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Fashion in Film Blogathon: Cary Grant, Style Icon

Angela of the classic film blog

Cary Grant had style. Actually, Cary Grant has style. When discussing men’s fashion, his name most assuredly enters the conversation. He could transform the simplest of clothes into fashionable and iconic looks. CG never made many historical films, and the few he made were disasters at the box office. Why? Because he was a modern man. He was timeless, ageless, and ultimately comfortable in his threads.

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. Since I cannot be as comprehensive as Torregrossa, I will settle for highlighting some of my favorite CG looks along with anecdotes pulled from Torregrossa’s book, other publications on Grant, and my own observations.

First, here are a few tidbits about Cary Grant that relate to his sense of style:

• CG modeled himself after two men: Noël Coward and Douglas Fairbanks. For his sophisticated looks and manners, Coward was the inspiration. For the muscular, athletic, acrobatic side, Fairbanks.

• CG 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. He bought 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 it cheap, I call it being savvy. With footwear he favored brogues. He can often be seen wearing brown and black brogues with many different styles and colors of suits.

• Early on in his career when he was still under contract to Paramount Studios, Grant struggled to find the right look and fit with his suits. For one, he was still developing his style. Also there were limitations to many of the suits that were made then–mainly with freedom of movement. Many of the 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 wore women’s nylon panties. I have read this in many books about him. Some of the authors try to attribute this to some weird fetish he supposedly had, but I believe Richard Torregrossa has the best explanation. There were no briefs or boxer briefs, only boxer shorts which would bunch up. After years of aggravation, CG finally discovered that nylon panties provided enough support, was flattering to the male anatomy, and didn’t show through clothing. Ok, then!

Sweaters!

Early on in CG’s career, he was still discovering his sense of style. He didn’t get much chance to experiment in his first several films because 1) he didn’t have the clout, and 2) 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 pull over sweater. Paired with a collared shirt and sometimes a scarf, this look was casual yet sophisticated.


The Exposed Neck

As I 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 CG, 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 it is pure art. Absolute perfection.

This photo is from the most famous scene in Howard Hawks’s 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 concerned at all with his looks. 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. His hair is slightly disheveled and his neck is exposed.

The submarine might sink, but CG 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 CG’s personal jewelry. He wore it every day and it can be seen 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. By the end of his life, the necklace had a total of five.

NOOOOOOO, Cary!

99% 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.

No comment.

 

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 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. 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. This is an example of his head to toe perfection. Everyone wants to be him or be with him.

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Jill Blake

Jill Blake is the owner of the classic film website Sittin’ on a Backyard Fence. She is also a co-founder and editor of the film site The Black Maria and film editor at CC2K. In 2012, she was interviewed on-air by Turner Classic Movies host Ben Mankiewicz. In 2013, she was a featured guest on the TCM podcast. In her spare time Jill is a stay-at-home mom, wife, fried okra connoisseur, and the neighborhood’s own L.B. Jeffries.

Comments

Yvette
Reply

Wonderful post. I love Cary Grant, never more than in BRINGING UP BABY. What other male actor could look so adorable in a peignor? :)

kittenbiscuits
Reply

Thank you so much for reading and commenting! Bringing Up Baby is one of my favorite Grant performances. A similar look is the leopard print robe in My Favorite Wife.

Audrey
Reply

What a fabulous post. I’d never really taken time to appreciate his style and I like how you broke down the eliminates of what set his look apart. Grant really was one of the most stylish men, and one of the few people I’ve ever seen to pull off the combination of stripes and polka dots.

As a completely unrelated side note, I’d never heard about that necklace he wears. Kind of strange, but it would be interesting to see. I’m just imagining what his wive’s felt like being just a charm on the chain!

kittenbiscuits
Reply

Thanks so much for reading and commenting! I’ve always wanted to write about his style, but there is so much! It was really hard for me to pick which areas to highlight and there are a few things I wish I had included, but can’t do it all in one post. If you are interested in learning more about that side of Grant, I highly recommend the book by Torregrossa. It is excellent.

The charm necklace was a reminder to Grant of his failures and successes in relationships. However, it does seem like he was collecting wives like little trophies.

