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.
The History of Mr. Grant
Cary Grant is one of those names that sticks with you. It’s a movie stars name, the name of the lead in a play or a character in a book. It has a ring to it, and that’s probably why Archibald “Archie” Leach chose it as his name in 1942.
Born on January 18, 1904, Archibald Alexander Leach came into this world as the child of Elsie Maria Leach and Elias James Leach. His upbringing was anything but normal with his mother in and out of mental institutions for bouts of depression among other issues. He attended Bishop Road Primary School in Bristol, England where he grew up and on in the time his mother was sent away, his father Elias would tell him she was taking a long holiday. After a few bouts, Elias had her committed and told Grant she had died while traveling. It wasn’t until he was 31 years old that his father confessed she was mentally unstable and had not been on holiday, nor was she dead, but that he could find her alive in the sanitarium.
By the time Leach was ten years old, his father had remarried and began a life with his new family that refused to include the young boy. To date, there is little known about how he was cared for, and by whom.
With his family troubles, Leach turned to mischief and was expelled from the Fairfield Grammar School in Bristol in 1918. He had always been very skilled in acrobatics and entertaining so he joined the Bob Pender Stage Troupe where he learned to walk on stilts. At the age of 16, he traveled with the vaudevillian troupe to United States on the RMS Olympic for a two year tour of the country. He, like many young men at that time was processed at Ellis Island on July 28, 1920.
The young Leach was so enamored with the American dream and the lifestyle that he refused to return home at the end of the stay. Not having a father or mother who would miss him, he joined the American vaudeville acts and went on tour with Parker, Rand and Leach. For the first part of his career while on stage, he still performed under the name Archie Leach in shows such as Irene, Music in May, Rio Rita and the Street Singer. His experience with the acrobatic group gave him incredible strength, timing and grace and it wasn’t long before he would make the trip to Hollywood in the year 1931, playing on Broadway before hitting the big screen.
The name Archibald Leach would now be nothing but a distant memory filled with dread like a disease he had overcome.
Many have speculated where the name Cary Grant came from, but experts agree that according to witness testimony, Grant had originally proposed the name of Cary Lockwood, a character he enjoyed playing in the Broadway show Nikki. When he signed with Paramount Studios shortly before changing his name, he allegedly told producers and they found “Cary” acceptable but thought Lockwood was to similar to another actor’s last name. According to the history books, Paramount supplied the young man with a list of suitable names and he selected “Grant” because the initials “C.G.” had already proved very fortunate for men like Gary Cooper and Clark Gable.
From then on, Grant was an almost instant hit. With natural charm and a certain grace that few seemed to have, Cary Grant was a leading man who skyrocketed to fame as the star of Blonde Venus in 1932, followed by Mae West’s films She Done Him Wrong and I’m No Angel. A tremendous success at the box office, I’m No Angel was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Picture which saved Paramount at the time from declaring bankruptcy, but pushed Grant into a long series of unsuccessful film projects until 1936 when he signed with Columbia Pictures.
With his comedic timing from his years as an acrobat and stilt walker, he was picked to star in the 1937 comedy Topper which was distributed by MGM. Then The Awful Truth came out that same year which fully established Grant as a sophisticated leading man with a gentle comedic touch. It was rare in a time of masculine enforced male stars, but Grant used his gift of grace as a way to lighten things up and play various roles as opposed to being typecast simply as a good looking man.
Many argue that Grant was such a successful actor because of his upbringing. According to Grant, he was always pretending to be someone else. He once wrote “I pretended to be somebody I wanted to be and I finally became that person. Or he became me. Or we met at some point.”
Considering he had such a challenging upbringing, many attribute Grant’s style and manners as nothing short of miraculous, but Grant spent hours researching and watching men he admired in an effort to become more domesticated and less like the hooligan he once was, spouting off jazzy street talk instead of focusing on proper grammar. According to Grant of the pivotal moments for him in creating his “personality” was watching Leo McCarey, the director of The Awful Truth who had manners and a level of sophisticated grace like Grant had never seen before. His mannerisms and intonations resembled Grant’s, and he used McCarey as a learning tool to further his passion for savoir-vivre.
His performance in The Awful Truth was something The Atlantic called “the most spectacular run ever for an actor in American pictures” and for the next number of years, Grant went from hit to hit performing in romantic and screwball comedies.
His list of films became almost endless as he performed next to starlets such as Katharine Hepburn, Rosalind Russell, Rita Hayworth, Ingrid Bergman and Irene Dunne. It wasn’t long before every woman in America wanted him and every man wanted to be him. His style, his charm, his wit was unlike the world had seen. His sartorial flair for style was unprecedented and to top it off, he had the natural looks of a superstar. Many argue that men like Fred Astaire had similar traits, but Grant’s physical appearance was unmatched and he became a force in Hollywood.
