Cary Grant as Victor, Earl of Rhyall, deadpan but debonair nobleman
Rural England, Spring 1960
Film: The Grass is Greener
Release Date: December 23, 1960
Director: Stanley Donen
Wardrobe Supervisor: John Wilson-Apperson
Today marks the 35th anniversary since the death of screen legend and style icon Cary Grant. To commemorate the actor’s prolific career, I wanted to highlight his characteristically stylish clothing from one of his lesser-discussed works, the Stanley Donen-directed romantic comedy The Grass is Greener.
While The Grass is Greener isn’t among my favorite of Grant’s filmography, I can certainly appreciate its cast and style! The execution feels a little too stagey for my liking, which makes sense as it was adapted by Hugh Williams and Margaret Vyner from their own hit play, deriving its title from the centuries-old idiom that is paraphrased by Grant’s character when he admits that “indeed, the grass is always greener on the other side of the hedge.”
Grant plays Victor, the Earl of Rhyall, who opens the stately country manor he shares with Countess Hilary (Deborah Kerr) to guided tours in order to boost their falling fortune. The wealthy American oilman Charles Delacro (Robert Mitchum) visits the house during one of the tours, leading to an affair beginning with the romantic-minded countess. The mannered Earl opts not to react jealously to his wife’s infidelity with Charles, instead entertaining visits from their socialite friend Hattie (Jean Simmons) as mounting tensions in the love quadrangle boil into an old-fashioned duel between Victor and Charles.
What’d He Wear?
“As one ascends the social ladder, with its increasing demands for dress up, the odd or separate dinner jacket surfaces,” wrote Alan Flusser in Dressing the Man. “Paired with the conventional formal trouser, this nonmatching jacket surrogate is often a variation on the velvet-smoking-jacket theme and traditionally reserved for less grand affairs.”
Particularly in one of “the stately homes of England”, the dress code for an intimate dinner would permit the Earl to take a relaxed approach to black tie, especially considering that he likely defines entertaining the man who’s been having a dalliance with his wife as a “less grand affair”.
Victor dresses for dinner in a double-breasted dinner jacket made from a lush green velvet, perhaps reflecting the eponymous maxim or expressing the emotion that he’s “green with envy” on his literal sleeve. Of course, there’s also an argument to be made that green is simply the Earl’s go-to color, seen across the rest of his wardrobe including his cardigans and silk dressing gown. It’s also referenced when Charles spots Victor’s great-great-grandfather in a photo and observes, “say, he’s got a green coat on just like yours!” For a man who rigidly honors decorum, Victor would certainly delight in following the fashions of his forebears.
Victor’s perfectly tailored velvet jacket has been rigged accordingly for its role as a dinner coat, the trim shawl collar faced in black grosgrain silk, matching the coverings on the buttons. The double-breasted front is arranged in the 4×1-button “Kent”-style, with two rows of two buttons, though only the closer-positioned bottom row has a fastening button. The ventless jacket has gently padded shoulders, front darts to flattering sculpt the cut, and straight hip pockets but no breast pocket. Each sleeve is finished with two closely spaced buttons.
Victor and Charles both wear evening shirts in white voile, a high-twist plain-weave cotton that results in a fine, lighter-wearing fabric, which would be particularly comfortable under the heavy velvet of Victor’s dinner jacket. Given that voile is a nearly sheer fabric, it’s typically reserved for the bodies and sleeves of men’s dinner shirts, with reinforced bibs that offer both modesty and a crisper white presentation in the part of the shirt that shows under a jacket. (You can read more about voile shirting at Bond Suits.)
On Victor’s shirt, made by Frank Foster, the pleated bib has two round diamond studs up the front, echoing the larger cuff links that fasten his squared single cuffs. The shirt also has a traditional long-pointed spread collar, double-layered like the cuffs. Victor wears a midnight blue silk bow tie in the traditional butterfly, or “thistle”, shape.
