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August 7, 2007 at 9:56 am
Wow, that’s a tough one! Cary Grant is undeniably the more attractive man, but Fred Astaire does have a real panache, and more of an ease about dressing than Grant. I think part of it can be attributed to their very different body types. While Grant was athletic, he’s more solid and grounded, while Astaire has that lean dancer’s physique. Both exude style though!
August 7, 2007 at 9:58 am
How about Gene Kelly? not usually in a suit, but althletic and chic in casual clothing.
But I do agree that Fred is vastly underappreciated. People nowadays can’t appreciate how effortlessly he pulls off the tie as belt.
August 7, 2007 at 10:06 am
With Cary Grant’s physique and face type, it would have been difficult to do the Astaire type of dressing and styling. That needs a svelte, slim body that only Astaire had – even Gene Kelly would look wrong in it. Can you imagine Brad Pitt or George Clooney wearing Heidi Slimane for Dior? No. But, Johnny Depp would look great in it. So I cannot put anyone in front of the other, or compare them. They both look amazing because they have their own great style and panache and are not copycats of anyone.
August 7, 2007 at 10:07 am
At first I was shocked & ready to fight tooth & nail for “my man” Grant … but this says it all:
“Cary Grant was a perfect hanger for his clothes but he made sure that his clothes did not overshadow his natural beauty. Fred Astaire, on the other hand, was more the “everyman” he really needed his clothes to work for him if he was going to compete as a “leading man” in Hollywood”
They both certainly have a style & such grace, but Grant was the “handsome actor” of the two.
It is almost so easy to overlook Astaire, for his amazing skill on the floor. And possibly chalk it up to the “dress of the times.” But it is certainly more than that.
The tilt of his hat, the cuff of the pants, a scarf, a ring. He is so comfortable with himself & at home in his skin, that the clothes seem an extension of himself. His second skin, not just clothes.
August 7, 2007 at 10:11 am
Astaire! — so chic, yet cool.
August 7, 2007 at 10:13 am
De-lurking to say, simply, that this post is but one of the many reasons that I love your blog. I have had the Cary Grant vs. Fred Astaire debate many times with fashion and film geeks. Grant was absolutely fabulous but Astaire was the walking, talking, dancing epitome of the well-worn adage “clothes make the man.”
August 7, 2007 at 10:15 am
Well, it really sort of comes down to personal taste, doesn’t it?
Cary Grant is certainly everything he was always supposed to be; and, as you said, the original minimalist. And the extends to his understated and reserved acting style as well.
Fred Astaire won me over with the brightly colored socks, tie as belt and the throwaway casual air that is nearly impossible to replicate. He made it look so easy and effortless. So, Fred wins with me, for the way he took chances.
Anyone with money can be in Fashion, but no amount of money can buy Style. Astaire had it in spades.
August 7, 2007 at 10:20 am
I was going to say the same thing about Gene Kelly. Kelly has a more “grounded” body, as the first commenter says, but manages to always look super American chic … casual, but crisp to the point of looking quite pulled together. And I love some of his costumes for “big” numbers. In singing in the rain, there’s that wonderful montage where he’s trying to make it to broadway, in a dashing/dorky yellow number.
Heather Outside Boston
August 7, 2007 at 10:22 am
Here’s how the calculus works for me: I could gaze at Cary Grant all evening, but Fred Astaire I want to talk and laugh and dance with him. He’s beyond lovely, into the far more captivating category of interesting, which inspires me to be my best in every way. Go for love rather than just infatuation.
August 7, 2007 at 10:27 am
I have to agree, Fred has it all over Cary Grant. To me, Fred Astaire shows that elegance, style, and even being handsome are all a matter of attitude. Just to look at a “head shot” of Fred I wouldn’t call him good-looking. He makes himself good looking by the way he acts.
Cary Grant always seemed a little “stuffy” to me. Fred is never stuffy. He can be the best dressed person in the room, but makes himself comfortable and everyone else comfortable just by being relaxed. How many times have we seen Fred, dressed to the nines, drape himself over a chair like a blanket? It puts the whole room at ease.
August 7, 2007 at 10:32 am
Long, long ago when I was publishng photobooks out of Paris I pitched a concept titled “Fred, Ted and Archie”.
That expressed my sartorial rating of the three gents, with Archibald Alec Leach the ultimate winner.
I’d still buy the book…
August 7, 2007 at 10:42 am
I, like you, only recently came to appreciate Astaire within the last year. Now I’m an unabashed admirer which in now way diminishes my admiration of Cary Grant. I learn so much from both gents.
Also, I agree with the poster who mentioned Gene Kelly. Who would think a man with his physique could be so graceful? But he’s unbelievable.
August 7, 2007 at 10:46 am
I really prefer Grant-oh he was so masculine.Just think about sitting on a sofa beside him and feeling his presence.But I am a woman and naturally the charm of Grant is more appealing.
August 7, 2007 at 10:52 am
I’ve always thought that there is no other man like Fred Astaire. He makes me cry and Cary Grant doesn’t. So I’m perfectly willing to vote for Fred Astaire on this one.
August 7, 2007 at 10:56 am
I have always thought this too, and am glad to hear someone verbalise it so well. You are absolutely correct: Astaire’s clothes had to work for him, and enabled him to be the elegant everyman. Although I have never been a fan of the button-down collars he favoured.
