Irish-American Fashion: Policewoman Bold

Mary Sullivan: First female homicide detective, fashion leader.

Mary Sullivan, pictured above, wasn’t an immigrant, but she was the daughter of immigrants from Killarney, and she possesses such a bold look — befitting her bold story — that she’s the perfect model for the installment.

Firstly, her story: She wrote of it in a book called “My Double Life,” published in 1938 and available from the Internet Archive as a sort of online library book. In brief, she came from a family of policemen (three of her brothers were cops, her uncle ran a squad of detectives, she had a cousin in Scotland Yard). Beside that, Mary had a childhood tragedy: She had a brother disappear when she was a girl, and spent years going to spiritualist mediums for answers, who all gave different answers.

As an adult, Mary was widowed young and went to work in a department store to support herself and her young child. There, she became friendly with a store detective whose sister was a female policewoman. The sister informed Mary of a civil service test coming up, Mary took it, and, in 1991, joined the police force. For a while, Mary worked as a jail matron, and she demonstrated a skill at interrogating suspects, and this led to her transference to the Detective’s Bureau, at first temporarily but eventually as a member of the Homicide Squad.

So let’s talk about her blunt, bold policewoman ensemble. There are only for elements we are given here, but each is marvelous. First, there is her blouse, which in likely blue, with slightly puffed shoulders and possibly pearl buttons.

It’s old-fashioned, but in the world of fashion, what is old is new again. The Ladies Emporium sells a blue ladies essential work shirt for $49.95 that would fit the bill very nicely, I think. It has a ruffled front, and you would need to swap out the buttons for pear, but otherwise it’s a near-perfect match. Especially nice is the fact that it is collarless, as we shall be adding a collar.

This short means business.

We are going to add a collar, and the same store’s men’s department gives us the high white collar we are looking for, a steal at just $7.95.

You’re going to nee starch for this.

But what makes this combination truly noteworthy are its two accessories. Firstly, there is a Victorian cameo at the throat. Mary’s seems to have a person’s portrait on her’s, but we’re going to go with a shamrock cameo pin from Etsy, selling for 12.99.

You need good luck when you’re walking the beat.

And finally, there is Officer Sullivan’s badge. It’s possible to get historic police badges, but we’re creating fashion here, not historical reenactment. This is the place to get creative with any sort of pin or basge you feel is appropriate. Me? I like the Irish Setter Dog pin available from Chloe’s Vintage Jewelry for just $28.00. Nothing says dogged Irish determination like an actual dog!


Noe go out there and do some good!

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Max Sparber

Max Sparber is a playwright, journalist, and history detective in Omaha, Nebraska.