns actually begins in the early 18th century with the introduction of what was called a banyon a loose fitting coat that can be worn by men in the confines of the home or at the office when fashionable jackets were too restricting. And of course the banyon got its influence from Middle Eastern and Oriental cultures. So you saw these colorful fabrics - silk and printed cotton or or even velvet - but it was a mark of being from the from the upper class. Right. So by the mid 19th century what we saw and the evolution of the dressing gown, it became more akin to what we know now as as the dressing gown. And it was really just relegated to home where it was used. Interestingly it was used equally by men and women. And it was usually more of a somber tone. And for the women it offered them again a little respite from the tightly corseted daywear; and for men it just became just something to keep warm in those days before central heating while not being in your shirtsleeves. Now when it comes to Sherlock Holmes we have mentions of seemingly three different dressing gowns the first time we come across him in a dressing gown was in "The Man with the Twisted Lip." Or was that "The Blue Carbuncle"? Which one of those was published first? You know your handy cheat sheet there - your card. [BURT THUMPING ABOUT] you're knocking things over in your office on your way to.

Burt Wolder: [00:07:22] I have to pull it out. Well that's the problem because my list will only tell me chronologically.

Scott Monty: [00:07:29] It's "The Blue Carbuncle" that was published first in The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes. And in that one that was the famous purple dressing gown where Sherlock Holmes was lounging on the settee and he had Henry baker's hat hanging over the corner of the chair in his purple dressing gown.

Burt Wolder: [00:07:47] Well now, does Blue (unintelliglbe)? Because because Twisted Lip is also in The Adventures.

Scott Monty: [00:07:52] Yes but I think twisted lip happened - well not happened but was published after after Blue Carbuncle.

Burt Wolder: [00:08:01] And then you had Twisted Lip has been chronologically dated June 1887 versus Blue Carbuncle which is December.

Scott Monty: [00:08:08] Exactly - and that's going to figure in in just a moment. And then later on we discover Holmes and his mouse colored dressing gown and "The Adventure of the Empty House" and "The Bruce-Partington Plans." We know homes came back from the great hiatus in The Empty House in 1894 and then very clearly the Bruce-Partington Plans took place during that foggy third week of November of the seminal year 1895. So there you've got three colors of Holmes's dressing gowns and three or four different stories. What could possibly be happening here? Well, there are a number of assumptions along the way. So for example Martin Dakin assumed that the blue dressing gown - that's the one in the Man with the Twisted Lip. When we see Holmes in this dressing gown it is at an overnighter. They were doing a slumber party - with Mrs. Neville St. Clair.

Burt Wolder: [00:09:13] With Mrs. Neville St. Claire??

Scott Monty: [00:09:14] Well that's a topic for a whole other episode. It could be the top ten most risque things said in the canon. No of course Neville St. Clair had disappeared. And they went out to his home in Lee and the county of Kent. Late one night after Watson discovered Holmes in the opium den and they got an update from Mrs St. Clair, and it was so late they couldn't simply go back to London. So they stayed there and that's where Holmes donned his dressing gown and set up a kind of an Eastern divan of a number of pillows and sat there and smoked his pipe until he came to his conclusion. So Martin Dakin thinks that the blue dressing gown in the Man with the Twisted Lip was borrowed from Neville St. Clair. So that's his solution for that and he didn't speculate about the other colors though which leads me to ask this question. Would Sherlock Holmes have traveled with his dressing gown in tow?

Burt Wolder: [00:10:23] Well sure. I mean if I was going to a country house it would be one of the articles of clothing that I would pack perhaps even in preference for sleepwear. You know and that was in those days it wasn't unusual to have shirt stocks that were separate from their collars and cuffs. So the stock of the shirt could be worn more than once while you rotated - while you changed collars and cuffs. And people did not travel with the assortment. Most people did not travel with the assortment of toiletries and accessories and multiple changes of wardrobe that people tend to travel with today.