Angela
Reply

Wow, you really did an amazing job highlighting the many different sides of Cary’s style! Somehow I’ve never seen that picture of Cary in that wig, LOL! I love this post, thank you so much for sharing it in the blogathon!

kittenbiscuits
Reply

Angela, thank you again for hosting this wonderful event and allowing me to participate. It was a lot of fun. I’m actually surprised I was able to get it together in time considering the baby meltdowns that occurred this week. ;)

Cary in a wig is just way to over the top. I can’t wait to read all of the other submissions!

Rachel
Reply

This might be my favorite post of the whole blogathon. You have excellent photos, in-depth knowledge, and great insight into what makes Cary Grant. His North by Northwest suit is one of my all-time favorite movie costumes.

kittenbiscuits
Reply

You are too kind. Thank you very much for taking the time out to read and comment. There were so many more photos I wanted to include, but it was getting out of hand! Since Cary is my favorite, I’m sure there will be more posts about him in the future.

Thanks again!

Brandie
Reply

I loved reading this and looking at the pictures. I never cease to get a thrill from anything Cary Grant-related. He is, to me, the epitome of sheer male beauty. Wonderful post!

kittenbiscuits
Reply

Thanks so much for commenting! Cary is total perfection.

Meredith
Reply

Really enjoyed this post. My favorite of Cary’s costumes are definitely the ones from his Hitchcock films.

kittenbiscuits
Reply

Thanks so much! He looked spectacular in all the Hitchcock films.

Jnpickens
Reply

Firstly, I loooove that photo of Cary leaning on the stairs in the sweater portion.
Secondly, I agree with you that Cary with wigs looks sooo silly. I remember watching The Howards of Virginia and having a hard time looking at him haha.
I like that Cary Grant bought clothes he knew would last and would send things back for repair. It shows me that he was sensible and didn’t take money for granted. That’s rare in Hollywood, especially today.

kittenbiscuits
Reply

Thanks so much for commenting! I always hate that he was called cheap (among other things). He knew the value of a dollar and wasn’t afraid to spend it on quality stuff. Very few frivolities.

The Lady Eve
Reply

No man has ever looked better onscreen than Cary Grant. Even wet-behind-the-ears in “Blonde Venus” with Marlene Dietrich, he is gorgeous; I can never understand how Josef von Sternberg imagined Marlene’s character would go back to her husband (Herbert Marshall) after being romanced by Cary.

This is an excellent tour of CG’s style. Enjoyed it much. R.D. Finch of The Movie Projector has posted a wonderful review of “Mr. Blandings Builds His Dream House” – in which CG departed from type to play an upscale family man – a reminder that on top of being a dazzling style icon and one of the greatest stars of all time, Cary Grant was one fine actor…

kittenbiscuits
Reply

As much as I love Herbert Marshall, I’m with you– a total head scratcher. Thanks so much for reading this. I really enjoyed putting it all together. I will definitely check out the post on Blandings, which is one of my favorites. Grant is so great in that role.

Carole Irene
Reply

Lovely post! I love Cary Grant (who doesn’t?!) and the photos in your post were wonderful. Some of his fashion “don’ts” gave me a good laugh :D

kittenbiscuits
Reply

Thanks so much for your comment! I had a lot of fun writing this and picking out all the pictures. I wanted to include more!

Nancy Dennis
Reply

I’m surprised you didn’t mention his attire in Indiscreet. In it he was the epitome of male sophistication, charm and desirability. His entrance declares him to be Prince Charming incarnate. My favorite of all his movies – though I love most of the others, excepting The Pride and the Passion, Arsenic and Old Lace and Houseboat.

Jill Blake
Reply

Nancy–

Thanks for taking the time to read this piece and comment. Indiscreet is a favorite of mine and I think Grant and Bergman were the perfect romantic leading couple. I did briefly mention the tuxedo he wears during the Highland dance sequence in the film, but mainly from a range of motion aspect than anything else. Believe me, I could have written much more on Grant’s style in that film and many others.

I recently purchased the Blu-ray upgrade of Indiscreet. It lacks special features, but it looks wonderful. If you have a blu-ray player and haven’t bought it, I highly recommend.

Thanks again for stopping by. Hope you come by again.

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