This ran as an essay that accompanied photographs of “Homicide,” “NYPD Blue” and “Law & Order” actors dressed magnificently. My own attempts at the sartorial are no longer even comic to those who know me. In fact, the only hyperbole in the piece is that I gave Terry McLarney more credit for being anything more than a kindred soul. McLarney once confided to me that when he had to iron one of his own shirts, he only did the front: ”With a sportscoat, that’s all they’re ever gonna see anyway.”
FROM DETAILS MAGAZINE -1994
Reprinted with permission.
Investigations Division: a cubicle containing two chairs, a couple of filing cabinets, and a government-issue desk. Behind that desk sits Colonel Richard Lanham, who is giving me official notice that the Baltimore Police Department will allow me to shadow a shift of homicide detectives for a year and then write a book about it.
“With certain stipulations,” says the colonel. “First, you agree to follow departmental rules and regulations at all times. Second, you obtain signed releases from any officer named in your book. Third . . .”
And so forth and so on. My attention wanders. “Lastly, you agree to adopt the departmental dress code.”
My mind, lost in its pursuit of distraction, comes rushing back into the room. Dress code? What dress code?
“No blue jeans, no tennis shoes, no facial hair, no . . .” The colonel gestures toward my left ear.
“Earring?” I venture. The colonel nods. “You need to present yourself every day at
roll call in a suit or sport coat with slacks, a tie, and polished dress shoes. Is any of that a problem?”
Problem? No problem. More like a fucking disaster I had been a crime reporter for The Baltimore Sun for more than four years at that point-a career choice that had resulted in no small part from a nurtured disdain for designer labels, tailored fabric, and any sort of neckwear. Yet suddenly, I had been forced to a reckoning.
That night, I stood in the men’s section of a chain department store, asking myself what a homicide detective really wears. Black? Too funereal, even for crime scenes. Pinstripes, then. No, too much courthouse, not enough street. Something checked, maybe-some- thing that looks about ten years out-of-date?
I picked out a gray sport coat, another in navy blue, and a third in a light-brown camel hair Some slacks-black and brown, gray and blue. And ties-nothing expensive, just some stripes and solids from the discount rack. Not a top-end designer name in the bunch-nothing that would shame the workaday proletarians who manage $40,000 with overtime for avenging the dead.
At roll call that first day, I showed up in gray and black and blue, ready to blend-a rogue reporter transformed. With some pride, I attached my departmental photo ID to the lapel of my sport coat: DAVID SIMON, POLICE INTERN.
“Simon.” I looked across the room at Rich Garvey, who was wearing a
perfectly tailored blue pinstripe-Joseph A. Bank, I would soon learn. He motioned me over.
“What the fuck are you wearing?” I shrugged.
“Look at those buttons. For Chrisake, they look like plastic poker chips or some shit.”
“Jesus,” added Bob Bowman, nattily attired in Brooks Brothers.
“You’re not gonna wear that out on the street, are you? You’ll em- barrass the shit out of this unit.”
“Where’d you go shopping?” asked Garvey “Rite Aid?” “Wouldn’t be caught dead in that tie.” This time it was Eddie
Brown, done up in Ralph Lauren. I was surrounded. Outmanned. Outgunned. Outdressed.
And naturally, it was a retrograde, overweight Irishman who came up to administer the coup de gr~e: Sergeant Terrance Mc- Larney, slumming along in what looked to be higher-priced stuff from the same department store that had spit me out.
“Okay, we’re plainclothes detectives,” McLarney assured me. “But that doesn’t mean plain clothes.”
A lesson learned. When a cop goes from patrol to CID, it’s an elevation in all things, not the least of which is wardrobe. By virtue of his investigative skills, a detective is set apart from his brethren not only by his daily duties, his detective’s shield, and a corre- sponding bump in overtime and court pay. No, his standing in the department is marked by an altogether different uniform. In short, those guys in Baltimore were clotheshorses.
As for me, I tried like hell to keep up, but alas, for that entire year I was nothing more than a long-running sartorial joke.
“You ever gonna press those pants?” “Christ, Simon, I know I saw that suit down at the morgue yes-
terday You stole it from a dead guy, right?” “Nice tie. Does that clip on?”
When the bookwas finally published, I hit another suburban mall for a new suit, something that could provide presence and dignity on the publicity tour which included TV appearances. It was brown with a subtle blue pinstripe, $1,200 worth of imported threads.
When I got home from talking up the book, there was a message waiting on the Code-A-Phone. It was Garvey
“Nice suit. Did your mama dress you?” A girlfriend, actually. I called the son of a bitch back.
“Picked it out myself,” I lied. “What was it? Armani?”
“Um . . . ,” I said cleverly. “You don’t know the designer?”
“Boss Tweed. Or Boss Man. Some shit like that.” Garvey just about fell out laughing, which brings us to the other
pain-in-the-ass thing about detectives. They’re tough on bullshit. You throw out one little lie and the next thing you know, the case is made.
David Simon’s book Homicide: A Year on the Killing Streets inspired the NBC television series of the same uame. Simon isnmv a writer-producer for the show His second book, The Corner: A Year in the Life of an Inner-City Neighborhood,coauthored with former Baltimore detective Edward Burus,was published in September by Broadway Books.