Victor wears dark midnight blue reverse-pleated formal trousers with an appropriately long rise to Grant’s natural waist. Consistent with his more dressed-down kit and the fact that his double-breasted jacket offers ample coverage, he foregoes a waist covering unlike Charles, who wears a cummerbund with his dinner suit. The trousers have side-adjusters on each side of the waistband, adjusted by sliding a tab through the silver buckle. Vertical-entry pockets positioned along the seams just behind the standard silk side stripe, and the back-right pocket closes through a single button.
The trousers have an ample fit through the legs, finished with plain-hemmed bottoms that break over his black patent leather opera pumps. Also known as “court shoes”, these slip-on shoes with their grosgrain silk bows were once the most formal footwear options for both black and white tie dress codes. Men’s dress pumps generally fell out of fashion over the course of the 20th century in favor of oxfords, though they still had their place in the stately homes of England and Sir Hardy Amies was still celebrating them in his 1964 volume ABCs of Men’s Fashion as “correct wear with evening dress, especially if you are dancing.”
Victor’s pumps have midnight grosgrain bows that match the silk across the rest of his outfit, and even his thin dress socks may be made from a midnight blue silk, if not black.
Victor and Charles each don a pair of glasses for the duel, allowing for more accurate vision and eye protection for somewhat more responsible shooting… in an ultimately irresponsible situation. Victor likely wears Cary Grant’s own personal glasses, as the actor had started wearing these thick black-framed specs around this time and would continue sporting glasses like this through the rest of his life.
After taking a bullet to his left arm during the duel, Victor recuperates by changing out of his velvet dinner jacket into his favorite dressing gown, a knee-length robe in olive green silk, patterned all over with scattered scarlet dots. The lightweight dressing gown has a shawl collar, breast pocket, hip pockets, and a sash-style belt, all made from the same silk as the rest of the robe.
Victor and Hilary craft a makeshift sling out of a navy silk scarf, patterned in a burgundy and bronze paisley print, which they loop over his neck and tie under his left arm to support his wounded wing.
The dinner party evolves into a duel, suggested by Victor in accordance with his old-fashioned compulsion to defend his wife’s honor. “Swords or pistols?” asks Charles, to which Victor responds “I think pistols would be less tiring.”
The family butler, Sellers (Moray Watson), produces two handguns. Following a coin toss, Charles takes the Luger pistol, while Victor picks up a Webley .38 Mk IV “Duty Model” revolver, apropos his English heritage… though neither man realizes that Sellers loaded both weapons with blank ammunition.
Webley & Scott had been producing top-break service revolvers since the 1880s, chambered for the massive .455 Webley cartridge. Following World War I, the British government sought smaller-bore alternatives to the .455 and, following extensive tests, concluded that the ideal round to balance power and portability would be a 200-grain .38-caliber cartridge. Webley thus scaled down the frame of the .455 Webley Mk IV revolver currently in service to develop the Webley .38 Mk IV, a cosmetically similar but smaller and lighter revolver that retained the self-extracting top-break mechanism of the classic Webleys but fired the new .38/200 cartridge, also known as the .38 S&W.
Much to Webley & Scott’s dismay, the British government took the design to the Royal Small Arms Factory at Enfield (RSAF Enfield), who mimicked it to produce the service revolver that would be designated “No. 2 Mk I” upon its introduction in 1932. Webley & Scott responded to the slight by suing the government, and the storied firm would have the last laugh when RSAF Enfield was unable to match the needed demand to arm British troops with the No. 2 revolver during World War II… resulting in the Webley .38 Mk IV being ultimately authorized alongside it for British Army service. Enfield would produce approximately 270,000 No. 2 revolvers over 25 years or production, with Webley & Scott producing nearly twice as many .38 Mk IV revolvers, ending production in 1978.
The Webley .38 Mk IV was produced in multiple barrel lengths, including the full 4.9″-barreled version, a 4″-barreled “Duty” model, and the compact 3″-barreled “Pocket” model. Victor appears to have the “Duty” model with a four-inch barrel.
