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Sixteen-year-old actress Emma Roberts in costume as Nancy Drew.
AP photo/Warner Bros.
Sixteen-year-old actress Emma Roberts in costume as Nancy Drew.

Fancy Nancy
Famous teenage detective keeps clothes contemporary but timeless in new movie

By Samantha Critchell
AP Fashion Writer

Nancy Drew looks darn good in knee socks for a 77-year-old. In fact, she looks younger now than she did when she was introduced to America in 1930.

Sixteen-year-old teen star Emma Roberts, with long straight light brown hair kept out of her eyes with headbands, a wide smile reminiscent of her Aunt Julia's and several pairs of penny loafers, is the current embodiment of the young sleuth. She hits the big screen in the Warner Bros. film "Nancy Drew" later this month.

But when the first Nancy Drew debuted on the book jacket of "The Secret of the Old Clock," she covered her much-blonder hair with a cloche hat, wore a sophisticated skirt suit and heels. In 1959, when that first book was updated for the next generation, Nancy's hair was more of a bouffant and her dress was a slim-cut, knee-length green sheath.

All these versions of Nancy — and lots of other Nancys in between — have a style that is best defined as classic. But finding a way to capture her look for a 2007 movie wasn't as easy as that may sound.

"Everyone has in their mind who their Nancy Drew is. She's been around so long, she's iconic," says Jeffrey Kurland, costume designer on the Warner Bros. film. "It's an interesting problem to address the different generations. She's been around since the '30s and reprinted almost every decade, so everyone has had a slightly different picture."

Kurland says he tried to put the essence of each one of those looks into this one.

"You don't look at her and see her in period clothes, but they're not contemporary clothes. They're Nancy Drew clothes."

Never a fashion victim

That means she's always neat and proper — and never a fashion victim.

"I can't think of anything Nancy has worn over the years that also were absolute 'dont's' for now," Kurland says.

In fact, when the new friends she makes in the movie take her to a chic boutique for a makeover because they think Nancy's style is outdated and boring, the saleswoman compliments the young detective's rust-colored drop-waist dress with slim riding belt details and a cropped dark green jacket. She has less kind words for the other girls.

There were 56 mysteries in the original series up through 1979. When Simon & Schuster bought the Stratemeyer Syndicate that owned the books from Grosset & Dunlap, another 119 digest-style books were published. Since then there have been spin-off series for teenagers, early readers, combined stories with the Hardy Boys and a Nancy Drew cookbook. (And even a TV series.)

Most of the original book series was written by Mildred A. Wirt Benson, the first of several generations of ghostwriters. All the books — even the most recent "Clue Crew" stories that turn Nancy into a tween — are credited to Carolyn Keene.

The same illustrator, Russell H. Tandy, did the first 26 covers so there was a consistent look, said Siobhan Ciminera, an editor at Grosset & Dunlap, but even then her hair color drifted from blond to auburn to deep red. In the late '50s, the text began to refer to her hair as "titian."

"Russell Tandy set the standard from the beginning everyone built their vision on that," says Jennifer Fisher, a devoted fan who created the Nancy
DrewSleuth.com Web site and plans the annual Sleuths convention, to be held this year in Pasadena, Calif, to coincide with the release of the movie.

Subtle nod to current era

There's always a nod to whatever era Nancy is currently living in, but it's subtle, especially on the cover, Fisher says. The line drawings sometimes found inside the books often were more influenced by current fashion, she adds.

"What I like about the look of those covers is that they have a very sophisticated elegance of the way she's depicted, not like your average 18-year-old," Fisher says.

In the new movie, Nancy wears a lot of plaid , including a drop-waist minidress that has a little bit of a '60s vibe and a cool shiny double-breasted trench coat — an item every good detective should have.

"Plaid is iconic to Nancy — it's grounded in Americana," says costume designer Kurland. Even though Nancy is transplanted to Los Angeles in the movie, she remains a small-town girl at heart.

Nancy Drew on DVD

With “Nancy Drew” coming to the big screen starring Emma Roberts as the young detective, a couple of past incarnations debut on DVD. “The Original Nancy Drew Movie Mystery Collection” is a two-disc set packing four films from the late 1930s featuring Bonita Granville as the brainy, crime-solving teen. The titles are: “Nancy Drew, Detective,” “Nancy Drew, Reporter,” “Nancy Drew, Trouble Shooter” and “Nancy Drew and the Hidden Staircase.” “The Hardy Boys-Nancy Drew Mysteries: Season Two” resurrects the 1970s mystery series shared by Nancy (Pamela Sue Martin) and the Hardy Boys (Shaun Cassidy and Parker Stevenson). The five-disc set has 22 episodes.

Copyright 2005 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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