You can see this dichotomy in modern terms too. George Clooney and Matt Lauer get most of the fashion props, and deservedly so, but the wardrobe’s simplicity plays to their natural beauty. Whereas, someone like Andre Benjamin displays so much more creativity in his ensembles, and they play up his strengths.
Can you imagine Clooney wearing an Andre 3000 get-up? Of course not. It’s all about finding your own style, which Astair did some perfectly.
One of my favourite photos is of an again Astaire, in Flusser’s “Dressing the Man.” Astaire is completely at ease in a stiped oxford and pale pink cravat. It is exactly how I want to be when I grow old.
A teacher once told us there are two types of great tennis players: Jimmy Connors, who’s naturally gifted, and John McEnroe, who had to work and scrap every day to get better. It’s the same way with fashion, or most anything else.
Astaire proved “the rest of us” can look great. It just takes a bit more work.
August 7, 2007 at 11:06 am
Daily reader (love your pictures!), first time poster.As the better sartorialist, I’m all in favor of Astaire ! It is said for woman dancers that they keep a certain grace and overall poise in the way they wear their clothes and Astaire, as a great dancer had the masculine equivalent of that. Although both men’s clothing was from Savile Row, Grant let costumers like Edith Head chose the clothes for him -although he did chose to have his shirts be full, to be less restrictive-while Astaire had his tailoring often made by Anderson & Sheppard specifically for the clothes to be loose enough to dance in and to fit all his fashion quirks. I think the fact Astaire had all his little quirks like the tie clip gives him more of an original fashion identity.Also part of the appeal of Cary Grant is his hero persona, because he was handsome and courageous, a bit like the way James Bond is seen.I completely agree on Fred being more of everyman kind of guy. Flying to rio is the only Ginger Roger-Fred Astaire movie I haven’t seen, I’ll be sure to rent it.Anyway, i can’t wait for the debate between Bruce Boyer and Richard Torregrossa!
August 7, 2007 at 11:10 am
I couldn’t agree more that Fred’s little quirks are a creative and clever way to play with his sort of “everyman” look. Very inspiring.
On another note, Satorialist, your spellchecker didn’t catch a typo that replaced physical with psychical. For a moment I thought Fred had powers unknown to me.
August 7, 2007 at 11:11 am
It’s a tie. No pun intended. Like the Beatles vs. The Rolling Stones. Each did what they did better thananyone ever had before or has since, and we’d be very lucky if the likes of them ever pass our way again.
Don’t hold your breath, unless you look good in blue.
August 7, 2007 at 11:19 am
It’s odd to be comparing Fred Astaire to Cary Grant as Gene Kelly is usually offered as the alternate to Astaire. I used to be an Astiare fan, but after watching Gene Kelly, you have to decide whether you prefer Astaire’s elegance and grace over Kelly’s rough, physical power. I think that is what you’re comparing here as well except replacing Kelly with Grant.
There was a documentary about Astair and Kelly that included a quote (heavily paraphrased here) that “Astaire was the man you took home to your mother and Kelly was the man you took home with you”. Which man do you identify with? Your answer defines your style here.
August 7, 2007 at 11:24 am
I think it is Astaire’s eccentricity that is hard to pull off. It fits his body type and personality. If most people tried it, they would be trying too hard. Grant is the ultimate in classic cool, while Astaire is a novelty, though unique. No, not every man can be as handsome as Grant, but it is much easier to pull off extremely well done classics than Astaire’s eccentric style. Both are steps up for the average man, especially in the US, but Astaire is harder to reach within your means.
August 7, 2007 at 11:28 am
August 7, 2007 at 11:30 am
Thanks for sharing your thoughts on this, Sart. I find that I am often frustrated by the fact that people who have great style cannot articulate what makes great style, so you are a breath of fresh air as someone who can explain what great style is to you.
I love everything you have to say about Astaire vs. Grant BUT you do not address the fact that Cary Grant generally acted (that is, inhabited his body) like an everyman, whereas Astaire – even when doing comedy – had the grace of an angel.
August 7, 2007 at 11:31 am
Adore both. Cary Grant is the perfect picture, but Astaire reaches the utmost elegance, I’ve always known that. Anything superior to dance… Astaire’s dance? And yes, clothes had divine hangers on both of them. Absolute stars. But Astaire comes closer to this side of the screen,is less of a poster than CG – who is marvelous!
FA – 10 CG – 9.99
August 7, 2007 at 11:32 am
Rational thoughts gleamed from observation and bolstered with significant detail leading to an defendable conclusion. The wonderful refreshing breeze of independent thinking!
August 7, 2007 at 11:36 am
Both beautifully dressed. Both charming. Both gentlemen. But Fred had more flair, and I believe his style was more unique. That is not intended to reflect negatively on Cary Grant. My mother always singled out both as examples of what a real man, a gentleman, should try to look like (clothes-wise). A slight edge to Fred.PJ O’Connor
August 7, 2007 at 11:39 am
I think you hit the nail on the head when you describe that detail from “Flying Down To Rio.” Fred Astaire wears his clothes, even the suits and the quirky details, with a comfort and unselfconsciousness that is true American elegance.
