Notorious: The Classic Three-Piece Dinner Suit

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Notorious-Black-Tie

James Bond isn’t the only government agent who is a master of black tie. Cary Grant wears a textbook example of classic black tie as American agent T.R. Devlin in the Alfred Hitchcock film Notorious, which also stars Ingrid Bergman and Claude Rains. Devlin’s suit is the ultimate example of the three-piece black dinner suit. Suits like this one inspired the three-piece dinner suit that Pierce Brosnan wears in GoldenEye. Devlin’s dinner jacket is a button one with satin-faced peaked lapels, and it is cut with a full chest and suppressed waist. The shoulders are straight and wide, made to balance Cary Grant’s large head against his very slim body and to give him more presence. The wide peaked lapels also give him more presence and were fashionable at the time. The dinner jacket has the traditional details of jetted hip pockets, button four cuffs and no vent in the rear. The buttons are black plastic. The dinner suit’s trousers have forward pleats, wide legs, and a satin stripe down each leg. They are finished with a straight hem and no break.

Notorious-Black-Tie-3Underneath the dinner jacket, Devlin wears a black low-cut waistcoat. The waistcoat can hardly be seen, and that’s the way it should be. It probably has four buttons, and the buttons are closely spaced on the front. Two buttons can be seen peaking out above the dinner jacket’s button. Traditionally, black waistcoats for black tie are made in the same cloth as body of the dinner suit with shawl-style lapels in silk to match the jacket’s lapels and trouser stripe. Since the waistcoat can hardly be seen, this is only a likely possibility of what the waistcoat may look like.

Notorious-Black-Tie-2The dress shirt has a marcella bib, spread collar and double cuff. The collar and cuffs have traditional quarter-inch stitching, and the shirt does not have a separate placket on the front. The front closes with two square mother-of-pearl studs, and the cufflinks match the studs. There only problem with the shirt is that in some shots the left side of the collar seems to have a difficult time laying flat under the waistcoat. Either Cary Grant’s shirts weren’t made to take collar stays and the collar wasn’t starched enough, or he didn’t like collar stays. The black satin silk bow tie matches the jacket’s facings. The bow tie is a thistle shape and is a little smaller than usual. Alan Flusser writes in Dressing the Man that “its width should not extend beyond the outer edge of a person’s face, and definitely not beyond the breadth of the collar.” This bow tie easily meets those requirements. Devlin wears a white pocket handkerchief with his dinner suit, though the amount of it peaking out of the breast pocket varies throughout the scene. Devlin’s black shoes are plain-toe oxfords (balmorals to the Americans), and whilst they are shiny it is difficult to tell if they are patent leather as they properly should be.

Notorious-Black-Tie-ChesterfieldWhen Devlin leaves the party he dons the full-length chesterfield coat that he carried in with him. The double breasted chesterfield is most likely charcoal grey and it has six buttons with two to button. We see Devlin fastening the anchor button inside the coat—which is behind the middle button on the left side—when he puts it on. The coat has peaked lapels, straight, flapped hip pockets, a welt breast pocket, three-button cuffs and a centre vent.

37 COMMENTS

  1. Sorry Matt, I’m really not interested in the wardrobe choices of vintage movie stars in vintage B/W movies. Notorious is an entertaining film but if we’re running out of James Bond suits etc. there’s a whole pool of ‘6O’s spy films to choose from. I’m thinking of Dean Martin/Matt Helm: James Coburn/Flint: Robert Vaughan/UNCLE: John Ericson/Honey West: Roger Moore/Crossplot and Warren Beatty’s Anthony Sinclair suits in Kalidescope. You can see what my favorite suit look is here: and I hope you’ll agree. Still love the site. Geo.6

    • I’m sorry you’re not interested in this, but I know other people are. Posts like this aren’t going to be a recurring thing, I just thought it would be interesting to see what a spy from an earlier era wore, especially when the clothes are so brilliant. I’m going to be writing about other 1960s spies.

