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
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
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
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.
Verdict: Justin: 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
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
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…?
The vest that showed too much – Suitable for Framing
Some 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
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
This 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
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 shorts 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
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
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…
I’ll be following this up in the next few weeks with an article about the very best dressed Columbo stars, so stay tuned!