August 7, 2007 at 11:40 am
Let’s remember that these guys were movie stars dressed by wardrobe professionals. I wonder how sartorially inclined they were in their private lives?
Sam (aka McTickle)
August 7, 2007 at 11:43 am
Both are style icons. Cary Grant seems like more of a guy’s guy to me though – similar to the way George Clooney has that guy’s guy thing going on. We don’t feel weird admiring a guy like Clooney, and Grant was the same way. I dare not knock Astaire’s style and flair, but personally I prefer Grant. You could also thrown Steve McQueen, Paul Newman, and Robert Redford into that guy’s guy category.
August 7, 2007 at 11:47 am
Although I love Cary Grant, I have to give this one to Fred Astaire. There were much more subtle examples of his style than the aforementioned tie-as-belt quirk.
Wearing buttondown shirts with three-piece suits, brown shoes with outfits without any brown, wearing solid ties with brightly patterned shirts and jackets, etc. He was the most consummate shoe wearer – unsurprisingly, since directors always made sure to get his feet in shots in dancing scenes. It’s said that when he went to his tailor he would put on a suit, dance around, then look in the mirror to make sure nothing had changed.
I’ll leave you with a quote from G. Bruce Boyer’s article “Shall We Dress?”:
“I think I can pinpoint the one moment when the American style of dressing first appeared. It was in an appalling 1933 movie called Dancing Lady during an otherwise forgettable dance number. It also just happened to be Fred Astaire’s first on-camera dance. But don’t look at the steps. Look at the outfit: Astaire is wearing a single-breasted, soft flannel suit with two-tone spectator shoes and a turtleneck. You wish you could look that stylish! Later that year, in Flying Down to Rio, we get the full Astaire impact. The muted plaid suit is not all that striking, but Fred is wearing it with a soft button-down shirt, a pale woven tie, silk pocket square, bright horizontally striped hose and white bucks. Whoa! Now that’s different. This melange of the classic and the sporty was an American innovation.”
August 7, 2007 at 11:52 am
Alan Flusser also champions Fred Astaire’s exuberantstyle and I’m pleased to see mention of the tie as a belt. Why stop with these two though? There are other obvious choices such as Gary Cooper and William Powell and then a whole sub set of charactersfrom the past who perfectly defined personal style in spite of their body type. Sydney Greenstreet comes to mind immediately. For that matter; the entire film “Casablanca” could be used as a style guide for various types. Beyond that however; I like both your’ choices and I think it’s wonderful to acknowledge and learn from the past.
August 7, 2007 at 11:54 am
Quite frankly, Astaire was always a bit too refined for my taste, a bit too mannered, not at all effortless!
He always looked like he spent a GREAT deal of time in front of a mirror.
August 7, 2007 at 11:55 am
astaire, always. for me it’s usually between him and gene kelly when it comes to sartorial inspiration. cary grant’s a very good-looking man, but I’m never moved like I am by astaire. style is in the details, and he clearly minded his.
August 7, 2007 at 11:57 am
So clothes do maketh the man (or woman)?
This is tough because I really like the minimalist style of Cary Grant “in the movies”, the shirts, the trousers, the shiny shoes (tissue paper and all in North By NorthWest). But I think this is probably more that I like the overall style of Hitchcock. The men are stylishly but simply adorned. Elegant. (I mean, Jimmy Stewart carries off pyjamas and a cast in Rear Window!)
Fred’s style is less structured and the casual approach suits my image of his more ‘creative’ personality type. I like it and the unique accessories/style suit him very well.
Overall, I still think I prefer the simpler Hitchcock ‘uniform’. I think a simple approach to style is just as attainable for the ‘every man’ as a more complicated one. I agree that Cary could rest on his physical laurels (!) but I also think simple is the place to start.
August 7, 2007 at 12:01 pm
Astaire can win on sure personality. I think he displayed much more of it than Grant. It made him approachable more of that everyman. I guess really though who you like the best will depend on your personal style.
August 7, 2007 at 12:02 pm
Both. Representing different eras: 30s vs. 50s.
As you suggest, a main difference: Astaire was about clothes-in-movement (and vice vesa).
Astaire may have a slight edge in terms of originality; certainly he had a quality of stylistic insouciance that was his alone….
August 7, 2007 at 12:04 pm
Whatever Fred gave up to Cary in terms of looks is made up by his dancing — controlled grace, athletic but never over the top. Amazing.
Both guys look great in clothes so it is really a tough call on which guy dressed better, however Grant is remembered for his style and Astaire for his dancing, so I guess Grant wins on that one…
August 7, 2007 at 12:08 pm
What about Tom Waits in Down by Law?
August 7, 2007 at 12:11 pm
I was thinking of Funny Face too.
Astaire is my preference because he managed to combine simplicity and quirkiness for an original result.
I think his real ‘je ne sais quoi,’ though, was his body confidence and the graceful way he moved, or stood, or did anything, in his (yes, obviously well made) clothes. You see that in the way he moves his hands: pure conservation of motion…every gesture is uncontrived and beautiful to watch.
August 7, 2007 at 12:33 pm
i would say it’s a toss-up between the two but if i have to choose one, Astaire is much more creative. both probably have lots beautiful clothes but coordinating and executing is a different league. i saw several photos of Astaire wearing just v-neck sweaters over a shirt and the photos i saw of Grant and he wore mostly suits. coordinating different patterns and colors is much more difficult than coordinating suits because your only challenge is find the nect tie to work with the suit.
