You’ll never find a blue blazer or khaki slacks in former homicide detective Garry McFadden’s wardrobe. No polyester-blend shirts or plain penny loafers, either.
Because McFadden made a career of examining murder scenes and interviewing witnesses while paying close attention to the armor he wears: Impeccably tailored suits. Color-popping ties and pocket squares (or pocket rounds – more on that later). Cufflinks. Designer shoes.
He’s earned a reputation as one of the most stylish dressers in Charlotte law enforcement, and now, his fashion obsession has a much larger audience: The second season of the true-crime TV show in which he stars, “I Am Homicide,” wraps up this month and has won for McFadden – and his snappy dressing – fans from as far away as Australia and Africa. (The show airs Tuesdays at 9 p.m. on Investigation Discovery, through Aug. 22.)
McFadden retired after 30 years as a full-time Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police detective in 2011. But he still works part-time for the department and consults privately with other cities, as well as working on the TV show. In it, actors re-enact crimes he’s investigated, and McFadden offers commentary on how those investigations played out.
“Fashion says so much about us, but we don’t recognize it,” says McFadden, 57. “When people see me without a suit, they say, ‘Oh my God, I’ve never seen you without a suit.’ I don’t wear slacks and blazers – I never have, and I never will.”
Fixating on style trends and finding bargains, McFadden says, definitely helped relieve stress in a job packed with psychological trauma.
But paying attention to fashion has had career payoffs, too. What he wears, he says, has led to criminals’ confessions, jurors’ respect and better connections with the community he still serves.
These are some of the lessons he’s learned:
1. Dressing well can create trust.
Looking put together can make your work easier.
It shows confidence and power, McFadden says, and in his job, witnesses and victims’ families respond to those qualities when they’re being interviewed after a crime.
“When I come to your house, I want you to believe I’m your pastor,” he says.
Dressing up has even handed him the unexpected edge: In one memorable murder case, he says, a suspect was refusing to talk to police when McFadden strolled into the room, dressed in his signature tailored suit, snappy shirt and designer shoes.
“I said, ‘You’re not talking to anybody?’ and he said, ‘I’ll talk to you.’ ”
The confession poured out.
“I’m like, ‘You’re in trouble,’ and (the suspect) says, ‘How are you going to get me out of this?’ ” McFadden recalls.
“I’m like, ‘Get you out of this?’ and he said, ‘Aren’t you my lawyer?’ I said, ‘No, fool, I’m not your lawyer.’
“We go to court and his lawyer is a very flashy dresser. To this day, (that lawyer) still dogs me about it: ‘Who are you conning today, Mr. McFadden? You’ve got to stop dressing like that, because it’s killing me.’ ”
The importance of attire was made clear to McFadden at an early age: Growing up in Elliott, S.C., he was fascinated by his maternal grandfather’s five-drawer chest – the top holding watches, cufflinks and handkerchiefs; then ties; crisply pressed and folded shirts; underwear; socks.
His middle school history teacher, Walter Raleigh Lawrey, dressed a 6-foot 6-inch frame in three-piece suits, hats and wing-tipped shoes. Another teacher, Prentiss Moore, imprinted on young McFadden the beauty of high fashion, with pocket squares and popping shirts and ties.
“I told him, ‘One day, I will have as many suits as you,’ ” McFadden says.
2. OK, dressing well occasionally has a downside.
McFadden does recall a problem or two, like the time he and his also-flashy partner, Chuck Connor, showed up at a crime scene off Tuckaseegee Road and neighbors believed they were too well dressed to be the police.
“They said, ‘You’re up to something!’ and we said, ‘We’re not – we’re the police.’ ”
Two more detectives, wearing typical-detective blue blazers, came on the scene, and the neighbors relaxed. “They pointed and said: ‘THEY’RE the police,’ ” McFadden laughs.
3. Planning saves energy, time and money.
For big murder trials in which McFadden was testifying, he says, he’d lay out his suits, shirts, shoes and accessories in a spare bedroom before the trial even started, sparing himself the mental effort of choosing clothes each morning.