Scott Monty: [00:11:04] Interesting. Interesting now do --

Burt Wolder: [00:11:08] I think it would be very unusual for for someone's wife to land even a stranded guest one's husband's dressing and so that you could sit and smoke your pipe and roll around and I mean it's sort of a personal personal garment.

Scott Monty: [00:11:23] It is. It is that's a good point. Now do you travel with a dressing gown?

Burt Wolder: [00:11:28] Sometimes, sometimes. When I go -- if I know that part of my travels for a weekend there's going to be breakfast the next morning, and my hosts are typically in pajamas and robes when they have breakfast then I'll bring, I'll bring a lightweight dressing gown.

Scott Monty: [00:11:49] You know what's interesting I've never tried that.

Burt Wolder: [00:11:52] Most of the time you know if it's staying in a nice hotel they'll have a robe or something if you happen to be chilly getting in and out of the bathroom - which I never am - there's usually some sort of robe, but it's not. Now I must admit today with today's heating and climate control it's really really not an issue.

Scott Monty: [00:12:07] Well that's it. Yeah but I mean you talk about a dressing gown being too personal. Well even when you're wearing that over your clothes I don't want to put on a hotel robe that someone has perhaps been wearing naked coming out of the shower. It's a little too much for me.

Burt Wolder: [00:12:25] Well now you're talking about Mrs. Neville St. Clair again; we should get back on topic.

Scott Monty: [00:12:32] Well another theory and this goes goes about from our friend Sidney Blake. He said, well, the obvious solution would be homes owned more than one dressing gown. Over the course of 23 years in practice there. Of course you would have have had more than one. And the blue and purple gowns he said were some of his earlier dressing gowns, and of course we know that Holmes's rooms were set afire by Professor Moriarty in "The Final Problem" with Professor Moriarty's men. So those would have been lost in the fire. And Holmes would have replaced them with the mouse gray one.

Burt Wolder: [00:13:13] Right. And our friend Christopher Morley was of the opinion that Holmes dressing gown faded over the years of different colors and Morley himself remembered that when he was a young boy he had a cape-backed overcoat that had been his father's which had been cut down to make a dressing gown for him. And that over the years it had been dyed various colors. And so its palette - its color palette - had changed over the years so he was of the opinion that it had faded from blue to purple to mouth sort of the other way around or had been consciously dyed in the story at various times.

Scott Monty: [00:13:55] Yeah. And you know I like that solution as the most elegant of them all because we've all seen whether it's books that are left out in the direct sunlight or furniture or carpeting or even clothing. It does fade over time if exposed to the elements. And I think that that solution is the most simple and most elegant, and in fact Morley was so enamored with that that he turned it into the official colors the Baker Street Irregulars and turned it into the club tie.

Burt Wolder: [00:14:34] I agree with you about the simplicity and elegance. But I've always been unhappy that my own theory which is much simpler and much more elegant has not gotten any currency.

Scott Monty: [00:14:42] Dare I ask?

Burt Wolder: [00:14:44] Well it's clear. Watson was colorblind.

Scott Monty: [00:14:48] [LAUGHTER] Oh, boy. So you're trying to tell me that it was actually the Adventure of the Five Red Pips?

Burt Wolder: [00:15:03] It could be, it could be.

Scott Monty: [00:15:05] And maybe that's the answer: that the carbuncle was not in fact a blue, but red.

Burt Wolder: [00:15:12] Exactly right! You know, it's just a trifle.

Clive Merrison: [00:15:16] It is of course a trifle but there is nothing so important as trifles.

Narrator: [00:15:22] Please join us again next week for another installment of trifles show notes are available on Sherlock Holmes podcast dot com. Please Subscribe to us on iTunes and be sure to check out our longer show I Hear of Sherlock Everywhere where we interview notable Sherlock fans share news and go into even more depth on certain topics.

Peter Barkworth: [00:15:44] You take my breath away, Mr. Holmes.

Jeremy Brett: [00:15:48] Peculiar. That is the very word.


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Scott Monty and Burt Wolder are both members of the Baker Street Irregulars, the literary society dedicated to Sherlock Holmes. They have co-hosted the popular show I Hear of Everywhere since June 2007.

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