Sart,both Grant and Astaire wore high waisted trousers. how about comparing and contrasting high waisted trouser vs. low rise trousers?
August 7, 2007 at 12:34 pm
Astaire had such a tough time as from the neck up when he was starting out, (nothing extraordinare) but man, there is nothing sexier than a man that moves well.
Unless it’s a funny guy…and that was Grant to a T. Let’s not forget that Archie Leach was a circus acrobat and moved pretty well himself. A funny guy who can do a handstand with dark glittery eyes and great shoulders… maybe this is something I’d like to nudge awake?
Gene Kelly. Oh heavens Yum. Also funny and moved very well, but he really did work the “charming American with great teeth” angle. He’s a fine argument for the American in casual clothing.
August 7, 2007 at 12:42 pm
Are you crazy? Absolutely not. You are spot on. I have to admit that I’ve been a die hard fan if his since a child. But much of that reason is his style (second only to his dancing). Fred Astarire is definitely the winner – hands down!!
August 7, 2007 at 12:44 pm
August 7, 2007 at 12:46 pm
They were both wonderfully stylish, but they were very different also.
I think CG had a much more average-joe stylishness. It is one we can all aspire to. FA on the other hand, was more daring, flashier. ‘Panache’ is a great word. He dressed of the period and we would look like we were in costume in some of his outfits. And he was very very thin and a dancer.
I would choose to emulate Cary Grant, personally.
PS I can’t believe it took you so long to get around to all those great Astair movies. The Astaire/Rogers box sets are great.
August 7, 2007 at 12:48 pm
Well, I think you nailed it. I watched so many of those movies when I was a kid and had the same reaction. To me, Carey Grant will always be the epitome of suave. He had a kind of European grace or sexiness or je ne sais quoi about him that is just magnetic.
But watching Fred Astaire is like nothing else. I remember watching him and wishing that I could feel as comfortable in my body as he seemed to. And I think that is what the difference is when it comes to the people you feature on your blog. Not that Grant wouldn’t make the cut, of course he would. But Astaire had something about him that came out in his style. His unusual dexterity and physical ability was complemented by the slightly off-kilter (for the era) details like the crooked tie clip or the tie as a belt.
Really, as I write this, I am realizing that there’s just no comparing the two men. They both had style and grace. I guess Astaire’s was just more original or individual.
August 7, 2007 at 12:49 pm
What a terrific subject and post! Astaire vs Grant? They’re both so wonderfully stylish but in their own way, one so flamboyant, the other so understated. I think most men including myself would never be able to pull off Astaire’s look even though he’s the lesser attractive of the two. Astaire’s nonchalant confidence and grace was just off the charts.
I have both those books you mentioned and I’m eagerly looking forward to both author’s points of view.
August 7, 2007 at 12:51 pm
This is a great question and I’m sure you will receive many comments favoring one or the other. However, I would say both are great in a different way…Fred was more flamboyant in his style and Cary had a more subdued, conservative style. I prefer Cary’s style, however, that does not take away from Fred’s excellent style.
Thanks for providing us with such a great blog!
August 7, 2007 at 12:54 pm
To my mind, it’s Grant for personal “presence” – a kind of owning of the oxygen in the room or something. His clothes fit him so well and suited him so perfectly that they disappeared.
But it’s Astaire for personal “style” – it’s not that the clothes were wearing the man, but that the clothes seemed to be a purposeful expression of the man.
For “how to wear clothes that fit,” well … both those men were geniuses, if you ask me. Your whole blog is a study in “clothes that fit” — I love it!
August 7, 2007 at 12:58 pm
Grant, hands down.
August 7, 2007 at 12:59 pm
i love that you say that because i have allways thought that fred astaire is an incredible dresser. he had those little touches that just personafied everything about his suit. like the infamous flowers that he loved so much. he was so much more dearing than cary grant. though i fully agree with iheartfashion
Both were elegant, but Grant’s elegance was understated, while Astaire was truly creative. Panache — as iheartfashion says — really sums it up for Fred.
(BTW, I think you meant “physical,” not “psychical.”)
August 7, 2007 at 1:05 pm
Gene Kelly all the way for unadulterated American panache and athleticism. He is truly representative of the everyday man. Astaire is too aristocratic; too untouchable. Kelly is grounded, artistic, and ultimately, very relatable.
August 7, 2007 at 1:13 pm
I couldn’t disagree with you more. The style quirks of Fred Astaire are exactly what make it impossible for an “everyman” and his tailor to replicate him, without veering into the realm of costume. Any man out side of a silver screen would more likely ,than not, be accused of trying to hard with flourishes such as a tie for a belt. Cary Grant recognized that feeling comfortable in a well fitting suit is all that you need and didn’t clutter his look with stylish flourishes. The “everyman” might not be as pretty as Grant, but with a well fitting suit he could feel like him walking into his office in the morning. It is the subtle understated elegance that gives Cary Grant the edge.
