The name Cary Grant has become synonymous with “well-dressed man.” In spite of a modest avowal that he does not understand why, he invariably heads any list of such gentlemen.
A quintessential gentleman, a charismatic icon of timeless elegance and grace, Cary Grant will forever remain in our hearts and on our screens as one of the best dressed men Hollywood has ever seen. Described as having a gracious manner, the debonair Grant always seemed to have everything in place. His hair was always coiffed, his cars shined and pristine and his attire could only be described as impeccably tailored and fit for a gentleman.
“Permit me to suggest that you dress neatly and cleanly. A young person who dresses well usually behaves well. Good manners and a pleasant personality, even without a college education, will take you far.” – Cary Grant
A huge fan of military uniforms, Grant recognized them as being the apex of mens fashion. He realized that soldiers always looked sharp and even when they were disheveled in war, they still had a raw masculinity to them because of the uniform. Grant decided to adopt that in his wardrobe and treated his attire, not as clothing, but as his uniform.
It wasn’t that his tuxedo was made of the feathers of an eagle or the hair of a unicorn, it was no different from any other man’s dinner jacket, except that Grant ensured his fit him flawlessly and was always perfectly cleaned, crisply ironed and not a strand was out of place. Whether it was a dinner jacket or a pair of jeans, he knew that clothes make the man.
“I believe men’s clothes—like women’s—should attract attention to the best lines of a man’s figure and distract from the worst. In all cases, the most reliable style is in the middle of the road—a thoughtful sensible position in any human behavior. Except perhaps on the freeway—but, even then, the middle lane, providing of course, it’s on your side of the road, usually gets you where you’re going more easily, comfortably, and less disturbingly. And so it should be with clothes. They should be undisturbing, easy and comfortable.” – Cary Grant
Because of his slim figure he was able to buy clothes off the rack such as trench coats from Aquascutum and country clothing from Abercrombie & Fitch (at that time, AF wasn’t what it is today but instead it was popular with gentlemen interested in the outdoors). In his early days he would often wear collar pins and knit ties, later he would wear 3-fold ties more often. He understood that even the least expensive items from a retail store still needed a hem here, a cuff there. Just as the army required their soldiers to keep their boots shined and pleats straight, Grant would spend countless hours and hire countless help to ensure his clothes were always immaculate. His suits and shirts were often custom tailored at Cifonelli in Rome or Dunhill in London and sometimes copied in Hong Kong. The copiers were so meticulous that they once even replicated the little fray on the collar of one of Grant’s favorite shirts!
One thing Cary Grant hated wearing was hats. Perhaps as Eva Marie Saint said he had “such a nice face”. He was striking and looked good in almost everything, except hats. He looked terrible in hats. He had this strong, assertive, perfectly framed face so why wear a hat and cover it up. Many men in that day like Humphrey Bogart made use of hats to reveal character traits, but Grant didn’t need it. He didn’t need it worth a damn. He could give a look or make an expression in one way or another that would reveal everything he wanted us to know, and for generations since, actors have tirelessly pursued that level of perfected acting.
In that day and age, male stars didn’t have the luxury of large wardrobes and often had to wear their own clothes. That’s one of the reasons they kept casting Grant was because he was damn elegant. The fourteen-gauge, mid-gray, worsted wool suits he wore in North by Northwest were his own; ones he had personally purchased from tailors on Savile Row.
“Cary Grant appreciated and loved fine clothing and accessories,” says Alvin Segal, the chairman of Peerless Clothing in Montreal. “His handmade suits were made of the finest fabrics and fit him perfectly. He had the poise, talent and looks to be a true fashion icon.” Grant often said that his custom-tailored wardrobe by Canadian firm Cardinal Clothiers was his personal highlight from the film — perhaps because not only did he help design the wardrobe, he had it written into his contract that he got to keep it all afterwards.
Had Grant been born half a century later, you can be sure he would have launched his own fashion line. Few know that Grant, interior designer Bob Lampe and entrepreneur L. Wright Neale opened a men’s clothing store at 6161 Wilshire Blvd. in 1932. It was dubbed Neale’s Smart Men’s Apparel and boasted expensive mahogany fixtures and mammoth change rooms. Grant was never mentioned as a co-owner — he was strictly a silent partner.
But he often would work in the store when he wasn’t required on set. Marlene Dietrich confirmed this business in a letter she wrote to her husband in 1932. “There’s a young, handsome cockney Englishman by the name of Cary Grant, that Jo cast as the lover. What do you think he does? To make more money, he sells SHIRTS on the set and he’s so charming that people come from all over the lot to buy them from him.” From that point on, she referred to him as the “shirt salesman.”
For the next 30 years, Grant would remain one of Hollywood’s top box-office names. Later in life, he became even more famous for his elegant dressing than his acting and that is perfectly evident in That Touch of Mink. Which is why in Oscar season or any other, it should be required viewing.