“If I hear someone on the jury say, ‘That’s a nice dark suit,’ I’m going to wear a dark suit for the rest of the trial,” McFadden says.
He has a key list of go-to stores where he forges relationships with the staff and knows he can get what he needs.
Almost all of his suits, dress shirts and ties come from Vilanto Fine Men’s Wear in Northlake Mall, as well as Suit Swagger in Greensboro and Runway Mens Wear in Winston Salem. Summer seersucker suits from the Alan Flusser brand come from Stein Mart.
On his casual days, he wears tailored jeans and printed paisley shirts with coordinating collar and cuff fabrics, also by Alan Flusser, bought at Stein Mart. For shoes and other items, he shops at K&G on South Boulevard – a store you need to spend hours in, he says, but that sometimes rewards with bargains.
He scours Nordstrom Rack for shoe trees (you won’t find any shoes in his closet without them), Amazon for wooden bead bracelets, and whenever he travels, in every city he goes, he’ll find a store to pop in for shoes, socks and laces.
4. Splurge on the special.
With so much seriousness in the crime business, McFadden finds the fun in fashion.
Right now, he’s obsessed with brightly colored socks and shoelaces to match. He loves sharing his shoe, socks and laces finds on a Facebook group called Shoe and Sock Game.
And he’s really smitten with a new style of bowtie: handcrafted from bird feathers by a Charleston-based company called Brackish.
“I’m hooked,” he says. He has three: the first was a gift from CIAA commissioner Jacquie McWilliams, the second one from Henry Schleiff, Investigation Discovery’s group president. His third came from Brackish, who’d caught wind through the network that he loved them. (If “I Am Homicide” is given a third season, he may well be wearing Brackish ties on-air, he says. They run $195-$225 and up right now, by the way.)
McFadden lights up when demonstrating the difference between a pocket square and a pocket round (a circle of fabric that creates a ruffled look, instead of a square’s pointy one) and showing his secret weapon to making them stand up nicely: a $19.99 pocket square holder.
And then there is jewelry: No more than one ring per hand for men, he advises, and he loves dark wooden or onyx beaded bracelets for any occasion, worn one or two at a time.
5. Think about what you need – and what you don’t. Then figure out what to do about it.
One day, as he stood before his closet, McFadden says he had a light-bulb moment, leading to a big giveaway.
“I was going to speak at an event, and I went to the closet and I said, ‘I need a blue suit,’ and I had like three blue suits,” McFadden recalls. “I caught myself saying, ‘How arrogant am I? I’m not looking for A blue suit, I’m looking for a SHADE of blue suit.’
“That day, I posted (on Facebook) that I’m giving away 10 suits. I just went out and gave them away.”
The recipients of his suits have included men he helped put in prison, who needed professional clothes when job-hunting after their release. If he sees a buy-one-get-two-free sale on suits at a menswear store, he says, he’ll sometimes buy one for himself and give the other two away. Sometimes, he’ll give a pocket square or box of socks not because the recipient needs it, but because he knows it’ll make a lasting impression.
“I hope they pay it forward,” McFadden says. “You can afford it, but will you give it? Will you touch somebody else?”
McFadden has about 30 watches, which he keeps neat and snug in three watch cases that hold 10 apiece. In a drawer in one of those cases, he keeps restaurant gift cards he’s received for speaking engagements.
He uses them, he says, to take groups of kids out to dinner. He speaks to school groups about once a week, and will often connect with kids who approach him, craving connection with an adult who cares. “I talk about life, I talk about things they don’t want to talk about,” he says. “I talk about mama’s boyfriend. I talk about what it’s like living in neighborhoods where they hear violence all the time but that’s not you. Can you move on?”
He slides open the drawer of one watch case and pulls out a gift card from the Capital Grille. He’ll use it, he says, to treat some youngsters to dinner, to make them feel special for the evening and to hear what’s on their minds.
He’ll be dressed to the nines.