Why Cary Grant was so stylish and five style lessons you can learn from him
Cary Grant wasn’t always the dapper and elegant gentleman whose name is synonymous with classic men’s style. He was once Archibald Leach, a young miscreant from a tough upbringing whose mother spent much of his life locked away in a sanitarium and whose father re-married and forgot him in the shadows as he began a new family.
It wasn’t until Archie Leach reached Hollywood that he became known as the iconic Cary Grant, a leading man known for his savvy sense of style and his charmingly sophisticated grace. Tucked under the suits and smile was a frightened young man who changed his stars in search of the life most men only dream about.
Perhaps Grant’s greatest attribute was his humility and that despite forgetting the name Archibald Leach, he never forgot the modest and painful existence he once knew. So while most of Hollywood’s leading men were having bespoke suits crafted for them by the world’s most renowned tailors, Grant was happy to shop the shelves of department stores and discount racks.
“Some of my suits are ten to twenty years old, many of them ready-made and reasonably priced,” Grant famously wrote in an article he penned called Grant on Style. “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,” he remarked.
Grant walked the talk. Most of the photos we ogle are of him in the same quality suits found at stores like Macy’s, Men’s Wearhouse and Jos. A Bank. Mistakingly, many men assume he is wearing the finest bespoke garments money can buy. Instead, many of them are suits he’s had for ten or twenty years. They come directly from the rack, and sure, while some are custom, they weren’t purchased based on the name of the tailor or heritage maker, but rather simply based on the aesthetic appeal and whether Grant thought they looked good.
Cary Grant was known for remarking many times over that he never felt like a well-dressed style icon. He was never ostentatious. He refused to follow the trends. Instead, he stuck with what he called the middle of fashion. They weren’t trendsetting outfits, and yet they were rarely conservative. The trousers were never cut too loose or with a slim fit; the lapels never slim or too wide. He stuck in the middle, focusing on classic styling principles that never went out of style.
“Simplicity, to me, has always been the essence of good taste.” – Cary Grant
So how can one emulate the style of Hollywood legend and style icon Cary Grant? Rather easily and with a limited budget. Here are five takeaways from Cary Grant’s style that are as important today as they once were:
1. Focus on fit over and above everything else. An inexpensive and off-the-rack well-fitting suit will always look better than the most expensive bespoke suit that is too snug or too loose.
2. Stick with well-made clothing and avoid the sales. Cary Grant’s father once said, “it’s better to buy one good pair of shoes than four cheap ones.” This is a fact and one I stress in all my articles. Buying a slightly more expensive pair of leather oxfords will always end up saving you money than if you purchase a pair of rubber-soled shoes on sale. I am still wearing the same pairs of shoes today that I wore five or ten years ago. Many of my friends who haven’t followed this advice are buying new shoes every six months when they wear out.
3. Keep it simple. Since Grant didn’t always have money in the bank and lived a life where he always assumed he could wake up poor again tomorrow, he advised the men who asked that if they can only afford one suit to go with something simplistic. A dark blue suit made of lightweight cloth that works during the day or at night. “I suggest lightweight,” Grant wrote in Grant on Style, “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.”
4. Avoid unnecessary accessories. Grant never wore belts with his suits. Instead, he opted for side tabs. He only wore belts with casual slacks. Similarly, it was unusual to find him with much more than a simple pocket square and watch on his wrist. He lived and breathed simplicity, and that’s why he is as much of a style icon today as he was during his time as Hollywood’s most popular superstar.
5. Sweaters are a gentleman’s best friend. Specifically cardigans. Grant was as known for his head of hair as he was for the suits he wore, so he preferred cardigans because you could easily slip them on and off without messing your hair. The biggest benefit is that a cardigan is one of the most versatile staples a man can own. It can be worn casually with a pair of denim jeans or paired elegantly under a jacket. Cardigans are perfect for adding some warmth in the spring and fall or simply adding a touch of class to an otherwise ordinary and casual outfit. It’s also perfect for dads who are faced with sticky fingers and dirty mouths before they get to work and as soon as they get home. It can protect the white dress shirt and tie from fingerprints and spit up, so you don’t have to change your entire outfit in a rush.
Thanks, as always, for reading.
He Spoke Style