Cary Grant as C.K. Dexter Haven, cheeky socialite yacht designer
Philadelphia, summer 1940
Film: The Philadelphia Story
Release Date: December 26, 1940
Director: George Cukor
WARNING! Spoilers ahead!
Many weddings are elaborate events planned out months, if not years, in advance. In The Philadelphia Story, C.K. Dexter Haven (Cary Grant) and Tracy Samantha Lord (Katharine Hepburn) have only a few minutes before taking their place [back] at the altar for a memorable wedding that results in an appropriately informal “casual Friday” post to conclude BAMF Style’s Week of Weddings.
The Philadelphia Story had been a runaway Broadway hit after premiering in March 1939, and plans soon became inevitable to turn Philip Barry’s play into a movie. Katharine Hepburn had been deemed “box office poison” in Hollywood, but her critical success as the headstrong Tracy gave her the opportunity to revive her cinematic career by starring in the film adaptation.
With Hepburn cast, the filmmakers looked to fill the two remaining male starring roles. Riding high from the success of a recent string of hits, Cary Grant was given the first choice. Grant took the role of the caddish C.K. Dexter Haven, agreeing to star only if he could receive top billing and the then-massive salary of $137,000… all of which, it was learned, was donated by Grant to the British War Relief Fund.
The Philadelphia Story would go on to be nominated for six Academy Awards – including one for supporting male lead James Stewart, who believed he was merely receiving overdue credit for his work the previous year in Mr. Smith Goes to Washington. It would be remade in 1956 as High Society with Bing Crosby, Frank Sinatra, and Grace Kelly filling the shoes of Grant, Stewart, and Hepburn, respectively, and The Philadelphia Story was listed as one of the top ten romantic comedy films by the American Film Institute in 2008.
What’d He Wear?
C.K. Dexter Haven’s weekend leisure attire is a time capsule back to the summer of 1940 when The Philadelphia Story was filmed. Free from the shackles of the Great Depression, the United States was again embracing luxury and leisure… albeit briefly, as World War II was right around the corner. The post-1945 world would be an informal one; even as the nation celebrated postwar piece, the excesses that defined luxury in the early years of the 20th century would be abandoned in favor of casual comfort.
Thus, we return to those brief months between the end of the Depression and the beginning of the war when eccentric socialites like Dex and Tracy traveled from party to party, wearing luxurious leisurewear by day and stylish formalwear at night. For the first time in a decade, fashion was in focus and designers were quick to get back to work to design the newest look for tomorrow.
One short-lived look was the collarless jacket designed by the exquisitely named Bunny Wall, a Macy’s stylist whose design landed itself in a 1939 issue of Life magazine, as highlighted in this A Hole in the Head blog post. The original 1939 article reported:
Mrs. Bunny Wall, a vivacious, energetic little woman, divides her year between the South of France, the Lido, Florida, West Indian resorts, California playgrounds, and a hole-in-the-wall office in New York… On this page are some of Mrs. Wall’s new selections which smart males will wear at winter southern resorts and at summer playgrounds… A great many more will wear collarless jackets over shirts and slacks.
Though Mrs. Wall may not have had Philadelphia in mind when crafting her collarless jacket, she would have certainly been delighted to see Cary Grant sporting one on screen for the final scenes of The Philadelphia Story. His is clearly one of the “daytime jackets minus collars” illustrated in the Life article, cut like a single-breasted sport jacket without lapels or collar.
The three front buttons are widely spaced, with Grant usually wearing only the middle button fastened, leaving the vast drape of the jacket to cover much of his torso. The breast and hip pockets are patch pockets, further signifying the jacket’s informality. It is ventless, per 1940 fashions, with a single decorative button on each cuff.
Grant’s jacket appears to be a light-colored and lightweight wool. The grayscale film makes it difficult, if not impossible, to definitively determine the color of Grant’s garment, but it’s very possible that he is wearing a light shade of the “smoky blues and greens” that Mrs. Wall had evidently predicted would be fashionable when submitting her concepts to Life the previous year.
A slightly different style of collarless jacket would be briefly revived in the mid-1960s, worn by Elvis Presley in 1964’s Viva Las Vegas and also popularized by The Beatles, but the impracticality of the look and the shifting images preferred by those musicians all but killed the concept of the collarless jacket.
The Life piece signaled that this type of collarless jacket was meant to be worn with a sport shirt, particularly unbuttoned at the neck with the collar spread over the jacket. Grant follows this direction, wearing a light-colored short-sleeved sport shirt with subtle stripes and a long-pointed spread collar. He wears the shirt open at the neck until his wedding, when he attempts to add a dose of formality by buttoning the neck button. (For some reason, I always remember Tom Selleck doing the same thing in a blue chambray shirt in Three Men and a Baby.)
Grant wears a pair of very light-colored silk slacks with a full cut and forward pleats for a comfortable, luxurious fit. His buttoned jacket covers the waistband most of the time, but some shots – particularly when he raises his arm to smoke his pipe – appear to show a white leather belt with a single-prong buckle. The trousers have straight side pockets and cuffed bottoms.
Grant wears a pair of dark leather loafers, likely brown as black would be a harsh contrast with such a bright summer outfit. Loafers had been growing in popularity throughout the decade. His socks are very light in color, a shade away from white.
Cary Grant was known to wear a Cartier Tank for many years in real life, and it’s very possible that the square-cased wristwatch he wears in The Philadelphia Story is also a Cartier. It is worn on a light-colored leather strap, possibly tan.
Go Big or Go Home – Wedding Edition
Recalling its origins as a play, most of the action of The Philadelphia Story is set in a single location: the Lord home, located in the suburbs of Philadelphia. Of course, the movie was actually filmed at MGM Studios in Culver City during six summery weeks in 1940… a very appropriate setting for Grant’s warm-weather attire.
G.H. Mumm Extra Dry champagne seems to be the bubbly of choice for the characters in The Philadelphia Story, and it would be a fine choice to toast the renewed marital union of C.K. Dexter Haven and Tracy Samantha Lord.
Dex went from not even being invited to the wedding to taking the groom’s place when Tracy realizes she doesn’t want to marry the banal George Kittredge (John Howard). She also rejects the offer from Mike Connor (James Stewart) and chooses to take another go at marriage with Dex.
Ever a mensch, Mike is comfortable with his rejection from Tracy and stands behind Dex as he takes his place at the altar. Of course, Mike’s got some nuptial plans in his future too with the accommodating Elizabeth Imbrie (Ruth Hussey) proudly accepting his offer as the second woman he offered to marry that day.
Arguably a precursor to the 1970s leisure suit, Cary Grant’s pre-war casual wear in The Philadelphia Story recalls a period of eccentric sartorial experimentation with an emphasis on relaxed luxury.
- Light-colored lightweight wool single-breasted 3-button collarless jacket with patch breast pocket, patch hip pockets, decorative 1-button cuffs, and ventless back
- Light-colored striped short-sleeved sport shirt with long-pointed spread collar and plain front
- Light-colored silk single forward-pleated trousers with belt loops, straight/on-seam side pockets, and turn-ups/cuffs
- White leather belt with single-prong buckle
- Brown leather loafers
- Off-white dress socks
- Cartier Tank wristwatch on tan leather strap
Do Yourself a Favor and…
Check out the movie.
Be whatever you like, you’re my redhead.