The Sherlock Holmes Handbook: How to Disguise Yourself

It's been well over a century since the first Sherlock Holmes adventure was published, and yet the master detective remains as popular as ever; witness the upcoming release of Holmes, starring Robert Downey, Jr., the Holmes-inspired television phenomenon that is House, M.D., and countless adaptations over the years. But what is it about this 19th century detective that we still find so compelling today? Why do modern-day detectives still study his methods and techniques? What can we still learn from Sherlock Holmes? I set out to answer those questions, and the result is my new book, The Sherlock Holmes Handbook: the Methods and Mysteries of the World's Greatest Detective. All week I'll be posting excerpts from it, which is available at Amazon and at bookstores everywhere. Quirk Books did a great job designing it -- a cute little hardback that would look right at home on your grandfather's shelf o' classics -- and Eugene Smith's illustrations are top-notch. Hope you enjoy this little preview!

How to Disguise Yourself
"It was not merely that Holmes changed his costume. His expression, his manner, his very soul seemed to vary with every fresh part that he assumed. The stage lost a fine actor, even as science lost an acute reasoner, when he became a specialist in crime." - A Scandal in Bohemia

sherlock - disguise smallSherlock Holmes was more than just a shrewd detective-among other distinctions, he remains one of history's foremost masters of disguise. His profession demanded it: Concealing his identity allowed Holmes to trail suspects without their knowledge, slip his enemies' traps time after time, and in "His Last Bow" to break a German spy ring that might have cost England dearly if not for Holmes's undercover intervention. That Dr. Watson himself failed to recognize his old friend in disguise on at least five occasions is further proof of Holmes's genius; and considering that Watson was a sharp if underrated mind in his own right, it goes without saying that Holmes's efforts went much further than simply donning a costume. To master the art of personal camouflage, every aspect of your person, from your clothes and hair to the manner in which you speak and carry yourself, must be altered beyond recognition.

"¢ Select a new identity. You will fool no one by simply donning exotic clothes willy-nilly; a disguise lacking in coherence appears to be just what it is-a disguise. Instead, think like an actor: Imagine a character most unlike yourself and let that guide your selection of clothing, the manner in which you speak, the cover story you concoct, and so on. Consider the sex, age, profession, economic status, and personality of this character, as Holmes did when he disguised himself as an aged seaman in The Sign of the Four : "Altogether he gave me the impression of a respectable master mariner who had fallen into years and poverty," reports a briefly duped Watson.

"¢ Change your clothes. In his career, Holmes wore a black robe and hat to become an talian priest in "The Final Problem," a "blue blouse" to portray a rough-edged French plumber in "The Disappearance of Lady Frances Carfax," and a tweed suit and cloth hat to appear like "any other tourist" in The Hound of the Baskervilles, among many other costumes. But Holmes does more than simply take these clothes from the rack and drape them on his person; he adapts them to the subtleties of his roles. For instance, his aged sailor costume in The Sign of the Four consisted mainly of a pea-coat, but it wasn't just any pea-coat: Watson describes it as "old" and "buttoned up to his throat," touches that reinforce both the poverty and infirmity of the character Holmes is playing.

"¢ Change your hair. Holmes's sailor disguise employed not only a wig but fake whiskers and eyebrows as well, creating the impression of an unkempt man rarely acquainted with scissors or a razor. But false hair can be dangerous; nothing will ruin your cover more quickly than an ill-fitting wig.

sherlock disguise

"¢ Change your face. This can be achieved by artificial means-with makeup to create wrinkles or flesh-colored putty to reshape the nose-as well as naturally, through facial expressions. For maximum effect, employ both techniques simultaneously, as Holmes does in "The Final Problem": "The aged ecclesiastic had turned his face towards me," Watson writes. "For an instant the wrinkles were smoothed away, the nose drew away from the chin, the lower lip ceased to protrude and the mouth to mumble . . . and the next the whole frame collapsed again, and Holmes had gone as quickly ly as he had come." He takes a different approach in "The Dying Detective," affecting the look of a man on his deathbed by applying petroleum jelly to his forehead, daubing his eyes with irritating nightshade to turn them angry red, and encrusting beeswax around his lips.

"¢ Change your body. Desperate fools might submit to a surgeon's knife in order to change their bodies, but for a master of disguise, such measures are superfluous. Your natural stride should be lengthened or shortened, or a limp adopted. Holmes often altered his height by stooping while in disguise, a wonderful trick but no easy thing to maintain over a long period, as he pointed out after portraying a hunched bookseller in "The Empty House" -- "I am glad to stretch myself, Watson," said Holmes. "It is no joke when a tall man has to take a foot off his stature for several hours on end."

"¢ Alter your speech. An accent is easy enough to fake, but a new manner of speech is considerably more difficult. The most elaborate role of Holmes's career was that of an Irish American traitor named Altamont in "His Last Bow," whose voice alone was enough to convince the Germans on whom he was spying of his authenticity. "If you heard him talk you would not doubt [that he is Irish American]," Von Bork assures a German comrade. "Sometimes I assure you I can hardly understand him. He seems to have declared war on the King's English as well as on the English king."