What to Imbibe
“As a matter of fact, I’ve a very good brandy, but I’m saving that for Charles and myself,” Victor declares to the group, and he appears to have poured out snifters for Charles and himself following their billiards match. The “Co-” visible at the beginning of the label suggested Courvoisier, but the label doesn’t appear to be recognizable as Courvoisier beyond that, and it may just be a stock “Cognac” prop label.
Regardless of the producer, brandy continues to be the Earl’s drink of choice even after the duel, when Charles exclaims “You can’t just sit around with a bullet hole in you, drinkin’ brandy!”
After Charles and Hattie leave to fetch the doctor that will treat the Earl’s wounded arm, Victor and Hilary rekindle their romance over glasses of champagne that he had ordered earlier in the day. The distinctive dark green bottles with their gold-wrapped necks and yellow labels suggests Veuve Clicquot, the refined French champagne dating back to the 1770s. Following Madame Clicquot’s innovations like introducing vintages and blended rosé, the brand introduced its now-signature yellow label in the late 19th century.
Throughout the evening, the foursome take advantage of the well-stocked bar cart that had been wheeled into the drawing room. Most drink brandy at one point in the evening, with the exception of Hattie, who diverges from her usual concoction of Pink Gin with “burned” bitters to drink Wolfschmidt Kümmel.
A colorless liqueur flavored by caraway seed, kümmel originated in the Netherlands during the late 16th century, eventually drifting east to Russia and Germany, specifically the latter which remains its most prominent country of production today. Kümmel experience has been compared to gin, albeit with a more calming effect that has popularized it as a post-prandial digestif as well as a favorite “putting mixture” among Scottish golfers.
Hattie pours herself a small wine glass of kümmel produced by Wolfschmidt, once a modest purveyor of clear spirits like gin and vodka that has spent the last several decades descending the shelves at your local liquor store to the point that now can one purchase a plastic handle of Wolfschmidt vodka for around $15.
How to Get the Look
The dignified and debonair Earl dresses appropriately for a small dinner party at his stately home, accommodating the setting-influenced black tie dress code but swapping out the traditional dinner jacket for a still-elegant double-breasted jacket in dark green velvet. His pump shoes, while once the most formal evening footwear, also suggest a slipper-like intimacy appropriate for the soirée of four.
- Dark green velvet double-breasted dinner jacket with grosgrain-faced shawl collar, grosgrain-covered 4×1-button front, straight hip pockets, 2-button cuffs, and ventless back
- White cotton voile evening shirt with spread collar, pleated bib (with diamond studs) and single cuffs (with diamond links)
- Midnight-blue silk butterfly/thistle-shaped bow tie
- Midnight-blue single reverse-pleated formal trousers with silk side stripe, silver-buckle side adjusters, on-seam side pockets, button-through back-right pocket, and plain-hemmed bottoms
- Black patent leather dress pump shoes with grosgrain bows
- Midnight-blue silk dress socks
- Black-framed glasses
Have you considered a green velvet jacket for any upcoming holiday soirees? While I like the smoking jacket-adjacent aesthetic of Cary Grant’s screen-worn shawl-collar double-breasted, there are plenty of affordable varieties you could explore to experiment with elegance:
- Alfani single-breasted notch-lapel jacket in green velvet (Macy’s, $118)
- Dobell shawl-collar single-button dinner jacket in dark green velvet (Dobell, $199.95)
- Gianni Feraud double-breasted jacket in green velvet (ASOS, $51.50)
- Zara single-breasted peak-lapel dinner jacket in dark green velvet (Zara, $149)
All prices and availability updated as of Nov. 22, 2021.
Do Yourself a Favor and…
Check out the movie.
Marriage isn’t like a tray of hors d’oeuvres, you can’t just pick what you fancy, you’ve got to take the lot or nothing.