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WANTED: for (fashion) crimes against humanity


Regardless of whether it was filmed in the 60s, 70s, 80s, 90s or 2000s, Columbo never failed to memorably portray high-class living in LA.

Magnificent mansions, incredible interiors and awesome automobiles are all part of what makes Columbo such a rich visual experience. But perhaps it is the fashions of the eras that most etch themselves in our memories. For Columbo chronicled some quite thrilling highs and devastating lows in fashion trends over the decades. Columbo killers, in particular, are known for their sartorial elegance, with a high percentage of them rocking looks that most mere mortals couldn’t have contemplated trying to get away with. But there are exceptions. And, of course, a range of characters clearly have no idea how to dress themselves, and can be seen sporting fashions that have viewers desperately turning down the contrast of their TV sets.

“Columbo chronicled some quite thrilling highs and devastating lows in fashion trends over the decades.”

And it is the latter, dear reader, that have inspired this article as I consider the VERY WORST DRESSED Columbo guest stars of all. The fashion police have had reason to bring them in, and there’s enough evidence to put them in the dock. Will a jury convict them for fashion crimes against humanity? Read on and find out. Note – the following article contains imagery that some readers may find offensive. Those with a weak disposition are urged to visit this safe page of Columbo cuddling Dog instead. If you’re still here you’re clearly made of stern stuff. For that I salute you. Now let the catwalk of shame begin! Please note, these are listed in no particular order except for the top 3.

Shera L. Jackson – Undercover

Danese It doesn’t help that this is a Columbo episode so bad it makes me want to smash all TV sets to prevent anyone ever having to see it but, being filmed in the 1990s, it lacks much of the class we’ve come to love about the 70s’ classics. Case in point: Geraldine Ferguson (i.e. Shera Danese in her fifth, tedious guest star appearance) has clearly been raiding Samuel L. Jackson’s hat stand before heading out to work. Combined with her shoulder pads of power and you have a look that was on-trend for about 5 seconds. Verdict: Guilty mi’lud! But she was out in 3 years, hence yet another guest star appearance in A Trace of Murder in 1997.

Like mother, like daughter – Dead Weight

Dead Weight boat Looks like colour blocking was in vogue in 1971, at least in some quarters, as mother-and-daughter duo Helen Stewart (Suzanne Pleschette) and Mrs Walters (Kate Reid) went for a sail in high-vis attire. Make no wonder the police were initially suspiscious of Helen’s claim to have seen a murder take place at a dockside pad. They probably assumed the glare of her mother’s custard-yellow outfit had caused temporary blindness/insanity. Verdict: Daughter released with a slap on the wrist for wasting police time; Mother found guilty, but sentence commuted to time already served.

College clods Justin & Coop – Columbo Goes to College

Justin Coop 2 For supposed uber-rich cool cats, Justin and Coop dress like a couple of dorks. In fact class square, Sachs, puts them to shame, with his smick blazer and shirt combos. Of the two, Justin is certainly the guiltier party. He wears cardigans for crying out loud, which were nowhere near being in fashion at the time. He also seductively kisses his own mother’s neck as he helps her dress, but that’s a story for another day. It all proves that no amount of money can account for good taste. VerdictJustin: guilty of fashion murder in the First Degree, 25 to life. Cooper: guilty of fashion manslaughter, out in five.

Channeling her inner Popeye – Prescription: Murder

Fashion Prescription

Ha-ga-ga-ga-ga… I am what I am!

I’m not condoning Dr Flemming’s dastardly killing of his wife Carol, not for one second. Murder is murder, after all. However, one can only wonder if the ‘good doctor’ started lusting after scorching bikini-clad redhead, Joan Hudson, after becoming wearied of Mrs Flemming’s Popeye-inspired nightwear? The glasses are pretty cool, mind you, but not enough to salvage the situation. Verdict: Guilty! Sent down for a 10 stretch but mysteriously managed to break out after a spinach quiche was served to inmates a week into her sentence. Currently on the lam.