      • For a contrary view, I appreciate the post. I can see more justification for posting about costumes that inspired Bondian looks than costumes from other movies that were from the 60s. Beyond which it seems a trifle odd to say that you’ve no interest in vintage movie stars and then list a number dating back 50 odd years.

        As for Cary Grant’s dinner jacket, it is a very elegant ensemble. Grant often wore double-breasted shawl lapel dinner jackets but this is one of my favourites. His black tie rig in To Catch a Thief has a lot of similarities to the early Bond look, except that, again, he wears a waistcoat and might be worthy of another post.

        Finally, how can you tell the buttons are plastic? Wouldn’t black horn have been more likely?

      • Horn wasn’t as likely to be worn on a dinner jacket because it’s so rustic. Plastic buttons used to be common on high end suits, as you can see on many of Connery’s suits.

      • Another vote for non-exclusively Bond content.

        I wonder, for black and white, if the costumers had to compensate for how the material appeared on screen? I know a lot of times, things don’t look real in film, and am curious if it’s even more true for b/w.

      • Matt, I find it fascinating how many people claim that “things were better quality in the good old days” but when you look at some things in context it isn’t necessarily so. For example, horn versus plastic buttons. Horn buttons are pretty much a requirement now if you want to be considered high quality, as are working sleeve buttons. Yet even the latter wasn’t common on bespoke suits until a certain point where customers demanded them. Also worth noting that an examination of the sewing on the Duke of Windsor’s bespoke clothing shows quality that would be considered substandard even by Old Navy these days. Technology has advanced and perceptions of quality have changed greatly over time.

      • I’m working on an article about suit buttons. I would never be happy with plastic buttons on a suit, but they used to be commonplace on English bespoke suits. My preference for English tailoring means that I prefer horn buttons, but the Italians use beautiful corozo buttons, which are just as acceptable.

  2. The ultimate dinner suit, in my opinion. Thank you for your article, Matt.
    I always appreciate when you write about vintage movies such as this classic.
    And what a perfectly-tied bowtie !
    That said, I am a bit disappointed by Grant’s tailoring. To me there is a little problem with the jacket’s collar, which doesn’t really cover the white collar of the shirt. Normally, it should cover about half of the shirt collar’s height, but here it reveals almost the entire height of the shirt collar. Could the jacket be a tad too wide -just in the collar- then, Matt ?
    I believe the checked sports coat that Devlin wears when they arrive in Brazil has the same problem.

  3. I love the post Matt, It would have been interesting to see Cary Grant play James Bond instead of Sir Sean Connery.
    When I read the description of the Chesterfield Overcoat I thought that I saw a photograph of Mr. Grant wearing the coat but the photo is not from this film. Here is a link:

    http://media.countryattire.com/media/catalog/product/cache/1/image/f78b5c3789eeed6b0c8d7f39c831fa2d/c/r/crombie_men_s_cary_grant_jacket_p1.jpg

    Would be possible for you Matt to analyze more of Mr. Grant’s clothing. I really like the dinner jacket from to Catch a Thief and he wears some great suits in Charade.

      • Matt, do you think you could cover some outfits of Hitchcock’s Suspicion ? It’s not a spy thriller, obviously, but it’s a psychological thriller, just like Dream House 😉

      • I think you have the balance just right. Being as exhaustive as this blog is, you will eventually run out of Bond clothes, but it doesn’t hurt to occasionally look at people who influenced Fleming, potential Bonds of the past or future or the Bond actors in their other roles. This isn’t too far off topic and it ensures a future for this blog.

  4. Archie Leach truly is the epitome of style, I know the Jack Taylor of Beverly hills tailored him toward his later years but I also understand that Kilgour French and Stansbury were also responsible for some his suits as well.

    The touch of mink would be a wonderful addition to your blog, alas it could be out of the scope however, would be peter sellers in the pink panther be a good idea for your blog???

  5. I appreciate the post.
    “Notorious” is a great spy story,and Cary Grant /TR Devlin is like James Bond at his best.
    I like the Cary Grant’s suits in this movie; are CLASSICS.
    The Dinner suit above can be worn today.
    I like much also the flannel chalk strips double breasted,the thin stips suit at the begin, and the odd jacker in the kiss scene.

