The Famous North By Northwest Suit

“He’s a well-tailored one, isn’t he,” says Martin Landau’s character Leonard. Alfred Hitchcock’s North By Northwest set the tone for all spy films to come in the 1960s, and Cary Grant’s famous plaid suit has many similarities to the many plaid suits Sean Connery wore in the Bond films. Much has been written about this suit already, though I felt it iconic enough to include in my own blog.

Arthur Lyons at Kilgour, French & Stanbury of Savile Row made the original suit for the film. At one point in the film when Cary Grant takes off his suit it is possible to see a label from his Beverly Hills tailor Quintino, who made extra copies of the suit to be dirtied. Quintino is credited for the wardrobe he wore a year earlier in the film Indiscreet.

The 2-piece suit is made from lightweight worsted wool in a blue and grey fine glen plaid pattern. It has a full cut overall but is still neatly tailor. The suit jacket has a 3-button front rolled to the middle button. Though some people have the idea that this suit has no darts like the American sack, there are indeed darts to shape the front. The shoulders are padded and straight with roped sleeveheads. It has jetted pockets, 3-button cuffs and no vent in the back. The trousers are very similar to what Sean Connery wore in the Bond films, with a long rise, double forward pleats, turn-ups and side adjusters. Whilst Connery’s side adjusters have buttons, Grant’s are two strips of cloth that tighten with a clasp. The trousers also have slanted side pockets and one rear jetted pocket on the right.

The white poplin shirt has an unusual point collar. Typically point collars have an interlining and are worn with collar stays to keep the points straight, but Grant’s collar is soft like a button-down collar. A soft collar like this would usually be worn pinned, though this collar is a little too wide for a pin. The shirt has double cuffs fastened with round blue enamel cuff links, though round silver cufflinks are also seen. The shirt also has no pocket and a shirred back. Though Grant’s tie looks like grey satin silk, it’s actually grey with white pin-dots, giving it a shiny effect. It is tied in a four-in-hand knot. Grant wears grey socks and cap-toe oxfords in burgundy, a colour that might suggest cordovan leather.

25 thoughts on “The Famous North By Northwest Suit

  1. Thank you very much for your article, Matt. This is just my favorite suit of all time. The cut is timeless, the lapels are just a little wide but on the wider side of classic, the trousers look great – Grant’s turn-ups and pleats are quite high but well-proportionate to its height. By the way, another precision : the shirt has a French front.
    What do you think about the cloth used, and his weight ? Since it’s a summer suit I still think there is some mohair, or kid mohair, or perhaps fresco in it, but that’s just me. And about the weight, perhaps a 12 oz cloth ?

    And, as a conclusion, a funny thing striked me. In the film, in the railway station, when Cary Grant is about to leave Eva Mary Saint, he gives her her luggage ticket. One thus can precisely see Grant’s cuff jacket, and his cuff buttons do seem fixed. What do you think about it ?

    • I’d guess the weight is more like 10 oz. It could possibly include kid mohair but I don’t think it’s crisp enough to be mohair. The shine is more due to the pattern. The pattern is to fine for it to be fresco. Fresco is a high-twist yarn. It’s a lightweight suit in a plain weave, and that’s really all we can tell. I never noticed that the cuff button-holes could be false. But it’s really not something that matters in a suit made for a film, as long as it looks right.

      I’ve also updated the part about the tie.

    • Thank you for your answer. I must have watched this movie about 8 times, so I am just astonished when you say the tie is a pin-dot one. Could you please tell me where (in the movie you saw that it was a pin-dot one ? I am very much interested.

      PS : please excuse my terrible (American or not) English, I am French.

    • Hi Matt, I think you have forgotten your link of the screenshot !

    • Thanks.
      It is also funny to notice that Cary had different cufflinks when he is in the Plazza Hotel, and wears alternatively black and burgundy shoes with this suit.

  2. I love this suit too, so glad you did an analysis on this one. North By Northwest has to be right up there on the list of greatest suit movies of all time, along with Goldfinger, Casablanca and both versions of The Thomas Crown Affair.

    Based on what I’ve read this was indeed made by Kilgour, although it seems that just about every tailor claims to have made suits for Cary Grant at some point or another, after all he is a well-tailored one!

