This being Halloween, the day many people like to wear costumes, I thought it’d be interesting to discuss some of the disguises I’ve used over the years in the course of conducting investigations.
Let’s start with the most basic disguise.
The Simplest and Best Disguise?
Answer: A baseball cap and sunglasses. Studies on eye-witness identification reveal that the color and setting of the eyes, the hair color and style, and the shape of the head and face are all critical in making positive identifications. A baseball cap and sunglasses obscure just about all of those. Check the below site for photos of bank robbers (a sampling from Texas) taken at the time of the robbery–see how many are wearing baseball caps and sunglasses:
If you’re writing a story with a sleuth character who wants to don a quick and effective disguise, he/she would likely have these items handy. Same for a villain.
Jackets, Purses, Shoes
These are a few items I like to mix up while on surveillance.
I keep a reversible jacket in the trunk of my car. One side is a paisley print, the other a solid color. Especially when I’m conducting a foot surveillance, I use this jacket. Let’s say I’m sitting on a seat outside a coffee shop wearing the jacket, watching a business across the street for the subject to appear. He does, and I follow him for several blocks, conducting the surveillance from across the street. At a certain juncture, I’ll slip into an alcove and reverse the jacket. I often change my hairstyle or don a cap at that point, too.
I have various purses I use for work, and when working a lengthy surveillance, I’ll keep several handy. After all, what’s the use of changing your attire if you’re carrying the same purse? Although, if you’re writing a humorous story with a bumbling sleuth, it could be she goes to great effort to change her clothes and hair, but gets “burned” (caught) because she didn’t think to carry a different purse or bag!
I simplify what I carry in a purse to include only necessary items and basic ID (of course I’ll need to carry my driver’s license if I’m driving a vehicle, but I make a point to not carry my PI card, investigative agency credit cards, etc.). If, for example, I need to sit at a bar and order a drink while observing a subject who’s also in the bar, it’d be dumb to whip out my investigations agency credit card to pay for the drink–at the very least, I’m letting the bartender know that I’m a PI. I try to carry cash for such expenditures, but if I’ve run out of bills, I’ll use a personal credit card.
Just like with a purse, it’s smart to also change your shoes when you alter your outfit. What’s the use of swapping the look of your jacket, hair, hat, purse…and you’re wearing the same shoes?
Shoes tell so much about a person, too. A year ago, my husband (my former PI partner, now a criminal defense attorney) and I were staying in a hotel in another state. We were alone on the elevator with a man who started telling us a sad, complicated story about how he’d lost his wallet, and he had no money to get a cab to catch a flight home. He explained he was a businessman visiting the city, and that his ticket was apparently on hold at the airport, if only he could find the means to get there.
He was wearing a suit. His hair was neatly trimmed. But when I looked at his shoes–dirty, ragged running shoes–I knew his story didn’t match up. That’s when I looked more carefully at his eyes–pinpoint pupils–and realized he was also on drugs. My husband and I exchanged a glance–we knew this was a drug user, a small-time con, who probably made enough money with this lost-wallet story to get his next fix and maybe a place to crash. Although part of us felt sorry for him, we also didn’t want other people to get taken in by his story–and who knew when he might turn desperate and threaten people for money? After we walked away, we contacted hotel security and reported his activities, including a description of his attire and those too-obvious shoes.
I’ve kept my hair long enough that I can easily create different hairstyles, everything from buns to ponytails to loose. Once I wore a wig on surveillance because I’d surveilled this particular subject so often, I wanted a completely different look. Sometimes I’ll toss a knit cap or scarf in my jacket pocket and use one or the other to change my look.
Tonight, Halloween, my husband and I will be kicking back, not wearing any disguises. We’ll pass out candy to the neighborhood kids, who’ll be gleefully dressed up in all kinds of costumes and get-ups, and we’ll be relieved we’re in our regular, comfy clothes, and not having to pretend to be anybody else.
Special Report: Up North, Undercover via UpNorthLive.com. A report on a female investigator who discusses some of her disguises in the course of her work.
Bored to Death: A Few Surveillance Tips for Jonathan. A few tips on not using bad disguises, a tongue-in-cheek post about the now-cancelled HBO show Bored to Death via Guns, Gams, and Gumshoes.
Surveillance: Going Undercover on a Golf Course. A real-life detective story about yours truly pretending to know how to play golf on a case. But at least I dressed the part!
Mark Your Calendars!
The Zen Man, my murder mystery featuring a man-and-woman PI team, will be free November 25-27, 2012.
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"A fantastic read from start to finish. Reminded me a great deal of the works of Robert Crais and Robert B Parker." ~MacKenzie Brown
2011 – 2012 Book Blog Tour Articles
January 14, 2012: Interview w/ Colleen at Chatterrific
February 3, 2012: Coffee Time Romance: The Zen Man-Read It, Wear It
February 14, 2012 Terry's Place: Lust, Ethics, and the Private Eye
February 17, 2012 Savvy Authors: Tips from a PI-Tracking the Bad Guys in Stories
February 27, 2012 Elizabeth A White blog: Do Private Eyes Solve Murders?
February 28, 2012 Book Reviews by Elizabeth A White: The Zen Man
March 10, 2012 StoreyBook Reviews: Interview and Review
March 22, 2012 Minding Spot: Book Review
April 17, 2012 Fresh Fiction: 5 Hot Private Eye Heroes