Australian readers will need no introduction to Miss Phryne Fisher, and she’s becoming increasingly popular in other countries as well. She’s the lead character in an Australian TV program, which is based on a series of books by Kerry Greenwood. Set in 1929, Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries tells the story of a “lady detective” in Melbourne, Australia. There have been two seasons so far, and a third is currently in production.
Phryne Fisher is like a late 1920s Jessica Fletcher (Murder, She Wrote) though she is much too busy to bother with writing mysteries, and she is much more glamorous. There are times when I think that the real star of the show is not Essie Davis, the actress who plays Miss Fisher, but rather, her wardrobe. The clothes are stunningly beautiful.
They are not, unfortunately, historically correct. The costumes are a mash-up of styles from the 1920s and early 30s, with a big dollop of 1970s thrown in for good measure. The 1970s come in the form of long, flowy pants, very reminiscent of Halston at his very best. Actually, in the most recent episodes, Miss Fisher is much more likely to wear pants than she is to wear a dress.
Unless 1929 Melbourne was very different from and more progressive than the rest of the Western world, Miss Fisher would not be out and about on city streets and in public building wearing pants. She would wear them at the beach or in her home, but they would not be her every day attire. (Australian fashion historians, I welcome your input.)
Even more problematic is Miss Fisher’s friend Mac, who is a female doctor, is a lesbian, and who dresses in men’s clothing exclusively. Even though women often dressed as men as a lark (lots of photographic evidence of that) I can’t imagine a woman who went through her daily life in such a way. Still, she is a fantastic model for anyone with a tweedy, androgynous style today.
1929 was an interesting time, style-wise. Dresses were still 1920s in style, but lengths were in flux, with many dresses having two lengths. The flapper look was fading, as a more sophisticated woman began to take her place. Many writers characterize Miss Fisher as a flapper, but she’s really the successor – a thoroughly modern woman. It helps that Essie Davis is in her mid forties, and portrays Miss Fisher as a woman who has lived and learned instead of an ingenue. It’s one of the strengths of the show.
That and Nathan Page, who portrays Detective Jack Robinson. That’s him on the right in the beach scene, and left, below. It thought it was clever how the writers got these three city dwellers into swimsuits, which are correct for 1929, by the way. No bare chests, thank goodness!
The first two seasons are available for streaming from Netflix.
Photos copyright of ABC1.
Correction: Spelling error.