Grant was liked. Both on and off screen he had a natural humbleness and graceful demeanor that made people swoon to him. Alfred Hitchcock once said Grant was “the only actor I ever loved in my whole life”.
By the mid 1950s, Grant opened up shop and started Granart Productions, which produced a number of films distributed by Universal including Operation Petticoat, That Touch of Mink with Doris Day, Indiscreet and Father Goose.
Then in 1963, my favorite day in movie history came when Cary Grant acted alongside my celebrity crush, Audrey Hepburn in Charade. Nothing truly noteworthy came of this and to be perfectly honest, there is no point in mentioning this in lieu of other movies he’s in. I just love Audrey Hepburn and since I’m writing this article, so long as my editor doesn’t delete this I can pretty much write whatever I want.
What is noteworthy however is what happened a year before. Cary Grant, in my opinion, is the perfect choice of every leading man ever to step foot in Hollywood to play James Bond. He never did though. Producers considered him for the role in 1962’s Dr. No, but decided against casting him since they were worried he wouldn’t stay tied down to just one picture. I know this is a first world problem but to me it’s devastating that he never played 007.
Throughout his career, Grant was nominated for two Academy Awards but lost both for Penny Serenade and None But The Lonely Heart. He retired still in demand at the age of 62 but received a special Academy Award for Lifetime Achievement in 1970. Peter Stone, the co-writer of Father Goose said while receiving an Oscar, “My thanks to Cary Grant, who keeps winning these things for other people.” And according to the people closest to him, that’s just what Grant did. He was one of the rare few who always put people ahead of himself. It was rare for him to deny an interview, say no to a child wanting an autograph, or pose for a picture with a teary-eyed fan. Grant was about making others feel more comfortable, possibly because he was never comfortable himself.
The Style of a Legend
Inside Grant was a hurt man. Disposed of by his parents, lied to about his mother’s death until his thirties and tragically avoided by his father when he adopted a new family. No man could withstand that level of distress without masking it somehow. And that’s just what Grant did. If he wasn’t put together on the inside, he would try to always be confident on the outside. As a young chap, his father once told him when he was wearing a combination with loud socks – “remember, it is you walking down the street, not your socks.”
Interestingly, he had arrived in the U.S. in 1920 on the same ocean liner as Douglas Fairbanks Sr. Even though they didn’t travel in the same class, he was able to catch a glimpse here or their and the timeless, classic and elegant style of Fairbanks made a huge impression on him. Even years later he was able to tell Ralph Lauren all about the intricacies of Fairbanks’ clothes and accessories, including fabrics types, lapel widths and buttonholes. Interestingly, up to his style icons and tried to imitate them until he became like them.
In his own words, he favored the “clothes of a well dress, sophisticated chap”.
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.
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.
The thing is that he really wasn’t the best actor around. Audiences were just so spellbound by his good looks and sense of style his awkward acting came across as a masculine form of aloofness. In that day and age, men who practiced style the way Grant did were thought to be homosexuals, but somehow, for some reason, many people looked past that with Grant.
“He had such fun in performing. He was so full of joy. You could see it in his body. You could see it in his face. He just let it all out”, said Eve Marie Saint.
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.
His dress was certainly popular with the ladies and he had a few to his name. He was married five times to Virginia Cherril, Barbara Hutton, Betsy Drake, Dyan Cannon and Barbara Harris with many partners in between. Rumors have circulated that perhaps Grant was gay or bisexual but many women argue he was absolutely not. Regardless of who Grant was on the inside, to everyone else he was a legend. A man of timeless elegance who retired when his daughter Jennifer was born, so that she would have stability and fatherly love in her upbringing. Something he never had himself.
On the morning of November 29, 1986, when his wife left for a pharmacy in search of aspirin, Cary Grant suffered a cerebral hemmorage. He died at 11:22 that evening in St. Luke’s Hospital at the age of 82. The vast majority of his estate was left to his fifth wife, Barbara Harris, and his daughter, the true love of his life, Jennifer Grant.
“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
If you would like to learn more about Cary Grant’s style, you should buy a copy of Cary Grant: A Celebration of Style.
Cary Grants Thoughts on Clothing
Much has been written about Cary Grant’s style but he only wrote one article about his thoughts on clothing in style, which was published in a 5 part series in THIS WEEK in 1962. 5 years later, GQ picked it up and republished it. Here it is again:
I’m often asked for advice or an opinion about clothes, and I always try to answer the best I can, but I’m not inclined to regard myself as an authority on the subject. Many times during my years in films, some well-meaning group has selected me as best-dressed man of the year, but I’ve never understood why. The odd distinction surprises me: first, because I don’t consider myself especially well dressed, and, secondly, I’ve never, as far as I can compare the efforts of others with my own, gone to any special trouble to acquire clothes that could be regarded as noticeably fashionable or up-to-date.