Fisher’s fisherman’s sweater – Murder, Smoke and Shadows

Fisher Stevens For the world’s leading film director, who must be commanding millions of dollars per movie, this lad Alex Brady (Fisher Stevens) has a bargain-basement approach to fashion. His worst moment? The chunky fisherman’s sweater he wears while wooing Ruthie Jernigan. Riches aside, what does she see in him…? Verdict: Guilty

The vest that showed too much – Suitable for Framing

Suitable for Framing vic taybackSome things, once seen, cannot be unseen. That mantra applies to artist Sam Franklin, who’s lilac and white striped wife beater is bad enough in itself, but the fact that it reveals one of the hairiest backs and sets of shoulders ever immortalised on celluloid takes it to another level. Set against the backdrop of the mismatched shades of his work of art and you have a situation where viewers by the score simultaneously opt to gouge their own eyes out. Verdict: GUILTY! Sentenced to daily back and arm waxing for life.

In the pink: Beth Chadwick – Lady in Waiting

Beth Chadwick The metamorphosis of Beth Chadwick helps make Lady in Waiting one of the hidden gems of the 70s’ series. But did she take it too far with this crazy look? Certainly she was showing poor judgement on a range of issues at the time, including, but not limited to, alienating her faithful love interest, jeopardising the family business, smoking in bed, that sort of thing… For what it’s worth, I think she looks fabulous in this outfit. I am aware this is not a universally held view… Verdict: Hung jury

90s personified – Columbo Cries Wolf

Cries WolfThis episode absolutely nails the seediness and lack of class surrounding the early 90s as a whole, the rise of the yuppy culture and the ‘naughty’ magazine publishing industry. The fashions now seem laughable – not least this effort by chief love interest Tina (Rebecca Staab), which takes the definition of crop-top to a whole new level. I’m sure there’s a hint of underboob going on here: not acceptable for a family show! She actually does get carted off by officers of the law, too. Whether they were officially fashion police has yet to be confirmed. Verdict: Guilty, although sentence reduced due to diminished responsibility because of her being so blatantly a product of her time and environment.

And the big three…

3. Hipsters Union – Any Old Port in a Storm

image One of Columbo‘s secretly greatest scenes is the hipster gathering at the lakeside club in Any Old Port in a Storm. It has it all: couples rock and roll dancing in tiny swimsuits; enough booze to sate 1000 thirsty pirates; and a slice of 70s fashion so sharp that it’d put lemons out of fashion. The finest example is emblazoned above. A living human with the audacity to sport aviator shades with that moustache, allied with stripey trousers and a devil-may-care sweater knotted round his shoulders. Going by the name of ‘Billy Fine’ (I know) I’ll give him this much: the lad’s got confidence in spades. Quite what Adrian Carsini would make of it can only be guessed at. Verdict: He’s guilty (possibly of many crimes, could be a deviant); she’s innocent of everything except associating herself with hipster pillocks…

2. Turbulent turbans, Batman! It’s Viveca Scott in Lovely but Lethal

Viveca 1 First-time viewers of Lovely but Lethal may chortle at Viveca Scott’s fashion turban look. They may even dare to say she resembles Boris Karloff’s fake swami from Abbot & Costello Meet the Killer. To that I say phooey! Viveca, the head of a beauty product empire, is a fashionista beyond compare. She pulls it off where almost every other femme fatale would fail. In fact she’s so confident of herself that she’d even wear the turban in court. Verdict: Case overturned as soon as Viveca stepped into court.

1. Roger Stanford’s sky blue second skin – Short Fuse

Fashion McDowall As referenced more often than ought to be considered healthy in my review of Short Fuse, Roger Stanford’s wardrobe choices are probably the episode’s enduring memory. But that’s NOT a good thing. He double denims at one point, but the bigger crime is the unforgettable – some would say unbelievable – blouson shirt and skin-tight trouser combo he sports quite merrily on a standard work day at the chemical plant. Word on the street is that the trousers were so snug that Roddy temporarily went mad, which might explain the descent of Roger Stanford into sheer lunacy at episode’s end. Verdict: Guilty – but will be monitored in psychiatric ward.

“Word on the street is that the trousers were so snug that Roddy temporarily went mad.”

