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The Curious Case of the Doctor’s Wardrobe

I’ll be honest with you all – I am an equal opportunity appreciator. Not only do I love both the BBC’s Sherlock AND CBS’s Elementary, I also adore the movie versions with Robert Downey, Jr. In fact, if you asked me to pick a favorite of the three, I would look you squarely in the eye and declare, “Shant!” before flouncing off to rewatch all of them on my various subscription services. All the more mysterious is the fact that I have never read any of the original stories, nor have I seen any other productions of them. Ah, we live in mysterious times…

Never the less, whether you prefer your Holmes and Watson contemporary or historical, adapted, updated, original, gender-swapped, or even medically-inclined, that is not the topic of today’s discussion. No, gentle reader, today we are here to discuss the curious case of the doctor’s wardrobe – or, more specifically, the wardrobe choices being made for the character of Dr. Joan Watson in the CBS series Elementary.

Let’s start with what we know about Dr. Joan Watson. She was a well-respected surgeon for an unknown number of years before becoming a sober companion. I think it is safe to assume that her career as a surgeon provided her with significantly more income than she would receive as a sober companion. And, in fact, there are several instances through which we are provided insight into her current financial status – most notably when she is approached for money in “Solve for X.” So, it would be reasonable to assume that the vast majority of her wardrobe, especially any pricier pieces, are from her time as a surgeon. So, they should be several years out of date, yes?

Accordingly, one might also safely assume that her wardrobe would be one befitting a well-respected surgeon at a New York City hospital. While I am certainly no arbiter of fashion, and definitely not conversant with styles in major metropolitan areas, there are certain ‘inconsistencies’ that catch my attention. May I present exhibit A?

Elementary: CBS

In such a small picture, you may not be immediately aware that it is snowing. Certainly, though, you can tell from the presence of hats, scarves, and gloves that it is cold? Yes, I thought so too, until I realized that Dr. Watson is wearing leather shorts. With tights. And what look to be 3 to 4 inch platform heels. Or whatever you call those shoes. As a sober companion, would she have had the income necessary to purchase those shoes? As a surgeon, would she have worn them? Although her top half does seem to be dressed for the weather, which is more than we can say for exhibit B:

Elementary: CBS

Let’s examine the evidence. You’ll notice that, although they are inside, Detective Bell is wearing a warm winter coat over his suit and tie. From this, we can safely assume that it is cold outside. At least autumn in New York, if not winter (no scarf, hat, or gloves being present.) And yet, Dr. Watson, who lives in a run-down, barely furnished, presumably drafty New York Brownstone, is wearing a leather mini-skirt with tights and a thin, cap-sleeved t-shirt. Understandably, she is crossing her arms for warmth. Less understandably, she is neither shivering nor a lovely shade of blue.

I’ll admit that the wardrobe choices being made for Dr. Watson’s character didn’t initially bother me. I thought her clothes were very stylish and very youthful.  Also, some of the choices are consistent with the character’s canon – Dr. Watson being interested in dating and finding a romantic relationship partner would fit with an effort to dress in a youthful and attractive style.But, as time has gone on I find myself increasingly confused by the wardrobe decisions made for her character. What are they really trying to say? I’m not even sure.


  1. Ok, now that you've pointed this out I know it's all I will be able to focus on next time I watch Elementary! But it just goes to show you what good writers and actors can do with good source material–I LOVE all three versions too!

  2. I agree, and disagree with some of what you've said. First off, just want to say I love Elementary too! I noticed Joan's clothes right from the start and often love her outfit combos, even if they aren't something I'd generally wear. She has a quirky sense of style that I think works for her character — it comes across often as comforting to me in a way?

    I agree that sometimes the clothes she wears might be inconsistent. I've found myself thinking that it must be mighty cold in dresses, even with tights, in NYC in the winter.

    On the other hand though, she's often bundled up with a stylish hat and big chunky scarf in winter episodes. Maybe Joan's just not consistently warm, haha? Also she is one of few female TV characters who's wardrobe isn't brand new EVERY episode. You brought up the money issue and the pieces seeming new and trendy, but Joan also very frequently wears that white cardigan with the square cutout on the back. I believe she has worn a few pieces more than once on the show?

    There definitely are inconsistencies though, the thing that gets me the most is the impractical choices like heels and that legging/short combo. Maybe this is why she drinks so much tea (not that I should be one to speak) — she's so cold!

  3. Yeah, it's just strange to me – I can't figure it out… I was hoping someone might have a theory that would pull it all together? I love what they've done with all of the characters, though! And Lucy Lu is a ridiculously good choice for the role.

  4. Ha! (sorry about that)

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