Guest Post: The Well-dressed Sleuth by Sally Carpenter

The Well-dressed Sleuth
by Sally Carpenter

When you think of the 1960s, what pops into your mind? People often think of the clothes that defined the era.

The wardrobe of the 1950s was formal and, for women, often uncomfortable. Ties and suits were common for men. Women often wore layers: stiff petticoats beneath wide poodle skirts and topped with tight cashmere sweaters. Women’s footwear consisted of tottering high heels, bobby socks and stockings held up with garter belts.

The 1960s brought in extremes: daring miniskirts and lengthy maxis. Pantyhose and tights replaced the garters that a mini could not hide. Colors were bold, bright and contrasting. The geometric shapes of pop art were used in fabric. Plastics found their way into boots, belts, purses and even the garments themselves. Jackie Kennedy made pillbox hats a must-have. Women’s hair could be piled high in a bouffant or cut short in a bob.

Men dumped their ties for the open neck shirt (Beach Boys look) and collarless shirts. Traditional suits gave way to striped pants and velvet jackets with wide lapels.  Denim pants and tee shirts moved from the farm to daily wear.

Clothing styles of Native American and East India became popular for both men and women. Blacks adopted the colors, patterns and garments of Africa. The British Invasion brought the hip styles of London’s Carnaby Street to America.

My protagonist, Noelle McNabb, is a single woman of 25. Like the youth of the era, she’s rebelling—although quietly—from societal norms. Sometimes she’ll wear something simply because she knows it’ll shock her parents. She loves miniskirts, but will wear a longer skirt in appropriate places. She would never dress like her mother (or wear her hair the same way) or browse at the same clothing stores as mom.

Noelle loves shopping for clothes and spends much of her money on what she wears. She slavishly follows the newest fashions and knows all about Mary Quant and Vidal Sassoon. Her favorite stores are the boutiques in the new (at the time) indoor mall in the nearby “big city.” In the Midwest where Noelle lives, the enclosed shopping center is a far nicer place to shop in freezing cold or rainy weather. One of my “rules” in the series is to, if possible, never have Noelle wear the same outfit twice. Her clothes closet must be the size of a barn.

Another “rule” is that Noelle wears dresses most of the time, unless she’s lounging around the house or on a spy mission that involves a lot of physical action. And when she wears pants, it’s usually a nice pantsuit, not jeans. Noelle is thin with long legs; she looks good in skirts. I feel modern fashion has grown too lax and sloppy. Despite the comfort of pants, at times I like to dress up and look feminine. I want a protagonist who looks sharp and classy.

One of Noelle’s friends, Julia Beems, is engaged to be married. In the small Midwest town where I grew up, weddings were major social events with numerous attendants: the maid of honor and best man along with at least four bridesmaids and groomsmen apiece, a flower girl and a ring bearer. The men were stuffed into rented tuxedos, and the women splurged on expensive, extravagant dresses. The bride had a huge, billowing gown with a mile-long train, as well as a long veil, all trimmed in pearls and lace. In an upcoming book, we’ll see exactly what kind of bridesmaid outfit Noelle will be wearing. Hint: with Noelle’s complexion and brown hair, she looks dreadful in pink.

 In finding clothes for Noelle, I’ve used a few costumes from 1960s TV shows and movies. I also have a great reference book, “Fashionable Clothing from the Sears catalogs: Mid 1960s.” The book has photos (and prices) from the Sears mail order catalogs. I’d love to see those clothes come back into style, as they’re more elegant than the clothes sold today.

Of course we can’t talk about the ‘60s without mentioning the hippies. My hippie couple, Rambler and Moonbaby, is the most fun to dress. Hippies dressed their own way with a total disregard for fashion or even good taste. Various pieces (shirts, pants, shirts, vests) were often put together from castoffs, thrift store finds or surplus Navy store goods. Styles, patterns and colors did not need to match. Clothes were often hand-sewn rather than purchased. Tie-dyed shirts were the rage even among the “squares.” Fringed leather vests and leather boots were popular. Ornamentation consisted of long strands of love beads, ankle bracelets, jingly costume jewelry and pin-back metal buttons with photos or sayings. A hat—often a beret or floppy brim—completed the ensemble. But hippies didn’t wear watches. They functioned on their own time, free from schedules.

One useful reference book I have is “The Hippie Handbook” by Chelsea Cain, which has a chapter on “How to Dress Like a Hippie” as well as just about all you want to know about counterculture living.

As I write, it’s fun to dress Noelle, although I have to keep track of what she wears so she doesn’t wear something that’s gone out of style. Now that would be a total bummer, for sure.


Get ready to flip your wig over another groovy 1967 retro-cozy with actress and amateur spy Noelle McNabb.

About The Book: 

Get ready to flip your wig over another groovy 1967 retro-cozy with actress and amateur spy Noelle McNabb. Spy agency SIAMESE (Special Intelligence Apparatus for Midwest Enemy Espionage and Surveillance) turns Noelle’s pet, Ceebee, into an “acoustic kitty” to listen in on an agent known only as Old Scratch. Meanwhile, a counterculture religious sect led by the Wise One infiltrates the staid town of Yuletide, Indiana. When one of the sect members makes a premature departure to the Spirit in the Sky, Noelle investigates, but finds herself in deep water—literally. With her undercover disguises, Noelle really knows how to sock it to ‘em. However, she still can’t solve the secrets of a certain family member. Don’t miss this fab story of saints, sinners and spies!

Book Links: AmazonDigital / Paperback


About The Author: 

Sally Carpenter is native Hoosier living in Moorpark, Calif.

She has a master’s degree in theater from Indiana State University. While in school, her plays “Star Collector” and “Common Ground” were finalists in the American College Theater Festival One-Act Playwrighting Competition. “Common Ground” also earned a college creative writing award. “Star Collector” was produced in New York City and served as the inspiration for her first mystery series.

Sally also has a Master of Divinity and a black belt in tae kwon do.

She’s worked as an actress, college writing instructor, jail chaplain and tour guide/page for Paramount Pictures.

The books in her Sandy Fairfax Teen Idol series are: The Baffled Beatlemaniac Caper (2012 Eureka! Award finalist for best first mystery novel), The Sinister Sitcom CaperThe Cunning Cruise Ship Caper and The Quirky Quiz Show Caper, all with Cozy Cat Press.

Flower Power Fatality is the first book in the Psychedelic Spy series.

She has short stories in three anthologies: Last Exit to Murder, Plan B: Omnibus and Cozy Cat Shorts. She penned chapter three of the CCP group mystery Chasing the Codex.

Author Links: Webpage / Facebook / Goodreads


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