So there we have it fun lovers, the worst dressed Columbo stars of all. Do you agree? Who else would you include? There are definitely loads of other contenders…

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38 thoughts on “WANTED: for (fashion) crimes against humanity

  1. Pingback: 5 best moments from Columbo Lovely but Lethal | The Columbophile

  2. I hate to say it, so maybe I should’t have, because I absolutely love this website, but this article is the one I don’t like. Critizing people for how they dress, or look, seems cheap and tasteless to me. Erich Fromm called this phenomenon the Fear of Freedom, when we are too scared to be able to let everyone just be who they are and will disapprove or make fun of them when they behave or look different than others.
    Maybe it’s just me being sensitive and I know it’s not meant to be mean and of course we are talking about movie characters here, so I guess no real harm done. But still, I don’t like it.

  3. The mother/daughter colors and patterns. No. Just no. As for Roddy McD. in Short Fuse, I have no words. He needs to be in jail for crimes against fashion. 😂

  4. I was born in the early 70s and was a pre-teen/teen (for a lot of people the ages you really start paying attention to fashion) in the 80s, so looking back to the eras from 80s-2000s, I know what was in, what wasn’t, and what’s supposed to looked good and not look good. But when I look at the 70s, am I looking from a perspective of someone who doesn’t know what was in and what wasn’t during those times or am I looking from an eye who thinks everything is just plain ugly? lol The 70s is my fave era and there are some fashions that I like, bellbottoms, cute platform shoes, halter tops and a few other things. But sometimes the color combos and patterns can be really hideous but were they the style. But what I think is ugly could have been the style back then? But even the in styles can be a hot mess too. 😂 But I’m getting too deep in it. lol This is all for fun. I wanted to get this out before reading the post or else I would have forgotten what I wanted to write.

  5. What about Dolores in “A Bird In The Hand” … it’s possible that her being perpetually “smashed” distracts the viewer from actually seeing what she wore in the first scene she appeared in, when greeting Harold in the driveway of her home. And a couple of other scenes too.

  6. Where do you get those ideas of articles ??? This one was very funny. I personaly always hated Ian Buchanan’s style (the killer in Columbo cries wolf), specialy his pants and shoes.
    Can’t wait for your next idea of article Columbophile !!!

    • Thank you! Glad you enjoyed it. Just watching the show and discussing it with fellow fans online provides plenty of inspiration for articles. And you’re right, Ian B was terribly dressed in his episode! The 90s has a lot to answer for…

  7. I’d nominate Buddy Castle (Pat Harrington), Milo Janus’ sidekick in “Exercise In Fatality”. Picture the red and black plaid ensemble he wore as he was getting into is Corvette while Columbo tried to interview him. I also think Eileen McRae’s hat in “Publish Or Perish” was pretty terrible, but she was played by Mariette Hartley so we’ll let it slide.

  8. Thank you for this unforgettable moment, I just couldn’t stop laughing. Great post. As usual. Some more please. And by the way I totally agree. The 90’s ABC episodes lack the class of the 70’s ones. Well, we all know this, I often watch episodes, espacially the ones with Jack Cassidy, to me the most memorable killer of the whole series. Thank you Columbophile

      • Agree that the outfit was a disguise for the murder but (for reasons that totally perplex me given she is supposed to intelligent and an ‘expert on coutesean behaviour’), she then wears an outfit she thinks a courtesan would wear and used for a MURDER and visits bars, plays pool!! Etc. And she talks to herself and Lisa with inferences that this is another personality. Maybe time for a new book ‘courtesans dressed like the black dahlia’.

  9. As someone with a hairy back, I know how limiting it can be when it comes to fashion. I’m willing to give Tayback a pass and excuse him from this list.

  10. Your going to let Anne Francis off scot-free with that plaid monstrosity and giant black bow she’s sporting in the above photo? Heh!

  11. Martin Landau’s outfit during the live TV cooking show in Double Shock. Two great actors giving a most memorable scene where you actually like the killer…but that shirt and sport coat!! They say fashions come around again, but I think that one may be gone for good.

  12. Honorable mention:

    A – Lizzy Feilding, a.k.a. Myrna Loy in “Étude in Black ” and that green thing she was wearing while grilling Paul Rifkin. Was that a wearable table cloth?

    B – Goldie Williamson in the Hot Pants and matching pigtails in “Blueprint for Murder”. I love Goldie but that look was a stretch.

    And I think everything Jennifer Sky wore in “Columbo Likes the Nightlife” was perfectly acceptable. 🙂

  13. Totally delightful post – bravo! i concur on all points. Columbo villains & associates were some quirky dressers, all right!


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