An Interesting Question About Sherlock Holmes’ Hair, Hats, Magnifying Glass and More!

Question by Curt Bonnem
from Los Angeles, the USA

I’m playing Sherlock Holmes in the play ‘The Hound of the Baskervilles.’

What color and style is Sherlock Holmes’ hair? What style hats does he wear (besides the ear flapping hat)?

Does it ever mention whether he’s right or left handed? Does he carry a magnifying glass? Would he have been able to “dust for prints” at that time?


My Answer

Hi Curt!

Glad to know that you’re playing Sherlock Holmes. It must be fun (though no doubt – challenging) to play the great detective.

First, talking about Sherlock Holmes’ appearance – I’ve written about what Sherlock Holmes wears in the stories, his height and his features here.

You’re sure you’ve visited that link? Great, time to move on to the specific questions you’ve asked…

…What Are Sherlock Holmes’ Hair Colour and Hairstyle?

Sherlock Holmes’ hair colour is not mentioned anywhere in the original stories and novels. Nope!

However, Sidney Paget’s illustrations showed him with ‘raven black’ hair.

Almost all actors have depicted Sherlock Holmes with raven black hair. Jeremy Brett in the Granada series and Benedict Cumberbatch in Sherlock have shown Holmes with the same hair colour too.

In case, you’re not familiar with the term ‘raven black’ it’s just a fancy way of saying completely black hair.

What about Sherlock Holmes’ hairstyle?

That’s not mentioned in the original stories too! Conan Doyle could’ve made things easier for us there. But well, he didn’t.

And so – actors across generations have taken liberties. Here’s the same picture from another angle: Sherlock Holmes’ hairstyles portrayed by different actors…

…See the difference?

Now, if you’re depicting Sherlock Holmes in a play, which hairstyle should you choose? Thanks to Conan Doyle, you can choose any style. But if you want to play safe then…

…one of the earliest Sherlock Holmeses depicted by Sidney Paget – looked like this:

As you can see, Sherlock Holmes’ forehead is huge and he’s even lost some hair in the front of his head – especially on the left. The rest of the hair is neatly combed.

Which Hats and Caps Did Sherlock Holmes Wear?

Here’s a fun-fact: Conan Doyle mentions the ‘name’ of a cap or hat that Sherlock Holmes wears just two times in all the stories and novels!

Once, when Sherlock Holmes is travelling in Silver Blaze, he wears an ear-flapped travelling cap.

That’s the name the famous illustrator Sidney Paget interpreted as a deerstalker cap. That’s what’s led to the cap we always think of when we think of Holmes. Here’s a picture of Sherlock Holmes in a deerstalker, drawn by Sidney Paget in Silver Blaze:

Then, in The Hound of the Baskervilles, Sherlock Holmes wears a tweed suit with a cloth cap – he’s dressed like ‘any other tourist.’

In all other stories, our dude Holmes wears a ‘hat’ – and that’s it. Nothing’s mentioned about which hat exactly.

So, based on what Victorian people wore at that time (in the 1890s), I’d say Sherlock Holmes generally wears these caps/hats:

Take a peek at this site to see what hats and caps Victorian men generally wore – that’s what Sherlock Holmes wears too. Other than the deerstalker he wears while travelling.

Is Sherlock Holmes Left-handed or Right-handed?

Yet again – Conan Doyle didn’t really say, “OK, guys, here’s the deal – Sherlock Holmes is _____-handed.”

But he did leave a hint from which we can deduce whether Sherlock Holmes is left or right-handed.

Well, the answer first: Sherlock Holmes is right-handed.

The reason is that in The Sign of the Four, there’s this line:

“He took out his revolver as he spoke, and, having loaded two of the chambers, he put it back into the right-hand pocket of his jacket.”

That line is talking about Sherlock Holmes.

So, Sherlock Holmes has a revolver in the right-hand pocket of his jacket. He takes it out, loads it partially and then puts it back into the right-hand pocket of his jacket.

Let me lay bare the facts of the matter:

You see,

it is highly probable that a right-handed man will put his revolver in his right-hand pocket and a left-handed man will put it in his left pocket.

This is because it is extremely difficult to take out or put a revolver in your right pocket with your left hand (if you’re left-handed) and vice versa if you are right-handed.

Think about it: if you need to take out your revolver urgently, and you’re left-handed, won’t it be ridiculously difficult to take it out from your right pocket?

An intelligent man like Sherlock Holmes would obviously keep the revolver in a pocket from which it could be instantly retrieved and used. If he kept it in his right pocket, he has to be right handed!

Does Sherlock Holmes Carry a Magnifying Glass With Him?

Yes, absolutely! A resounding yes.

This is finally a question which Conan Doyle has answered with admirable clarity.

Take a peek:

“As he spoke, he whipped a tape measure and a large round magnifying glass from his pocket.”

– A Study in Scarlet

“Holmes fell upon his knees upon the floor and, with the lantern and a magnifying lens, began to examine minutely…”

“…he sprang to his feet again and put his glass in his pocket.”

– The Red-headed League

“…you will observe, if you care to use my magnifying lens, that the fourteen other characteristics to which I have alluded are there as well.”

– A Case of Identity

“…made a very careful examination of the sill with his powerful magnifying lens.”

– The Beryl Coronet

“Look at that with your magnifying glass, Mr. Holmes.”

– The Norwood Builder

“Holmes had been examining the cover of the note-book with his magnifying lens…”

– Black Peter

Does Sherlock Holmes always carry a magnifying glass?

The crux: Sherlock Holmes carries his magnifying glass with him almost all the time.

Finally: Would He Have Been Able to ‘Dust For Prints’ At That Time?

‘Dusting for fingerprints’ basically means using some sort of powder or chemical to make unclear fingerprints clearer. Then, a technique can be used to ‘extract’ these finger prints and store them.

Does Sherlock Holmes do this in the original stories and novels?

The answer is:


Sherlock Holmes uses fingerprints to solve a case in exactly one story – The Norwood Builder.

He sees a thumb print in blood on the wall and Inspector Lestrade confirms that the print is the same as the one obtained from another guy in the story – John McFarlane.

So, basically, in 1903, when the story was written – both Lestrade and Holmes were convinced that fingerprints were unique for every person. They treat that fact like it’s obvious in the story. They also talk about recording finger prints using wax.

But no one talks about making unclear finger prints clearer using ‘dusting’ techniques.

So, was fingerprinting really used to identify people at that time? Well, it had just started being used.

In 1902, the first man was convicted based on police records of his finger prints. A crime expert called Alphonse Bertillon caught a guy called Scheffer in Paris because the prints at the crime scene matched those in the police records.

Now considering this was the first proper conviction, based on fingerprint matching, I don’t think people were dusting prints that much in 1903. You see, the use of fingerprints in crimes was still in its infancy.

And: considering many Sherlock Holmes cases were set before 1900, would police officers have used dusting of fingerprints in the stories? No way!

Would Sherlock Holmes have used it?

Well, maybe. He was always ahead of his time. In fact, this Bertillon – the officer in-charge of the first ‘fingerprint conviction’ has been talked about twice in the stories!

For example, Sherlock Holmes talks “about the Bertillon system of measurements” and expresses “his enthusiastic admiration of the French savant” in The Naval Treaty published in 1893.

My point is: maybe, Sherlock Holmes figured out how to dust fingerprints before anyone else did? On his own?

BUT: it’s not mentioned anywhere.

So, if you’re Sherlock Holmes in a play – should you dust for prints? Not really.