Some of my suits are ten to twenty years old, many of them ready-made and reasonably priced. Those that were custom-tailored were made by many different tailors in many different cities: London, Hong Kong, New York and Los Angeles. I believe that American ready-made clothes are the best ready-made clothes in the world: that the well-dressed American man makes a better appearance than the well-dressed man of any other country.
No, it isn’t only money that determines how well a man dresses—it’s personal taste. Because of the demands of my work, I’ve purchased dozens of suits over the years and they all have one attribute in common: they are in the middle of fashion. By that I mean they’re not self-consciously fashionable or far out, nor are they overly conservative or dated. In other words, the lapels are neither too wide nor too narrow, the trousers neither too tight nor too loose, the coats neither too short nor too long. I’ve worn clothes of extreme style, but only in order to dress appropriately for the type of character I played in particular films. Otherwise, simplicity, to me, has always been the essence of good taste.
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.
There are many established stores or haberdasheries in each city, and probably in your neighborhood. Look at the suits in the windows. See how they compare with those worn by men whose taste you respect and admire. Think about the practical, functional and long-wearing qualities as they apply to your particular job or social activities. It’s better to consider carefully before buying than to regret your purchases for months afterwards. Study the cut, the price.
And here, by the way, is a tip. If the sleeves seem disproportionately wider than customary, it indicates a very deep armhole. Don’t contemplate buying if you are of average or slim size—you’ll get a well-fitting back but an extremely loose-fitting front and sleeves that tend to ride up if you lift your arms. A deep armhole is popular with many manufacturers because each coat fits a wider range of customers.
How much on should pay depends on how much one has to spend. I’m reminded of a piece of advice my father gave me regarding shoes: it has stood me in good stead whenever my own finances were low. He said it’s better to buy one good pair of shoes than four cheap ones. One pair made of fine leather could outlast four inferior pairs, and, if well cared for, would continue to proclaim your good judgment and taste no matter how old they become. The same applies to suits, so permit me to suggest you buy the best you can afford even though it means buying less. Rather like the stock market: it is usually more sensible to buy just one share of blue chip than 150 shares of a one-dollar stock.
What should one buy? Well, if a man’s budget restricts him to only one suit, then I would choose something unobtrusive. A dark blue, almost black, of lightweight cloth, serviceable for both day and evening wear. I suggest lightweight because nowadays most restaurants, offices, shops and theaters are well heated during fall and winter. I found that so even, surprisingly, in Moscow. With such modern indoor comfort, one need only be concerned with cold weather while out-of-doors.
Which brings us to overcoats. I’ve learned to wear overcoats that button up to the neck yet still appear neat when left open. It mystifies me that some men wear heavy single-breasted and even double-breasted, overcoats to protect themselves from cold, yet expose the most vulnerable part of their chests with V-neck openings. By wearing an overcoat that buttons to the neck, there is no need for a scarf.
The topcoat I use for traveling can be worn spring or fall. It’s black and therefore not only less apt to show dirt and travel stains, but usable for both day and formal wear. It’s made of a gabardine-type waterproof material, with slash side pockets that enable one to reach through easily for change, or to carry a book, or something similar, protected from the rain. There is also a detachable lining that buttons inside for very wintery days. An all-purpose coat.
What about a second suit? Well, I think a grey worsted or flannel would be most serviceable. Not too light in color, not too dark. And, this time, of medium weight but not more than what is known as ten-ounce cloth. It might be advantageous to purchase an extra pair of trousers for wearing separately with a sweater or a sport shirt. A grey flannel suit, with or without extra trousers, together with a sport coat could, at a pinch, be sufficient for a weekend in the country.
A sport coat ought to be easy-fitting, its pattern neither loud nor flashy. If you’re unsure which plaid or check to choose, then one of those dark blue, single-breasted blazers that have been worn by all classes in England for years, and have since become popular here, is acceptable for most casual wear.blazers that have been worn by all classes in England for years, and have since become popular here, is acceptable for most casual wear.
Except, of course, on very hot days. During summer I’ve taken to wearing light beige, washable poplin suits. They’re inexpensive and, if kept crisp and clean, acceptable almost anywhere at any time, even in the evening. Also, the coat can be worn with grey flannels at the seashore or in the country, and the trousers used separately with a sport shirt and moccasins, or a pair of those heavy-soled white canvas shoes that are popular with young college men.
