If there’s one thing TV has taught us, it’s that white women with emotional problems, abrasive personalities and unkempt appearances (apparently) make the best detectives.
We get it: it’s too much for women to be good at their professional and their personal lives! Personal lives just get in the way of solving the crime, as do meals, which must fit in one hand to be eaten while driving.
Most female detectives work in cold climates and favour practicality over aesthetics, so let the battle of the woollen jumpers and puffer jackets begin!
NB: while we would love to include the groundbreaking representation of an older woman with Murder She Wrote, or the Californian pep of Veronica Mars, for this list we’ve focused exclusively on shows that solve one crime per season in serial format, rather than self-contained episodes.
6. Mare Sheehan, Mare of Easttown (Kate Winslet)
Mare has a dead son, an ex-husband who lives in her backyard and only eats food that can be cooked in a microwave. While existing mostly on hoodie-under-puffer jacket ensembles on the job (the practicality of which is commendable as Pennsylvania looks damn cold and ketchup is easily wiped off nylon), whenever Mare has a date night, her clothes change from monochromatic earth tones to soft jewel tones and her regrowth magically softens to balayage.
And then you remember, this is Kate bloody Winslet. You can try and dull her shine with some greasy skin and synthetic material but that bone structure can’t be hidden, even if she tries to distract you with a Delco accent.
Essential accessories: her vape, the unacknowledged support cast member and perhaps most abused prop of all time.
5. Ellie Miller, Broadchurch (Olivia Colman)
For the first season of Broadchurch, Ellie was the rare female detective without crushing personal issues until the final episode when (spoiler alert) her husband was revealed as the killer. Her basic and decidedly unglamorous suit was only ever interchanged with a North Face raincoat – the perfect station-to-rainy-beach look.
Essential accessory: her ever-practical cross-body bag, perfect for holding clues when you need your hands free to grasp Dorset sea cliffs.
4. Saga Norén, The Bridge (Sofia Helin)
Saga’s dead sister and implied Aspergers give her the complicated background of so many female detectives before her. And like so many, her wardrobe is uniform – as if her defining characteristic is her job and nothing else will set her apart. Happily for Saga however, her wardrobe is black leather pants and a khaki coat. Biker chic for a woman whose greatest style choice is her ultra cool car.
Essential accessory: The aforementioned super-stylish 1977 Porsche 911s.
3. Detective Chief Inspector Jane Tennison, Prime Suspect (Helen Mirren)
DCI Tennison was the blueprint for many female detectives to follow. The legendary Helen Mirren has said that it was the flaws of the character she was drawn to, as women weren’t usually offered the opportunity for such complexities. Jane’s personal life was messy AF but she was the epitome of elegant chic. Even through the depths of alcoholism and (a far more shocking affliction on primetime TV) ageing, her blonde hair was always perfectly coiffed, her stud earrings as ever present as her pale pink lipstick.
Essential accessory: purple shampoo to keep that glorious hair free of brassiness; a cigarette (or, in later seasons, nicotine gum).
2. Marcella Backland, Marcella (Anna Friel)
Okay so Marcella may have (spoiler) killed her baby and alienated her husband in a series of blackouts later diagnosed as dissociative identity disorder, but we do appreciate her ability to layer cute shirts with sweaters and parkas. She has a real gift for proportion as well as criminal investigations.
Her array of designer coats and modern London townhouse definitely set her apart from some of the tired tropes even if she is more emotionally damaged than most. We especially love her as an undercover blonde rocking a great red lip in season three.
Essential accessory: those messy bangs which fall sexily over her eyes yet never seem to hinder her powers of observation; her M necklace.
1. Sarah Lund, Forbrydelsen/The Killing (Sofie Gråbøl)
There can only be one winner - the proud owner of the jumper that launched a thousand Google searches, Sarah Lund is the rare crime-adjacent person who knows how to wear a patterned knit (see Bain, David for how not to do it). Chic yet practical, pretty much the epitome of Scandi style. No one ever made the cold look so covetable. Lund’s sweater is a Faroese knit, from the Faroe Islands (a self-governing archipelago within the Kingdom of Denmark) and the undeniable influence it’s had on knitwear in fashion continues to this day.
Essential accessories: wool depiller – gotta keep those sweaters looking nice.