The impregnation of items of clothing with drugs of abuse that are then smuggled through airports and ports of entry is a growing problem for law enforcement. This work describes the application of portable Raman spectroscopic techniques for the analysis of a range of natural and artificial fibre items of clothing impregnated with drugs of abuse. Textile pieces were soaked with the solutions of the drugs then left overnight to dry prior to spectroscopic examination. The feasibility of detection of the characteristic Raman spectral bands in the presence of background matrix signals is demonstrated, even for dyed clothing. Definitive evidence for contamination of the items of clothing concerned can be acquired within 20–25 s, without any form of sample pre-treatment or extraction being necessary. The feasibility of automatic spectral recognition of such illicit materials by Raman spectroscopy has been investigated by searching a database stored on the spectrometer computer and the use of principal component analysis. Copyright © 2014 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.