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Look of the Week: The style casebook of Joan Watson on Elementary
Welcome back to Look of the Week, celebrating the best in TV and film sartorial excellence, past and present across sci-fi, horror, fantasy, and other genre classics!
After 154 episodes, Sherlock Holmes (Jonny Lee Miller) and Joan Watson (Lucy Liu) are bringing their crime-solving streak to an end. When Elementary was announced in 2012, it was met with some skepticism; did we need another modern reworking of Arthur Conan Doyle’s iconic detective? Would a gender-flipped Watson lead to a messy will-they/won’t-they dynamic? Thankfully, the answers to these questions are yes and no. This is not a superfluous or copycat adaptation, nor did they end up dancing around a romantic relationship. Instead, Elementary explored addiction in a thoughtful and nuanced manner, which did not see Sherlock cured after three episodes. Not only that, but the relationship between the detectives will go down as one of the best platonic pairings ever portrayed on television, in part because the writers avoided common tropes.
Joan Watson also happens to be one of the best-dressed TV characters from the last decade, so we would be remiss if we didn't celebrate the end of this show with an exploration of her highly covetable style.Since Elementary first premiered, the television landscape has shifted in favor of shortened seasons. Sure, there is still a network of often procedural shows putting out 20-plus-episode seasons, but anything ranging from eight to 13 is the new normal.
For its final season, Elementary went the latter route, but this didn't reduce the wide range of seasonal styles from Joan Watson’s extensive closet. Because production shoots on location in New York City (and often outside), Joan’s costumes run the summer-to-winter gauntlet. Even with a smaller episode order, Joan started the season in summer dresses and ended with her usual fantastic array of outerwear. No matter the month, Joan Watson has an outfit to match the weather and situation.
One of the most striking costume design evolutions for this character over the seven years is when Joan started to wear more tailored menswear-inspired suits. Rebecca Hofherr has been the Elementary costume designer since the second episode, which has seen her use clothing to mark significant evolutions in Joan's career and her relationship with Sherlock. At the end of Season 3, when Sherlock relapsed, it was also the first time Hofherr gave Joan a necktie that would become a signature accessory.
Ties and bows of all lengths and styles simply expanded her wardrobe rather than restricting it. The beauty of Joan’s fashion tastes is that the introduction of one kind of garment doesn't banish another to the consignment pile. Her new penchant for ladysuits didn't eliminate dresses and skirts from her closet.
The first tie she wore was paired with a pink Roland Mouret skirt and Uniqlo shirt, underscoring another Joan Watson costume signature: mixing high-end brands with affordable pieces. You can lust after her wardrobe and know there will be items that won’t cost a month’s rent mixed in with Isabel Marant and Victoria Beckham items.
As Joan pursued her detective career, her work attire shifted away from loose-fitting dresses to suits and ties. In later seasons, Victorian-style high-neck blouses entered the mix, again pairing high with low, including garments by Isabel Marant and Zara. Vests were also introduced later on, which Hofherr explained mirrors Sherlock’s look, as it is “a little nod to her respecting him so much.”Unlike Joan’s eclectic style, Sherlock very much keeps to one style of shirt, suit, and coat. In fact, he has worn the same Tom Ford peacoat throughout. Warm winter attire is vital for the characters (and actors) on Elementary, as they have worked through many a snowstorm and the polar vortex.
Joan has a steady rotation of long coats, but in a move that will make her seemingly endless wardrobe feel more relatable to viewers, these garments are often repeated.
An Alice + Olivia long black coat with a Victorian-inspired silhouette has been a staple since Season 3, serving up a dramatic shape whenever Joan wears it. She knows the power of an investment piece, which also includes a Marissa Webb windowpane check number that she first wore in Season 5 and has featured through to the final season.
The final episode features several winter attire updates. A stunning red coat pulls focus, a piece unlike anything she has worn in the past. Red is not excluded from her closet, as this season has featured crimson formal wear, stripes, and work frocks. Nevertheless, this coat is noticeably different from what has come before it.
It is also worth noting that Sherlock also has a change, switching his Tom Ford peacoat for a longer checked tweed design. He is also wearing a tie, which is very unusual for him. There is a reason for this, but to try and keep this as spoiler-free as possible, this is one mystery you can solve by watching “Their Last Bow.” The series finale has a number of striking Joan Watson costumes that tap into every style aspect, including a contrasting windowpane check Maje dress (with added neck-bow detail), the aforementioned red coat, and a black and white graphic print Marc Jacobs frock.
Joan and Sherlock came up against their most dastardly foe (not counting Natalie Dormer's Moriarty) in Season 7 with James Frain — who often plays the villain, including turns on True Blood, Orphan Black, and Gotham, as well as Spock's father on Star Trek: Discovery — as a tech giant who wants to play judge, jury, and executioner. But being confronted with a new powerful enemy didn't mean Joan toned down the graphic prints and color of previous years.In fact, this might be her boldest season yet, from Stella McCartney zigzag and striped palazzo pants to pink cropped Victoria Beckham slacks, a shirt dress with a 1920s-inspired graphic by LA Double J (featuring a bow detail), and a red Diane von Furstenberg bird print frock. Going into this fight against a billionaire titan does not turn Joan into a shrinking violet. Her sartorial levels are just as high as they have ever been.
Crime procedurals are still vital to network television, even in the era of Peak TV, but what has made Elementary stand out is this central relationship, the way it pivoted from the source material (while holding it close to its heart), and the sophisticated style of Joan Watson. Solving murders has never looked this good.