North by Northwest (1959). Directed by Alfred Hitchcock. Costume design by Harry Kress. Starring Cary Grant & Eva Marie Saint.
One of the finest thrillers that Alfred Hitchcock ever produced, North by Northwest features Cary Grant as Roger Thornhill, an everyday ad man mistaken for the fictional spy George Kaplan. Grant uncovers layer after layer of Cold War intrigue, but looks fine doing it, in a single breasted, three button, gray two-piece suit.
The Gray Suit
Throughout nearly the entire film, hapless Madison Avenue man Roger Thornhill wears a plain, two-button, notched collar, gray suit. It’s been called the best suit in all of film history, and we’re not about to argue.
Grant’s Roger Thornhill seamlessly goes from the Plaza Hotel to the estates on Long Island, to the United Nations, and across the country. The suit affords Thornhill a sense of legitimacy and reassurance to people, letting him walk among diplomats, spies, working men, and the upper crust of society with ease.
Above all, the suit is a functional piece of his wardrobe. Grant goes straight from his office to the bar for happy hour, to Long Island, to prison, to Philadelphia, to Mount Rushmore, all in one ensemble.
Even when he’s given a change of clothes near the film’s climax, he’s given a new white shirt and gray pants.
There’s some argument about who actually made the suit, London’s Norton & Sons or Quintino of Beverly Hills. That’s not important, what’s important is that it was tailored specifically for Grant. Grant is just as comfortable hiding in a sleeper car’s bunk bed, or clambering across Mount Rushmore. It’s something that will be a bit more tricky in a off-the-rack.
Dress the Part
The North by Northwest look is that of a perfect everyman – outstanding in no real aspect, but with no flaws or misstep in ensemble either. The mistake that some men make is trying to replicate Grant’s suit exactly. The gray business suit has seen its day come and go, and has been replaced by the charcoal gray and navy blue business suit.
For mid-century classicism, there’s no beating the gray suit, but it looks more out of place than you would expect these days. If North by Northwest were to be remade today, we’d have to argue that Roger Thornhill would more than likely be seen in a dark navy blue wool suit, with a serious looking tie, and crisp white dress shirt.
North by Northwest represents a high point in men’s suiting and emphasizes a classic, subdued businessman’s look.
- The Roger Thornhill ‘look’ is rooted in versatility and functionality. A go anywhere, ready for anything suit.
- Like the spies that Thornhill gets mixed up with, Thornhill’s suit lets him blend into any crowd, into any group of people with ease.
- To recreate the look today, pick a subdued, versatile wool suit, which looks just as good at the club as it does at the office.
Any Cary Grant or Hitchcok fans out there? Any suit suggestions coming to mind? Use the comments box below to get a conversation going.