The flicks
A Guide to Mid-Century Monochrome: Cary Grant in North by Northwest
By Charlie Thomas
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Some suits are so good they carry an entire film. Well, not exactly – North by Northwest is arguably Alfred Hitchcock’s finest thriller – but the film’s wardrobe, or lack of it, is at least equally iconic. The lone suit Gary Grant wore as ad man Roger O. Thornhill in the film has had short stories written about it, and was all the inspiration the James Bond franchise needed for its celluloid 007.

The suit was all Grant, quite literally. This was an era when leading actors often dressed themselves for their movies, and with the tailoring repertoire of Grant available, why not let him run wild? The entire look – dove grey sharkskin two-piece, white shirt and steely grey satin tie – was reportedly sourced by Grant and it shows. The suit’s jacket perfectly flatters his tall, lean silhouette. The shirt, a simple point collar example made from a comfortable-looking lightweight cotton, is cut on the larger side befitting the mid-century time period. Sure, it’s much fuller than we’re used to seeing today for a tailored shirt, but it works perfectly with Grant’s high-waisted trousers.

On that note, this look is a perfect example of why a mid-century inspired monochrome wardrobe looks as cool today as it was then, not to mention incredibly easy to wear. Mid-century style is often on the minimal side, with limited colour palettes, fewer, simple accessories and a focus on fit and cut. Trousers are high-waisted and pleated; shirts are either white or the softest possible pale blue, sometimes with button-down collars or simple points; and suits enjoyed generous ‘drape cut’ silhouettes, at least until the early ‘60s when things slimmed down somewhat. Grant’s ensemble in North by Northwest is a great starting point if you fancy a slice of mid-century style for yourself.

Start with colour palette, or lack thereof. Grant’s preference for monochrome, evident in the film, is easily emulated. But you don’t have to stick with grey. A navy suit, either single or double breasted, paired with a midnight blue knitted tie is a timeless combination. Try and find a tie that’s a touch darker than your suit to avoid a tonal clash. If navy and grey don’t do it for you, you could also opt for charcoal, RAF blue or rich chocolate brown – which is an underrated colour for a suit.

The key, though, is the white shirt. Whether you choose a tonal grey or navy rig, a white shirt provides the welcome pop of contrast, breaking up the look without drawing any attention away from the impression given off by a sharp suit. White shirts are traditionally seen as more formal than pale blue, but they were used to great effect in mid-century films from North by Northwest to La Dolce Vita – two movies that have provided endless inspiration for designers ever since.

One thing that is worth updating though is the fit. Cuts slimmed down in the ‘60s for good reason –a slimmer cut is usually more flattering, looks contemporary and can be just as comfortable if tailored correctly. If Grant was around today to school us in the art of tailoring, he would surely agree.

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