Cary Grant as Roger O. Thornhill, Madison Advenue ad man mistaken for an international spy
New York City, Fall 1958
Also known as one of the greatest thrillers or espionage films of all time, North by Northwest has often been called the greatest “suit movie” due to the gray suit Cary Grant wears throughout. Like Three Days of the Condor and some other “innocent-man-on-the-run” movies, the protagonist hardly has a chance to change. In this case, he has several opportunities to change clothing* – actually wearing a red cap’s uniform at one point – but why should he? It’s a great suit!
* And, yes, he does eventually change into the off-the-rack shirt and slacks during the finale. However, this is not his decision and he still manages to make the random woman in the hospital swoon.
What’d He Wear?
“He’s a well-tailored one, isn’t he,” is what Leonard, the effeminate henchman brilliantly played by Martin Landau, first notices about Roger Thornhill – the advertising executive mistaken for master spy George Kaplan and kidnapped by Landau’s cronies.
Something interesting to keep in mind is that the film begins at the end of Thornhill’s workday. And, with a newspaper dating the next day to Tuesday, November 25, 1958, that would mean Cary Grant ends his Monday at the office looking better than most people do before going out.
The suit itself – or suits, as at least six were made – is a fully-cut medium gray Glen Plaid pattern. It appears to be a lightweight worsted wool in a plain weave, but I’ve also read that it was a somewhat heavier 14 oz. material. In addition, the suit is fully lined. The color is a blend of blue and gray, appearing primarily gray on screen.
The jacket of the suit is ventless, unlike most of Cary Grant’s suits. Grant preferred double vents to ease placing his hands in his pant pockets without rumpling the bottom of the suit. However, the mix of Grant’s 6’1″ frame and his sense of class prevents any harm coming to the lines of the suit when he pockets his hands during the famous crop duster scene. Additionally, the cut is high above the pockets.
The jacket has a 3-roll-2 button stance, with the top button rolled over by the notch lapels. Darts shape the front of the jacket. The cuffs are 3-button. There is a jetted breast pocket and two jetted hip pockets. Uniquely for Grant, there is no pocket square in the breast pocket.
The trousers are long rise, cut even higher than Grant’s typical high waistband, and fit loosely around the thighs. This loose fit would keep Grant cool down through the slightly wider leg. They have high double forward pleats, high cuffs (or “turn-ups” for the Brits), and clasp-tightening side adjusters. There is a slanted pocket on each side and a jetted pocket on the right rear of the trousers.
The maker of the suit is constantly up for debate. Most sources point to Kilgour, French & Stanbury of Saville Row, with Arthur Lyons, the Duke of Windsor’s suitmaker, tailoring Grant’s suit for North by Northwest. However, labels for Quintano in Beverly Hills are clearly seen. Personally, I think that most of the suits were Kilgour, French & Stanbury. When Grant didn’t want to ruin the Saville Row suits during the crop duster scene, Quintano made a replica that became his “stunt suit” for that scene and the following, when it is still dirty. After getting it cleaned, he likely re-dons the Kilgour, French & Stanbury suit.
As a contrast to the perfectly-fit suit, Grant wears an off-the-rack white poplin shirt with a soft, medium spread point collar. The front of the shirt is a “French front” with no button placket. There is also no breast pocket. The back of the shirt is shirred. The double/French cuffs is worn with two different sets of cuff links throughout the movie: round blue enamel cuff links with initials and round silver cuff links.
The four-in-hand knotted necktie appears to be gray satin silk, but, according to James Bond suit blogger Matt Spaiser, it is gray with white pin-dots that make it appear shiny.
Underneath his clothes, Grant wears a standard white undershirt – crew neck, short-sleeve. His white boxers are comically seen when he prepares his suit to be pressed while still wearing his tie perfectly knotted up to his shirt collar.
On his feet, Grant wears oxblood or burgundy cap-toe derby oxfords made of cordovan leather. His socks are thin gray ribbed socks that perfectly ease the transition from suit leg to shoe.
Grant’s watch is very difficult to identify. It is best seen when he is shaving in the train station and appears to have a black leather strap, gold square case, and white face. According to one astute commenter on this blog, it may be a Rolex Dauphin.