  6. I have to agree with Le Chiffre and Carmelo. Notorious is one of Hitchcock’s best and a great movie. I don’t quite the resistance to covering suits such as this. It is a great piece of clothing and certainly a template for James Bond.

    Great post Matt, and very informative.

    • Perhaps, though it’s not as action-packed as some of the other films Hitchcock made in the 1940s, like Saboteur and Foreign Correspondent. However, the stars of those films are little like James Bond, and Cary Grant’s character here may be the closest.

    • After all, Cary Grant was one of the first actors considered to play Bond by Fleming, but he declined thinking he was too old for the role and that he would only make one movie, then the production team would have had to research another actor again.
      There is also a little connection between him and Albert R. Cubby Broccoli ; he was the best man at his wedding.

    • I don’t know if you’ve seen the movie “Hitchcock” with Anthony Hopkins, but there is a scene in the movie where Hitchcock was looking for new movie ideas after North by Northwest. One of his assistants said that some producers wanted to have him direct an adaptation of the Ian Fleming novel Casino Royale with Cary Grant starring. His reply:
      “Don’t they know that movie has already been made? It’s called North by Northwest.”
      Although of course North by Northwest is nothing like Casino Royale, I found the line to be quite funny.

  7. Off-topic, but it was Grant’s performance in Notorious that made me think he could actually play Bond. It is also Grant’s finest performance, complex, conflicted, even cruel at times. Never again would he be as interesting on screen, though Hitchcock did bring out shades of it in To Catch a Thief and North by Northwest.

    North by Northwest is almost the prototype for the early Bond films, if you just replace the man wrongfully accused archetype with the international detective that the cinematic Bond really is and set him off in pursuit investigating a murder at the U.N. leading to the selling of “government secrets.”

    • Completely agree with you Christian, although Grant’s performance in Suspicion also worth watching. He’s ambivalent too in this movie, but I admit it is the talent of Joan Fontaine that make us doubt about Grant’s behavior, more than Grant’s personal acting.

      I think Cary Grant’s performance is also very interesting -I mean, it’s not one of his usual comedy roles, roles in which he’s obviously excellent- in Hawks’ Only Angels have Wings.

  8. Agree with the CG comments. He didn’t do Bond partly because his going rate by 1963 was a million per picture which was the entire budget of Dr. No.

    Watching NXNW and Charade, you see the direction the Bond films later took, where you are happy to be taken for an adventure but you know no harm will ever come to our hero.

    Anyway Notorious is a great film and his dinner suit near flawless. Cheers Matt.

    • I have nothing against Stanley Donen, but Charade is a thousand miles away from North by Northwest…
      If there wasn’t for Cary Grant in the film, I doubt the movie would be so known.

  9. Well.a “Casino Royale” ,of better,A “From Russia with Love” in -1960-61 with Hitchcock as director and Cary Grant in the James Bond role would have been great!
    Hitchcock himself try the way of spy story in his later movies (“Torn Curtain” and “Topaz”).
    But i think that would have been the only James Bond movie for year.
    I not see a series with Sean Connery after a Hitch/Cary movie.
    Sean would have see as the poor men’s James Bond.

  10. For what’s worth, I belive Hugo Boss sells a tuxedo called The Cary Grant, best described as a loose, and modern interpretation of this wide peak lapeled classic.

    Have to agree about Charade. Not sure I ever understood the appeal beyond the two stars, and Grant was over the hill for the role at that point.

  11. Hi Matt,
    Have to say I love the blog, and appreciate non-Bond articles like this one. I wonder have you ever seen a film called Johnny English, starring Rowan Atkinson? It is a parody of Brosnan era bond, written by two Bond writers. While no, probably, t as amusing as Austin Powers, it might be of more interest to readers of this blog. Rather than going into individual outfits in depth, I would love to read an overview of the movie’s wardrobe as a pastiche of a Bond wardrobe.
    H

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