Cary Grant had style.
Actually, Cary Grant has style.
When talking about men’s fashion, his name most often enters the conversation (and if doesn’t, well then it’s obvious those people don’t know what the hell they’re talking about.) He could transform the simplest of clothing into fashionable, iconic looks. Cary never made many historical films, and the few he made were disasters at the box office. Why is that? Because he was a modern man. He was timeless, ageless, and ultimately comfortable in his threads no matter what he wore.
I could write an entire book on Grant’s style, but Richard Torregrossa has already done a marvelous job of that with his book Cary Grant: A Celebration of Style (an excellent book, now out of print, but highly suggest for the Grant fan). Since I cannot be nearly as comprehensive as Torregrossa, I will settle for highlighting some of my favorite Cary Grant styles, along with anecdotes pulled from Torregrossa’s book, other publications on the sartorial icon, and my own observations.
Here are a few interesting tidbits about Cary Grant that relate directly to his sense of style:
• Grant modeled himself after two men: Noël Coward and Douglas Fairbanks. For his sophisticated looks and manners, Coward was the inspiration. For his muscular, athletic, acrobatic side, Fairbanks.
• Grant had a very large, muscular neck. He often attributed his neck’s size to the years he spent as an acrobatic performer in The Pender Troupe. He was self conscious about his neck and always made sure to draw attention away from it. In his films and in real life, Grant can almost always be seen wearing either a tie, scarf, or neckerchief. When he did not have on a piece of neckwear, he usually kept his shirts buttoned to the top or the back of his collar popped up. The majority of his clothing was custom made, and he often requested the collars of his dress shirts be wider to better conceal his neck.
• Many of the custom pieces in Grant’s personal wardrobe were made by tailors from the famous Saville Row in London. He spared no expense as long as he could be assured of the quality, buying clothing that would last. When his shirt collars and cuffs would start to show wear, like all shirts inevitably do, Grant would sometimes send them back to the tailors to have that portion replaced. Some call that cheap– I call it being savvy. With footwear he favored brogues, and can often be seen wearing brown and black brogues with many different styles and colors of suits.
• Early on in his career, while still under contract to Paramount Studios, Grant struggled to find the right look and fit with his suits. For one thing, he was still developing his style. Also, there were limitations to the way that many suits of that era were made– mainly with freedom of movement. Most suit coats had no venting, which created a lumpy mess with the simplest of movements, like putting a hand in a pocket. Grant worked with his tailors and staff in wardrobe to create vented suits. Most of his jackets had extra long custom vents to allow for maximum movement, while giving him a taller and leaner look. This was perfected with the tuxedo Grant wears in the Highland Dance scene in Stanley Donen’s Indiscreet, and more famously with the grey suit in North By Northwest.
• Grant did wear women’s nylon panties. I have read this in many books about him, and while some authors try to attribute this to some “weird” fetish he supposedly had, I believe Richard Torregrossa has the best explanation. There were no briefs or boxer briefs back then, only boxer shorts– which have a tendency to bunch up. (Talk about a hell of a V.P.L.) After years of frustration in trying to find the right fit, Grant finally discovered that nylon panties provided enough support for his boys, was flattering to the male anatomy, and didn’t show through clothing. OK, then!
Cary Grant in Sweaters!
Early on in Grant’s career, he was still discovering his sense of style. He didn’t have much chance to experiment in his first several films because he didn’t have the clout at Paramount, and he mainly played the pretty boy in a tuxedo and top hat. Many of these films were the scraps that remained after Gary Cooper had his top pick. When not in those damn tuxedos, Grant incorporated a timeless classic into his wardrobe: the pullover sweater. Paired with a collared shirt and sometimes a scarf, this look was casual yet sophisticated.
Cary Grant and the case of The Exposed Neck
As already noted, Grant was self conscious of his neck size. He went to great lengths to conceal it, but there were times when he allowed its exposure. (I don’t know about you, but I find his neck to be quite nice.)
This is one of my favorite photos of Grant, taken in 1932 by photographer Imogene Cunningham. Not only does it ooze sex, it shows a more vulnerable side of Grant. I know this is a beefcake shot, but to me Cunningham’s composition is pure art. Absolute perfection.
