NEW YORK --- Beautiful, gorgeous and fabulous are words no one has ever used to describe my usual weekend outfit, which consists of a bleach-stained tank top and shorts. Those were some of the comments I got, though, for wearing a maxi dress on a recent Saturday.
That's right, a maxi dress, gown of choice for the likes of Stevie Nicks and Queen Guinevere. The $34.50 dress from Old Navy, with cap sleeves, an empire waistline and a swirly floral print of navy blue on white, was much more feminine than my typical attire and seemed a tad too festive to wear to run errands. I longed for a tea party invitation, or a 1970s band to sing for.
The longer I wore the dress, though, the more normal it seemed. Even though temperatures were in the 90s, I didn't feel hot. The dress is flatteringly silhouetted without being tight. The flowing skirt creates a breeze as it swings around your legs. The slip-on style eliminates pinchy zippers or buttons, and the cotton-blend fabric is light and comfortable. My usual Lycra top and tight-waisted shorts would have felt much stickier in the heat.
The day started with a comment from my fashion-blind husband. As he beheld me at 8 a.m., resplendent in my maxi dress, he said, "New nightgown?"
I informed him that I was doing a trend test for my office by wearing a maxi dress. "Looks like a housedress," he said.
Just for that, I made him take my picture. In the course of the photo session on our residential Brooklyn street, a neighbor pronounced the dress "beautiful." I told her about the trend test and asked whether she would wear one. She said she was not tall enough at 5 feet. My height was, in fact, why I got nominated for the test-run. At nearly 5-foot-10, I wouldn't trip on the hem.
Next I headed to breakfast at a diner on Staten Island with a couple of old friends, who made up for my husband's lack of enthusiasm. "Fabulous!" one gushed. "Gorgeous!" declared the other.
But would they wear it? "For sure," said the 5-foot-6 suburban mother of three who works as a style editor. The other, an older woman, demurred, saying she found the neckline problematic. I suddenly felt a draft and tugged the round neckline up a few inches while finishing my eggs and coffee.
Home again, I walked the dog, changed cat litter and did laundry. The dress was surprisingly comfy for chores, bending and carrying. Perhaps my husband's "housedress" label wasn't wrong.
Then I heard the bell rung by an old-fashioned knife-grinder, whose truck ambles down our block every few months. I grabbed a half-dozen knives and flagged him down. Bob the Knife Grinder had no comment on my dress.
As Bob drove off, a neighbor exclaimed, "I've never seen that!"
"Really?" I replied, thinking she was referring to the rare sighting of a maxi dress.
"Yeah, that knife-grinder guy. Does he come around often?"
I realized that what started out feeling like an attention-getting gown had become unremarkable.
On the other hand, context is everything. At a backyard summer wedding or upscale cafÃ, I would have felt appropriately dressed up. The maxi dress is comfy enough to run errands in on a hot day and pretty enough for a party.
with a video camera to record a cheating spouse or a fraudulent worker's compensation claim.
"We do a lot of cheating cases," Mr. Hoshell said. "Rarely do you catch somebody in the act. We catch them with the element of opportunity."
Most often, the Hoshells say, a client who suspects a spouse is cheating is right. Clients usually don't ask to see the video, Mrs. Hoshell said.
"You hate giving people bad news but we think they deserve the truth," she said.
For most investigators, that sort of domestic surveillance is the "tip of the iceberg," said Gene Staulcup of Gene Staulcup & Associates Inc., in Augusta.
His office investigates civil and criminal cases and missing-persons reports, provides depositions, serves court papers, and administers background checks and polygraph tests.
"It's a familiar world. A lot of people in the private investigator business have left law enforcement," said Mr. Staulcup, a former officer for the Richmond County Sheriff's Office. "We do all types of criminal defense work, but on the flip side, we also assist law enforcement."
Mr. Hoshell was once a police officer in North Augusta and Aiken County. He said he has followed suspects across state lines, and Mr. Staulcup's detectives say they have had to travel as far as Mexico, the Bahamas, California and New York.
Although they will tail a suspect, the detectives say they can't tap phone lines or cross onto personal property.
"We can't do anything illegal, but we have been known to traipse through the woods. We've been to attics, under houses, church and schools," Mrs. Hoshell said.
There's no Mike Hammer theme music. No Bogart hat worn low over the eyes.
Not that costumes are out of the question. The Hoshells have pretended to be camera-happy tourists. Mrs. Hoshell was once dressed as a real estate agent and drove around with a borrowed magnetic sign on the side of her car.
They hide cameras in hats, buttons and purses. They use Global Positioning System devices to track moving vehicles.
"People think it's cool. My son's friends think it's a big deal, like we're an undercover Magnum P.I., " Mrs. Hoshell said. "We're undercover but we know we're not really that cool."
Reach Kelly Jasper at (706) 823-3552 or firstname.lastname@example.org.