5 Subtle Cues That Can Tell You About Your Date's Financial Personality

Being financially compatible with your partner is important, especially as a relationship grows. Fortunately, there are ways you can learn about your partner’s financial personality in a relationship’s early stages without seeing their bank statement or sitting them down for “the money talk.”

Are they a spender or a saver? Are they cautious with money? These habits can be learned through basic observations or casual questions that don’t feel intrusive. Here are some subtle things that can tell you about your date’s financial personality.


Casual conversations about finance-related topics can be very revealing. Does your date know if their employer matches their 401(k) plan contributions? Do you find their answers to any financial questions a bit vague—even the straightforward ones like “What are the rewards like on your credit card?” This could mean that your partner is a little fuzzy on some of the details of their financial situation.

As your connection grows, money talks are only natural. If your date expresses uncertainty about their monthly budget, it may be an indicator that they are still working on the best way to manage their finances or don’t keep close tabs on their spending habits.


If you notice your partner is always watching business news channels, thumbing through newspapers, or checking share prices on their phone, they are clearly keeping abreast of what’s going on in the financial world. Ideally, this would lead to a well-informed financial personality that gives way to smart investments and overall monetary responsibility.

If you see that your date has an interest in national and global finances, ask them questions about what they’ve learned. The answers will tell you what type of financial mindset to expect from you partner moving forward. You might also learn something new about the world of finance and business!


You may be able to learn a lot about someone’s financial personality just by asking what they usually do for dinner. If your date dines out a lot, it could be an indication that they are willing to spend money on experiences. On the other hand, if they’re eating most of their meals at home or prepping meals for the entire week to cut their food budget, they might be more of a saver.


Money is a source of stress for most people, so it’s important to observe if financial anxiety plays a prominent role in your date’s day-to-day life. There are a number of common financial worries we all share—rising insurance rates, unexpected car repairs, rent increases—but there are also more specific and individualized concerns. Listen to how your date talks about money and pick up on whether their stress is grounded in worries we all have or if they have a more specific reason for concern.

In both instances, it’s important to be supportive and helpful where you can. If your partner is feeling nervous about money, they’ll likely be much more cautious about what they’re spending, which can be a good thing. But it can also stop them from making necessary purchases or looking into investments that might actually benefit them in the future. As a partner, you can help out by minimizing their expenses for things like nights out and gifts in favor of less expensive outings or homemade gifts to leave more of their budget available for necessities.


Does your date actually look at how much they’re spending before handing their credit card to the waiter or bartender at the end of the night? It’s a subtle sign, but someone who looks over a bill is likely much more observant about what they spend than someone who just blindly hands cards or cash over once they get the tab.

Knowing what you spend every month—even on smaller purchases like drinks or dinner—is key when you’re staying on a budget. It’s that awareness that allows people to adjust their monthly budget and calculate what their new balance will be once the waiter hands over the check. Someone who knows exactly what they’re spending on the small purchases is probably keeping a close eye on the bigger picture as well.


While these subtle cues can be helpful signposts when you’re trying to get an idea of your date’s financial personality, none are perfect indicators that will be accurate every time. Our financial personalities are rarely cut and dry—most of us probably display some behaviors that would paint us as savers while also showing habits that exclaim “spender!” By relying too heavily on any one indicator, we might not get an accurate impression of our date.

Instead, as you get to know a new partner, the best way to learn about their financial personality is by having a straightforward and honest talk with them. You’ll learn more by listening and asking questions than you ever could by observing small behaviors.

Whatever your financial personality is, it pays to keep an eye on your credit score. Discover offers a Free Credit Scorecard, and checking it won't impact your score. It's totally free, even if you aren't a Discover customer. Check yours in seconds. Terms apply. Visit Discover to learn more.

Where Do Birds Get Their Songs?

Birds display some of the most impressive vocal abilities in the animal kingdom. They can be heard across great distances, mimic human speech, and even sing using distinct dialects and syntax. The most complex songs take some practice to learn, but as TED-Ed explains, the urge to sing is woven into songbirds' DNA.

Like humans, baby birds learn to communicate from their parents. Adult zebra finches will even speak in the equivalent of "baby talk" when teaching chicks their songs. After hearing the same expressions repeated so many times and trying them out firsthand, the offspring are able to use the same songs as adults.

But nurture isn't the only factor driving this behavior. Even when they grow up without any parents teaching them how to vocalize, birds will start singing on their own. These innate songs are less refined than the ones that are taught, but when they're passed down through multiple generations and shaped over time, they start to sound similar to the learned songs sung by other members of their species.

This suggests that the drive to sing as well as the specific structures of the songs themselves have been ingrained in the animals' genetic code by evolution. You can watch the full story from TED-Ed below, then head over here for a sample of the diverse songs produced by birds.

[h/t TED-Ed]


More from mental floss studios