This photo is from the most famous scene in Howard Hawks’ Bringing Up Baby. Grant’s character David Huxley is a nerdy scientist who is socially awkward around everyone except a fossilized dinosaur. He is uptight, a little frumpy, and isn’t at all concerned with his looks. But when David is forced to wear a frilly women’s robe, he suddenly has sex appeal. Why? The audience knows that he is completely naked under that robe. COMPLETELY. NAKED. Also, his glasses are off, hair slightly disheveled, and that muscular neck is exposed.
Is it getting warm in here?
The submarine might sink, but Cary is going to look sexy in the process. It’s not often we see a bare chested Cary. It’s a shame because he pulls the off the look very well. If you take a closer look, he is wearing a gold necklace. This is a piece of Grant’s personal jewelry. He wore it every day, and it can be glimpsed in several of his films. The necklace had charms that represented the religious beliefs of each of his wives. Of course at this point Cary had only been married twice, so there were only two charms: representing first wife Virginia Cherrill (best known for her role as the blind flower girl in Charlie Chaplin’s City Lights) and Barbara Hutton (the Woolworth heiress).
By the end of his life, the necklace had a total of five.
Don’t Do it, Cary!
The majority of the time Cary looked perfect. Clothing freshly pressed and coordinated, face clean shaven, and not a single hair out of place. However, even style gods make mistakes.
This is a publicity still of Grant as Matt Howard in the 1940 historical drama The Howards of Virginia. Not the best look for Grant and he knows it. If you have seen the film, it is obvious that he is not incredibly comfortable in the role.
Thankfully Grant only made one other historical drama after Howards: the steaming pile The Pride and the Passion. One cannot fault him for taking the role, especially with the great Stanley Kramer as director, close friend Frank Sinatra as a costar, and his lover Sophia Loren as the leading lady. Sexytime aside, this is not a good look for our modern man.
Cary Grant in The Hitchcock Era
For many people, the iconic Cary Grant consists of a combination of Johnny Aysgarth, T.R. Devlin, John Robie, and Roger Thornhill. These four identities make up what we know as the quintessential Hitchcock leading man.
In Hitchcock’s Notorious, Grant’s character Devlin may be troubled, but he always looks like a million bucks. Even faced with great peril, his suiting is perfect. One important thing to note: while Grant’s clothing is immaculate, it never overshadows him. He wears the clothes, the clothes do not wear him. They are merely an extension of his personality and his character’s personality.
This is one of the few times we see Grant without neckwear. Although he is tie-less, Grant’s neck does not look large because of his patterned jacket. He’s also got on his angry face, which draws the eye away from the neck, because his lady has lots of “playmates.”
The pinstripe suit that Grant wears at the end of Notorious is my favorite of the whole film. It gives him the appearance of being taller which is important for the impending showdown with Sebastian (Claude Rains) on that infamous staircase. I also love how Alicia (Ingrid Bergman) is grabbing onto the lapel.
When filming the 1952 thriller To Catch a Thief, Hitchcock trusted Grant to select his wardrobe. Above is an example of one of the ensembles: A simple striped pullover with foulard neckerchief, a look that inspired a fashion trend in the 1950s and today ranks as one of Grant’s most iconic looks.
This is one of my all time favorite shots of Grant. This outfit is so simple and sophisticated. Again, he uses the neckerchief as an accessory. Any man who dresses like this on a beach day is doing everything right. No wonder Frances (Grace Kelly) is so eager in her pursuit.
The grey suit from North by Northwest. It still influences men’s fashion to this day. The color and cut of the suit is incredibly flattering on Grant’s body. He looked taller and leaner and the color brought out the silver in his hair. After almost driving off a rocky cliff, murder at the U.N., a one night stand on a train, and running from a rogue bi-plane, the grey suit needs only to be sponged and pressed.
In real life, Grant’s style was a combination of all his characters, especially those he played for Hitchcock. Once he was an established star, he brought his own style with him in the roles he played. The above is an example of his head to toe perfection. Everyone wants to be him or be with him.