  3. Good post, but I have a quick question: do you have a preference when it comes to side adjusters? Is there a functional difference between the two styles (buttons or buckles), is one more appropriate for certain types of cut, or is it merely aesthetic?

    • Good question. I prefer the buckles myself because it allows for a more precise adjustment. However, I think buttons look better. Button tabs are connected to elastic that runs through the back of the waistband and over time the elastic wears out. But because of the elastic, the waistband is taken in over a larger area of the waistband, as opposed to the localised bunching that occurs with the buckle adjusters. Buttons can, of course, be moved for a better adjustment, but it’s not so convenient. Both are appropriate for any situation. I suggest you try both as your experience could be different from mine. More than either of those I prefer braces. That’s the best choice if you really want your trousers secure, but they should only be worn with a jacket.

    • The elastic buttoned tabs are specifically Daks Top trousers and surprisingly harder to come across than the general button tabs; unless mtm/bespoke where one has the choice. And the elastic can be replaced of course.

      Funny thing is Daks doesn’t even have them in their range any longer!

    • I have a number of pairs of trousers with Daks tops from Polo Ralph Lauren and Paul Stuart. I have one pair of trousers from Polo with buttons but no elastic. Ralph Lauren Black Label and Purple Label use the buckle adjusters instead. Paul Stuart makes some casual trousers with D-ring side adjusters.

    • That’s interesting, Matt. I sort of prefer the way the buckle tabs look, myself. I’d like to explore either style anyhow. I plan to go for MTM or bespoke clothes as soon as I can, and I’ll probably end up with some of each.

  4. Dear Matt,
    From a previous comment I gather that the literary Bond´s suit would sport a medium shoulder as seen in Flemings own suits.
    Assuming one would like to recreate the literary Bond´s feel in one´s daily wear which tailors on Savile Row or elsewhere do a medium shoulder (I´m guessing Henry Poole) as a designated house style ?
    What options are there off the rack/mtm?
    Thanks for taking the time to answer!
    Mark

    • Henry Poole or Gieves and Hawkes would be appropriate. Gieves and Hawkes’s off the rack suits would also be appropriate. Ralph Lauren Purple Label is close too. The problem now is finding the right trousers. Fleming wore forward-pleated trousers like Connery’s Bond, and that’s just as important to the style as the cut of the jacket.

  5. I think the shirt collar might be a hidden button down. not only do the points seem to be invisibly held down, but the shirt fabric underneath the collar sometimes appears to be pulling up slightly towards the underside of them.

    I suspect that Cary Grant did have a suit just like this one by Kilgour, French and Stanbury (they will have records of it) and indeed may have worn it in the publicity shots for the film. But in the actual film it’s self they probably used 4 or 5 Quintino suits. At the very least, I doubt he was being chased by the crop duster in the Savile Row suit.

    • Have a look at the crop-duster scene and you’ll see that nothing is holding the collar to the shirt. The points don’t always stay against the body and the collar moves a little when he turns his head. Were hidden-button-down collars around back then? The ones today typically roll like a regular button-down, and they aren’t meant to be worn with a tie.

  6. Revisited this article today and had a thought: I’d love to see you analyze iconic menswear in general from television and movies.

    The tie looks like a repp weave from those screenshots to me, but I could be wrong.

  7. This may be splitting hairs a bit, but is North By Northwest the only film where Cary Grant buttons his jacket appropriately?

    He absolutely ruins Charade by buttoning the lower button – sometimes exclusively – on everything in sight, 3-button jackets included. Same applies for his creme blazer in That Touch of Mink, and grey tweed (?) in To Catch a Thief. Someone notes that the same applies during his appearances in Monkey Business and People Will Talk.

    Props to the Terence Youngs of the North By Northwest crew that kept Grant in check!

    -Kurt

    • He buttons the bottom often, but not all the time. Even in Charade he sometimes gets it right. I think he always had it right in Mr. Blandings Builds His Dream House. At least he always wears double-breasted suits well. It’s hard to mess those up, whether you button the top, the bottom or both.

  8. Really good and informative article. Many thanks. Grant and Connery’s early Bonds are THE go to references for how a man should dress.

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