A typical day in my life starts the night before, with the Big Question: What will I wear tomorrow? If I don’t figure that out in advance, I’ll waste precious time in the morning and leave the floor covered in rejected outfits. What’s the big deal, you say? They’re only clothes? Well, I have to be able to walk into the office and not worry about what I’m wearing, because my job is to worry about what everyone else is wearing. Why? Because I’m a fashion reporter in Washington, D.C., The City Fashion Forgot.

What the citizens of D.C. wear inspires my articles, whether it’s a conservative suit designed to sway a Congressional committee or a complete makeover to divert media attention from a scandal. Is it a dressing misdemeanor? A style fiasco? A fashion felony? Good! I can use it in my column, “Crimes of Fashion,” or my bite-size style advice pieces, “Fashion Bites.” (And fashion sometimes does, believe me.)

My name is Lacey Smithsonian and I work for The Eye Street Observer, a third-tier daily newspaper in Our Nation’s Capital. My paper doesn’t get a lot of respect, and unfortunately, neither do I. Being a fashion reporter was never exactly on my top ten career list. I didn’t go to journalism school to study ruffles and ruching. I was working hard to be a top-notch hard news reporter, when The Eye’s fashion editor died. At her desk. On deadline. And just to show you how much respect the fashion beat gets: Poor Mariah was in full rigor mortis before anyone even noticed she was dead.

Right place, wrong time: Just then I crossed paths with Mac Jones, my (and Mariah’s) editor, sweating a deadline with a dead fashion editor on his hands and the newsroom in an uproar. I sometimes wonder what would have happened if I hadn’t been wearing a particularly killer outfit that day. But I was, and I looked the part of a fashion writer, at least according to my editor. As if he’d know. Me, the new fashion diva for The Eye? No way! But too late: I was fated to inherit the deadly style beat. Mac dumped the job on me and I’ve been working at it (and trying to escape it) ever since.

To be honest, I enjoy wearing wonderful clothes. My love affair with and education about clothes started with a mysterious leather-bound and brass-buckled trunk left me by my great-aunt Mimi. It’s filled with clothes, materials, patterns and photographs (and other things) Aunt Mimi collected during the late 1930s and 1940s, when women stepped up and kept the home fires burning and the factories humming. What can I say, vintage clothes of that era simply suit me. They fit, they flatter, they feel great, and they make me feel strong and capable. My love of clothing may be genetic, but it’s all about style, not trends and labels. I just never thought I’d be pounding out articles about hats and heels.

But jobs are scarce these days, and I’ve carved out my niche by finding the stories in style, the clues in clothes. I have an eye for fashion and an ear for the tales in tailoring. I also have a double dose of that common reporter affliction: curiosity. I always want to know the end of the story. Curiosity gets me in trouble. Sometimes it’s nearly gotten me killed. I’ve learned the hard way that fashion can be murder. And murder keeps crossing my beat. All because of the questions I ask.

What does a bad haircut have to do with a young hairstylist’s death? (Killer Hair)

How does a vintage designer suit connect the disappearances of a young woman in the 1940s and a modern-day Washington intern? (Designer Knockoff)

What is a child wearing a shepherd’s robe doing witnessing an assault in a Washington alley, instead of say, playing a shepherd in a Christmas pageant? (Grave Apparel)

And now, in my latest case, Shot Through Velvet, I’m puzzling over a mysterious blue corpse. How on earth did he wind up in that vat of blue dye in a dying velvet factory?

But first, what do I wear tomorrow…


You can read more about Lacey in SHOT THROUGH VELVET, the seventh book in the “Crime of Fashion” mystery series. The first book in the series is KILLER HAIR.

Ellen Byerrum writes the popular Crime of Fashion mysteries, set in bustling Washington, D.C., The City That Fashion Forgot. The series features style reporter Lacey Smithsonian, who wears vintage clothing and solves crimes with fashion clues. Snapshots of her humorous columns highlighting fashion crimes and misdemeanors in the Nation’s Capital, are included in the books. Shot Through Velvet, the seventh mystery in the series, takes Lacey to a velvet factory in southern Virginia on its last day of operation where she finds a blue corpse in a vat of dye. After that, Death on Heels will be published in February 2012.

In researching fashions for the books, Byerrum has collected her own assortment of clothing from the 1940s, but laments her lack of closet space. She has worked as a news reporter in Washington, D.C., is a playwright under the name Eliot Byerrum, and holds a P.I. registration in Virginia. She is currently at work on the ninth book in the Crime of Fashion series. Visit Ellen at http://ellenbyerrum.com

Books are available at retail and online booksellers.

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