Finally, the sunglasses that Grant’s character laments the destruction of are the Tart Arnel model. They come in very handy while Grant is making his escape.
It is borderline impossible to tell that the photo on the right has the same man as the photo on the left!
All kidding aside, it does seem like the sole purpose for the sunglasses in North by Northwest was the same as Benicio del Toro’s in The Usual Suspects: to die. Oh, and spoiler alert in case you haven’t seen The Usual Suspects.
Mark Joseph Stern at Slate has done some investigating into the sunglasses – apparently they are actually not Tart Arnels! Slate wrote a great article on October 16, 2013, documenting his correspondence with both Richard and Mary Tart, who say that Grant’s sunglasses are too large to be a model that they produced. The search continues, but there’s nothing wrong with sporting a pair of Arnels to channel your own Roger O. Thornhill look.
Go Big or Go Home
If North by Northwest is an accurate depiction of contemporary ad men, Mad Men certainly hits the amount of drinking right on the nose. Thornhill joins associates for a post-work martini, orders another Gibson martini – complete with the cocktail onion – while dining on the train to Chicago, drinks a Scotch & water in the femme fatale‘s hotel room, and finishes off a whole bottle of Century Bonded Bourbon.
Granted, the Bourbon was involuntary but the fact that he was able to finish it off and still drive a car and communicate with more clarity than a college freshman after two Natty Lights speaks volumes for the livers of the Greatest Generation.
Not only does Roger Thornhill order a Gibson on the train as his drink of choice, but Cary Grant’s preferred cocktail in real life was a Martini. Thus, let’s go with the Gibson here.
Pour 2 ounces of English gin and 1/3 ounce of dry vermouth into a shaker with ice cubes. Stir it until it is ice cold. The shaker should be so cold that your hands are starting to get frostbite. Then pull the chilled martini glass (which please tell me you have) from your freezer and strain the gin and vermouth into it. Garnish with a silverskin onion and there you go.
How to Get the Look
Getting a bespoke suit custom-made still won’t make you look like Cary Grant, so if you can find any gems at a consignment store, it’ll be worth it. However, if you really want to spend money on a good suit, using this one as a base is a good idea.
- Gray and blue blend Glen Plaid 2-piece lightweight worsted wool suit, including a 3-roll-2 single-breasted jacket with notch lapels, jetted breast and hip pockets, and no vents and double forward pleated high rise trousers with cuffed bottoms and clasped side adjusters
- White poplin button-down dress shirt with no pocket, a medium spread collar, and French cuffs
- Gray satin silk necktie, tied in a four-in-hand knot
- Rounded silver or blue enamel cuff links
- Thin ribbed gray socks
- Oxblood burgundy cordovan leather cap-toe derby oxfords (for English speakers, that means “reddish-brown leather shoes with laces”)
- Tortoiseshell-framed sunglasses with green bottle lenses, preferably a pair of Tart Arnels
- Vintage-looking wristwatch with a white square face, gold case, and black leather strap, possibly a Rolex Dauphin
- White short-sleeve crew neck undershirt
- White cotton boxers
You can buy all of these things but just keep in mind that Cary Grant will still look better than you.
Do Yourself a Favor and…
Buy the movie.
Now you listen to me, I’m an advertising man, not a red herring. I’ve got a job, a secretary, a mother, two ex-wives, and several bartenders that depend upon me, and I don’t intend to disappoint them all by getting myself slightly killed.
- http://clothesonfilm.com/cary-grant-grey-kilgour-suit-in-north-by-northwest-1959/844/ – An excellent analysis of the suit. The website has many great articles about similar suits.
- http://thesuitsofjamesbond.com/?p=864 – The definitive resource for photos and information about suits from Bond films or similar films. As Grant was an early choice for the Bond role and North by Northwest is an espionage film in the same vein as early Bond, blogger Matt Speiser did an excellent job analyzing Grant’s suit from this film.
- http://movieshadesid.blogspot.com/2011/11/north-by-northwest-cary-grant.html – The website where I found the make of Grant’s useful sunglasses.