August 7, 2007 at 1:19 pm
astaire had that extraordinary weightless quality, like a squirrel. his clothes seem somehow to complement that ( i don’t know who made them). cary grant moved well too and his kilgour fs suits were beautiful.frankly i think neither could hold a candle to connery in the early bond films. suits were made by a tailor in conduit street
August 7, 2007 at 1:23 pm
I read once that Edith Head found Cary Grant the easiest man to dress.
August 7, 2007 at 1:29 pm
I think that style has to do with how you exist in the clothing. I think that the most telling comment is when you said Fred is the most athletic man in a suit. It’s impressive primarily because he’s in a suit. To me, since his style is more surprising and innovative, I think it lends itself to a new category. Whereas Cary Grant is simply very good at putting things together in the realm of the familiar. Fred is the more stylish man in my mind.
August 7, 2007 at 1:40 pm
I know Bruce, and I read his book (great!). I truly think Astaire has great style. He overcame his looks (not the best looking guy unlike Mr. Grant) with his style. Having said that, Cary Grant for me is the epitome of modern, classic, elegance. Yes he had a minimal aspect to his dressing, and yes he was very good looking, but he just makes looking good so effortless. No tricks, very little embellishment, he would look great walking down Park Ave today. Could you say the same about Astaire? I think MR. Grant has a more timeless quality that resonates more with the times today.
August 7, 2007 at 1:45 pm
Astaire had his clothes tailored by Anderson & Sheppard.
http://www.englishcut.com/archives/000035.html (Third para from bottom.)
August 7, 2007 at 1:46 pm
No need for the book (although I’m sure it’s lovely) as I’m too into figuring out the beautiful ladies of this era. However there is a NEED to see “slim cut sleeves” in real life. It sounds remarkable!
My vote: Astaire
August 7, 2007 at 1:50 pm
For me it’s not an either/or situation. It’s both fabulous men, exuding their personal style and panache, coexisting in an open-minded world appreciative of all personal, individualistic style, period.
That said, I do agree with anonymous at @9:58 AM that Astaire is vastly underappreciated (I’ve worshipped Cary and Fred since I was a wee one, but Cary is a god to me)I love Fred in “Funny Face” and “Top Hat”
Yowza, you guys are making me put a stack of the divine Fred Astaire on my stereo right now! “We joined the Navy, to see the sea, and what did we see?…”xoxoxo
August 7, 2007 at 1:53 pm
grant of course by miles more attractive. the camera loved him.
astaire though, googling some more private photography, really looks extremely subtle, individually dressed and charming.
on the screen though his body always looks too small and his head just a little bit too strangely shaped.
and given my utter disgust for musicals and dance movies in general i think you can guess my answer.
(not an award winning statement – but i am also not in it for the money)
Nature Nut /JJ Loch
August 7, 2007 at 2:12 pm
I agree with you about Fred Astaire. The man didn’t appear to have any seams and wore his suits with ease.
August 7, 2007 at 2:17 pm
but in general, when i think of the best dressed men of the silver screen strangely enough it is always the heavy boys the come to mind:
charles laughtonpeter ustinovstephen fry
(although they might not be of course, they just have this very becoming air about them…)
August 7, 2007 at 2:18 pm
As evidence of Fred Astaire’s superior Sartorialism, let’s consider that he is usually wearing those perfect suits with ease and grace next to Ginger Rogers’ flamboyantly elegant costumes (think of her various feather-trimmed dresses). He isn’t overshadowed by her, nor does upstage her
He can also rock a sailor suit (see Follow the Fleet)!
August 7, 2007 at 2:33 pm
No other man is in the same league as either Grant or Astaire. That said, in my opinion Reagan was a very stylish gent. Never saw him not looking well put together, in a suit or dressed casually. I particularly recall an air force style leather jacket he often wore on those walks across the White House grounds to a waiting helicopter: born to wear it.For balance: JFK was pretty stylish, too.
August 7, 2007 at 2:38 pm
Fred and Ginger exploded into movie theaters with dazzling panoramic sets, over the top melodies, and glistening ballgowns. Yet through all of the saturation of the screen, Astaire’s white tie evening attire focused the highest contrast dead center. Some claim his oversized hands provided his grace of movement, others point to his frame and stature. His interpretation of masculinity walks the fine line of a fop, yet never questions the standards. Excet for maybe The Towering Inferno, we never see Astaire with a hair out of place (and may I take a moment to comment on the quality of that toupee which he wore since his late twenties) or a shirtail untucked. His carefully constructed sartorial persona was calculated in every motion he made. From his highlighted contrasting socks (a la Kelley) to his wide peak lapels, everything was made for opulent visual excitement. Mr. Archibal Leach (aka Cary Grant) also took to a carefully studied image of what a leading man should be. However, instead of wisking away the audience in a fantastical frenzy, the times had changed, and his role needed to reflect the mood of the day. Grant’s masculinity always hovered just below his smile, something akin more to a rough and tumble Hemmingway than Astaire’s Deco shine. Often Grant’s roles placed him in the midst of a troubled situation that he could not dance his way through. His clothes were often subtle, understated, yet never too crisp. As his persona solidifed through his movies, he projected a ease of understatement. To Catch a Thief defined the mediterranean holiday wardrobe, while Houseboat perfected the office standards. Personally, I find Cary Grant’s Edith Head induced wardrobe to be a bit more realistic for most men to aspire to. Astaire may have redefined the Windsor-era Savile Row affectations, yet Grant didn’t need to try that hard. Instead, he relyed on the quality of the clothing to provide an understanding of class and sophistication without announcement. His persona didn’t seem to give a damn, which defines the ultimate attitude for clothing of knowing when not to care.