Poplin or seersucker suits are the mark of no special social class or income group, but are worn by all. And, providing he is well-mannered, a young man wearing such a suit can confidently approach the other fellow’s girl, secure in knowing that his way of dress is no deterrent.
A cardigan coat sweater of lightweight wool and conservative color is a useful investment. It can be worn without a coat on many occasions, and has the advantage of being easily slipped on without those arm-raising contortions and the need to re-comb your hair.
How do I feel about ties? If I had only one to choose, then I think a black foulard, not too wide nor too narrow, is best, as it’s acceptable with most clothes. An expensive tie is not a luxury—the wrinkles fall out quicker and the knot will hold better. Personally, I wear ties of small, conservative pattern and color.
Shoes? I’ve already mentioned that good shoes look better and last longer. If a man must limit himself to only one pair of shoes for city wear, then they should be black. If two, then a brown pair of darkest chocolate color are useful with almost all suits and, if he has no moccasins, even with grey flannels. The moccasin type of shoe is, to me, almost essential and especially convenient when traveling, since they can be easily slipped off in the airplane or car.
If your pocket handkerchief is monogrammed, don’t wear it carefully folded to show the monogram peeking above your breast-pocket. That’s somehow ostentatious.
If your pocket handkerchief is monogrammed, don’t wear it carefully folded to show the monogram peeking above your breast-pocket. That’s somehow ostentatious.
Shirts should usually be white for the evening, but, in the city’s grime, it’s practical and permissible to wear a light blue or conservatively striped shirt during the day. The type of collar should suit the contours of the neck and face. As a younger man, I tried wearing a flared, too-high collar that, although modish amongst those I regarded as the sophisticates of that day, looked ridiculous on my 17 1/2- inch neck. Luckily, after the embarrassment of viewing myself from almost every angle on screen, that mistake was soon rectified. Button-cuffed shirts are simplest to manage, but if you wear cuff links, as I do, don’t, I beg you, wear those huge examples of badly designed, cheap modern jewelry. They, too, are not only ostentatious, but heavy and a menace to the enamel on your car and your girl friend’s eye.
Learn to dispense with accessories that don’t perform a necessary function. I use belts, for example, only with blue jeans, which I wear when riding, and content myself with side loops, that can be tightened at the waistband, on business suits.
A tip about trousers. Trouser cuffs seem to me unnecessary, and are apt to catch lint and dust. However, whether you prefer cuffs or not, ask the tailor to sew a strip of cloth of the same material, or a tape of similar color, on the inside at the bottom of the trouser leg where it rubs the heel of the shoe. It will keep your trouser-bottoms from fraying.
Do I have any special do’s and don’t’s about clothes? I can’t think of and rules about clothes, since there really aren’t any, but I suggest you buy trees to conform to the shape of your shoes, and keep your coats on curved hangers.
Take care of your clothes, keep them clean and in good repair. I suggest you avoid using heavily scented cologne or soaps. When I meet a man I like him to smell like a man, or not to smell at all; certainly he shouldn’t smell like a woman. Do see that your socks stay up. Nothing can spoil an otherwise well-groomed effect like sagging socks. Don’t stuff your pockets with heavy articles and bulging wallets filled with seldom-used cards. They ruin not only the neatness of your appearance but the actual tailoring of your suit.
Don’t be a snob about the way you dress. Snobbery is only a point in time. Be tolerant and helpful to the other fellow—he is yourself yesterday.
Don’t overbuy. When you contemplate an article, judge whether or not it harmonizes with items you already own. Again, avoid exaggeration of current fashions. It’s best to be inconspicuous. But inconspicuous does not mean dull. Extreme dullness can be conspicuous in itself. Just do the best you can.
Come to think of it, who knows how anything becomes bad or good taste? Who decides a standard of esthetics? If it’s the majority, then how is it the minority are the ones considered well dressed? Everything is only exactly what it is. If a man wears the kind of clothes that please him, then, providing they’re clean and don’t shock society, morals, and little children, what is the difference as long as that man is happy?
Yes. Somewhere I read that Harvard’s Professor Archibald MacLeish was asked by a student about to graduate into our highly competitive world what advice he could give him. Professor MacLeish’s answer was, “Wear your Sunday suit every day.” The inference, of course, being that the suit would give the young man such confidence in seeking positions that he would eventually own many Sunday suits, for any and all days.
Splendid advice even by itself, but it’s probable that the professor meant not only his Sunday or best suit, but also his Sunday or best smile, disposition, and behavior—knowing that each begets the other. So wear, not only your clothes, but yourself, well, with confidence. Confidence, too, is in the middle of the road, being neither aggressiveness nor timidity. Pride of new knowledge—including knowledge of clothes—continually adds to self-confidence.’