The trench coat is a staple of wardrobes and detective stories alike. Harried sleuths, poised private eyes, and world-weary investigators have often donned these versatile numbers: double-breasted; belt buckled or tied; sometimes accompanied by a hat. One of the most famous fictional detectives, Sherlock Holmes, for decades sported an Inverness outercoat, which is quite trench-like, before trading it for a Belstaff Milford Coat in Steven Moffat and Mark Gatiss’ BBC series. (Both looks remain highly coveted.) The trench coat could speak to a detective’s no-nonsense attitude, but it could just as easily become a fashion statement.
The look evolved, and the more traditional trenches of Dragnet gave way to Columbo’s rumpled raincoat. The Inspector Gadget cartoon played with the functionality of the coat. Sometimes, the coat was a riff on the trench: a mac, a cag, and a Barbour have shielded detectives from the elements and their quarry. The collected closets of the cops of the various Law & Order shows have more gabardine, leather, and cashmere outerwear than a Macy’s.
In its send-up of true-crime culture, Hulu’s Only Murders In The Building honors some detective story traditions as it skewers or deconstructs many of the rest. One element that translated easily to the Upper West Side setting of the show, which stars Steve Martin, Selena Gomez, and Martin Short, was the iconic coat. The series, which is now in its sixth episode, deploys its outerwear looks as thoughtfully as its clues. What these amateur sleuths wear says a lot of about their characters. Their natty cold-weather ensembles serve as armor, a façade, and even advertising.
That’s all by the show’s design, which got a guiding hand from Dana Covarrubias. The costume designer, who’s also worked on Mrs. Fletcher, Ramy, and Claws, tells The A.V. Club that she was inspired by Hitchcock movies, Columbo, and even Fargo to put together ensembles that are both timeless and of the moment. We spoke to Covarrubias about paying homage to the TV detectives of yore, pairing faux fur with a pop star, and the hunt for one traffic-stopping look.