positively the same dame
August 7, 2007 at 2:42 pm
oh, honey, you’ve got class all right. i have already weighed in on this particular subject, so i’ll just add one brief comment and it pertains to what sally’s quote by edith head and alice olive’s remarks regarding hitchcock actually being the stylesetter when it came to grant. those were the days of the all-powerful studio system and both men were very much a part of that system. the difference was that off screen, cary grant looked like a handsome, well-dressed man (except for those huge glasses later on in life, remember those?) and fred astaire looked like fred astaire, because when it came to style hollywood could teach him nothing.
as to his athleticism, your example of the golf scene in “carefree” has always said it all for me, too. Every time i watch it, and i watch it often, i sit there mesmerized and slightly out of breath. when asked who was the greatest dancer who ever lived, mikhail baryshnikov responded “no dancer can watch fred astaire and not know that we all should have been in another business”.
August 7, 2007 at 2:43 pm
Well…I have always had such the spot in my heart for Cary Grant. What an actor! What a style icon! What a man! I don’t think he was much like George Clooney as some have said…Clooney is lovely and usually well-dressed…takes some influence from Grant, it shows…yet never looks quite as effortless as CG (or as sincere.)
I always thought Cary Grant had a reputation for being thrifty and just wearing ‘any old thing’ that suited his tastes but making it look totally stylish. A man after my own heart! The idea that he didn’t work too hard on fashion has made his fashion even more intriguing. Of course, from the looks of things, he didn’t have to work too hard, like Mr. Schuman said, he was a “perfect hanger” for clothes. (I love the way you phrased that, Sart) I do love Fred Astaire as well, and I do not concede that he wasn’t as ‘attractive’ as CG. He simply had a different look, less ‘mainstream’ and one that I’ve always found dashing, charming, and completely handsome (but then I do have a thing for dancers!) Astaire was suave and I do not think he gets the credit for it because he didn’t have the ‘Hollywood star’ look naturally. Yet I think that even without the clothes, there is something totally alluring about FA. I suppose it’s the confidence, which to me, IS syle. As far as his clothes, sometimes his clothes talk too loudly… I think at times his look was a bit too ‘put together’, too devised, as if he was playing to many tricks of the eys to cover over what he thought were shortcomings. As if his look has been fussed over and fussed over. There’s no denying he always looked GOOD….But the idea that the Grant didn’t really slave over having the most perfected look is really the whole essence of style to me. I’ve always said that people look better when they wear what they want, ‘fashion be damned’, perceived physical foibles be damned as well! Feeling comfortable in your clothes as your second skin and feeling as though what you are wearing is an extension of you boosts the confidence much more than fretting over finding only clothes that you think are 100% flattering in every way…And like I said, to me confidence is style. They both had it in spades! My personal favorite is Grant, perhaps because I’m remembering how Stanley Donen, on the commentary of the film Charade related a story of CG getting the cheapest haircut he could find and still looking like a million bucks. To a degree, style is in the details i.e. Astaire. but to an even larger degree, style is an inherent attitude, and there’s the spot where Grant just noses across the finish line.Now I’ve got to go and watch Top Hat and North by Northwest (and perhaps Funny Face and Indiscreet, too!) just to see if I still agree with that last assessment!If only there were a movie star today who was as swoon-inducing as either of them, I’d go out to the movies a lot more often!
August 7, 2007 at 3:04 pm
August 7, 2007 at 3:07 pm
I know I should be out shooting but i am fascinated by your responses about this subject
I am so proud of the readership I have here
I just read Richard Torregrossa’s response that I will post tomorrow.
It is really good and funny and I can’t wait for the fight – he makes some really good points
August 7, 2007 at 3:08 pm
Cary Grant, his personality puts him over the edge
August 7, 2007 at 3:18 pm
Sart:Thank you for this post! Apples and oranges really but my personal preference is Fred Astaire for his witty and graceful sartorial style. His is a much more British and Yankee eccentric style that I think is more attainable than Cary Grant’s gorgeous Continental polish. Astaire is also a hell of a jazz and pop vocalist — I have a wonderful cd collection of his songs from his “hoofer” days to his movies to his tv specials. I’ll have to revisit his films now.
August 7, 2007 at 3:21 pm
Actually, I have one more comment: if you want to the character in film that most closely represents fred astaire in real life watch “the bandwagon” directed by vincente minnelli. fred’s character was modeled on himself, and the grace and charm (and modesty) you find on screen is pretty much the real fred. the style is all his own, as well. and in it, as in funny face, he really is a leading man.
August 7, 2007 at 3:22 pm
Just one more comment, please: look at the posted picture of Astaire.
He is weightless–his feet do not touch the ground, literally. Arms spread out, he’s in flight. And his jacket IS BUTTONED, which on any other man would appear absurd, but on him only heightens the sense of something unique, masterful (and mastering) and, yes, beautiful–something consummately stylish–occurring.
(And what could be more stylish than the rejection of gravity?)
August 7, 2007 at 3:32 pm
I have to preface my remarks by saying that I have always ALWAYS loved Fred Astaire. Both Cary Grant and Fred Astaire are stylish guys, but in the end, in this particular conversation, I’m going to have to go with Cary Grant.For me, Fred was always the unattainable beauty. His beauty flows from his innate fluidity and his dancing excellence. Every piece of clothing he wore, every movement he made was merely punctuation to his dancing. And face it, that dancing is unattainable. Watching Fred dance, alone, with a partner, or with a hat stand is like watching the aurora borealis. It’s a force of nature so beautiful, so uncomprehensible, it can make you cry without knowing why. Every woman (and probably not a few men) has dreamed of a Fred dancing her away, making her look as good as every one of Fred’s partners looked.Even though his clothes were sometimes quirky and unique (I admit, I never noticed the tie-as-belt until The Sart pointed it out), Fred always looked dressed up, whether he was in tails or shirtsleeves. I think it’s something about dressing-for-dancing. The smaller quirks could be incorporated into modern dressing, but Fred’s look was so uniquely him that to copy it would probably, as Robert said above, veer in to the “realm of costume.” At the very least, it would be obviously retro, rather than timeless.I think Cary Grant is the epitome of timeless. There is an element of elegance that Cary always exuded, despite his size. How difficult is it for a small, slim, graceful man like Fred to seem comfortable in his clothes? Yet Cary was tall, broad, and still always looked at home in his wardrobe. He could match style with Grace Kelly in “To Catch a Thief” or look elegant after having been chased down a dirt road in “North by Northwest”.I am puzzled by all the comments that think of Cary as stuffy, or stiff. His talent as a funny man is quite unarguable. And not just joking funny, but physical humor and expressive humor as well (have you people never seen “The Philadelphia Story”?).As a side note, I have to disagree with the Sart’s comparison of Cary Grant with Brad Pitt (and I am a Brad Pitt fan, mostly). Unlike many other good-looking leading men like Pitt, Cary never seemed to expect his looks to carry him. He always took care with his looks, with his clothes, with his persona. And of course, I can’t overlook Cary’s exceptional acting chops. I love his movies, but Fred was always Fred. On the other hand, Cary could be the funny man (Arsenic and Old Lace), or the straight man (Operation Petticoat), or the intriguing man of mystery (Charade) or myriad other personas. And in every movie, he is simply mesmerizing, and not just for his looks.So in the end, I have to vote for Cary. And now, I feel as though I must go watch some old movies.
The Clothes Horse
I agree that Fred Astaire is more of a satorialist than Grant. But have you completely forgotten Gene Kelly?
August 7, 2007 at 3:33 pm
When I dress myself in the morning, I often have a slew of images running through my head. Photos of women in Vogue, Harper’s Bazaar, the oh-so-fashionable woman I saw walking down the street yesterday, and even this blog’s photos. And while all these sources show beautiful women in beautiful outfits, I have to distill the elements that will work for me. My personal style is my choice – an expression of my personality and not dictated by any outside influence. That defined sense of self that gives a genuine quality to an extremely well dressed person is exactly what makes him (or her) a fashion icon.
In movies, when I watch Fred Astaire, I can’t help but feel if I met him on the street he would look the same way: smart suits, wonderful details, interesting colors and patterns and a casual sense of humor to it all. But I doubt I would recognize Cary Grant if he was walking down the street because Cary Grant didn’t exist except for on the screen. Archibald Leach was Grant’s real name, and the style I see on the screen is that character’s: not the man himself.
Like Sart spoke of in “Flying Down to Rio” perhaps the reason Astaire can treat him suit so casually is because it was his own. Grant however is often stiff in his roles, he doesn’t move much. He may have been an acrobat, but how much of that does one see on screen? One striking example for me is all the action scenes in “Charade.” Grant’s movements seem so clipped, as if he can’t raise his arms above his head. Perhaps Grant is so reserved in his movies because he is holding Archie Leach back. “Once told by an interviewer, ‘Everybody would like to be Cary Grant,’ Grant is said to have replied, ‘So would I.’ “ (http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0000026/bio)
If you go way back to the beginning of Cary Grants career, movies like “Gungadeen” and “Holiday” the Cary Grant I see there is a world away from the Grant in “An Affair to Remember.” At the beginning, Grant is blundering: forgetting his cockney accent half the time and his wardrobe is entirely forgettable. But in “An Affair to Remember,” Grant is cool and collected, debonair and stylish. He has had time to develop the character he had to play all the time – and that character’s wardrobe.
Astaire however is stylish from the beginning to the end, “Gay Divorcee” to “The Pleasure of His Company”. And that is because it is himself we are seeing on screen, not an MGM manufactured man. However debonair and modern Grant may have been – we’ll never really know who Archie Leach was. Astair was the true Sart because he wore his heart on his sleeve – or rather, on his suit.
August 7, 2007 at 3:34 pm
Cary Grant OR Fred Astaire? Good God, how can one choose without feeling guilty of utter betrayal? That said, I have to fall into the Fred camp, mainly I think, because of a youth mostly mispent at the Regency Theater on Broadway (pre-home video). It was there I discovered Astaire and first realized how much clothes, and more importantly, personal style could be an outward expression of inner joy . When Astaire danced, it was as if his sheer pleasure at just being alive was virtually oozing from him. Who among us has watched him dance and not come away touched by that joy? His clothes and how he wore them seem to me to have been another manifestation of that internal exuberance. As a kid looking at Cary Grant, I could wish I was like him. Looking at Fred Astaire I could think that, if I brought forth what was already in me, I would be myself the way he was himself. Finally, I would say that, yeah, Cary is the most handsome man in the history of movies, but if you look at the way Fred would hold out his hand to Ginger at the start of a dance, is there any wonder he always got the girl?
August 7, 2007 at 3:37 pm
If someone came to a contemporary party as the casually dressed Grant character from ‘Father Goose’ he would look stylish and fit right in. No one would see his look as especially odd
Similiarly if someone went to a dinner party in the suit Grant wore in ‘North by North West’ he would just look timelessly elegant.
Now that’s style… to have a look that is so on the money it doesn’t ever date….
If someone came dressed as Astaire , people would assume they’d made a mistake and thought it was a fancy dress party….
However, I do agree with Scott that it’s never a good idea to just accept someone as stylish just because you are told they are…but in the case of Grant believe the evidence of your own eyes.
To me Astaire has a distinctive look and is exceptionally graceful….but i wouldn’t use the word stylish about him or Gene Kelly
August 7, 2007 at 3:48 pm
Both are too marvelous. Too marvelous for words.
But, here is the cold breakdown:
Do you want charm or do you want sex?
August 7, 2007 at 3:53 pm
I think that Fred Astaire’s style was befitting of his movies and time. I think those who try a few of Astaire’s tricks may look out of place today, but not unstylish. Cary Grant’s style, being more minimalist, has more of a timeless feel to it. In my mind he is, and always will be a man who dressed absolutely perfect for himself.
August 7, 2007 at 4:05 pm
While I love Cary Grant, I love and worship Fred Astaire. The epitome of grace, elegance and joy — pure joy. Which is what I feel whenever I see him dance. As for the rest, every Fred-lover who has commented before me else has said it all.
August 7, 2007 at 4:31 pm
Personally, I think Gene Kelly beats them both. He’s really underrated in the style department
Jimmy Stewart as well.
August 7, 2007 at 4:50 pm
Oh Scott, what a wonderful little essay, one of my favorite posts. You’re a writer as well as a photographer, fancy that!
And kudos to the many commenters and their passionate, well-thought arguments.
As for me, it’s hard to choose. As others have said, both did what they did well, and are enormously appealing, albeit in quite different ways. But I know I’d rather date Fred than Cary!
August 7, 2007 at 4:59 pm
What nostalgia! My parents, who grew up in the depression, always defined Astaire as the vision of class, usually comparing him with Gene Kelly. As a kid I simplistically thought Kelly was the better looker and obviously didn’t get it.
The big difference between Astaire and Grant is that Astaire was costumed to dance, whereas Grant had a knack as the gentleman comedian, which required understated dressing. These characterizations defined the visual styles of these 20th C. giants. I think of the quirks you mention about Astaire as being effete–the exception being they are appropriate flourishes as dance costume.
As much as I love HItchcock suspense or Rogers and Astaire romps, being in a movie theater as part of the collective thrill of witnessing Grant in His Girl Friday or Arsenic and Old Lace is as good as it gets. I can feel the lighthearted tears rolling down my cheeks just thinking about it.
August 7, 2007 at 5:19 pm
Another reader delurking. I’ve been a Fred Astaire man from the first time I read Alan Flusser. He’s had a lot of influence on how I dress and think about clothes — although he and I have very different body types, more’s the pity for me. The fact that women ask me “What socks are you wearing today?” is a small tribute to Astaire.
That and the fact that I know the words to “They All Laughed.”
Laguna Beach Trad
August 7, 2007 at 5:25 pm
Cary Grant by a long shot! His cool, sophisticated, self-deprecating manner was very attractive. There was something classically masculine and dignified about the man, which qualities his clothes only served to accentuate. Even compared to fellow besuited actors, CG comes across as a real man who had his act together, without seeming plastic. Astaire, by contrast, IMO, was like a class clown who kept pulling tricks and acting like a goofball in order to get people to like him. Astaire’s whole schtick seemed more contrived and artificial, as his use of often garish clothing demonstrated.
August 7, 2007 at 5:28 pm
In the movie Charade, Cary Grant by then an aging movie star who was suffering criticism for being too old for his young co-star Audrey Hepburn, created arguably the best scene in the movie:
REGINA. What are you doing?
DYLE. Taking off my shoes; what do you think I’m doing? Did you ever hear of anyone taking a shower with their shoes on? [Starts humming, going to the bathroom] I usually sing a medley of old favourites when I’m in the shower. [Stopping as he goes in] Oh: any requests?
REGINA. Shut the door.
DYLE. Oh, I’m afraid I don’t know that one, Miss. [Continuing on] Well…
REGINA. Shut the door!
DYLE. Why? Come in and watch. [He turns on the shower and gets in, fully clothed. He sings, "do-de-do"ing, as he rubs himself down with soap. Regina stands agape] Drip-dry!
REGINA. How often do you go through this little ritual?
DYLE. Oh, every day; the manufacturer recommends it.
REGINA. I don’t believe it.
DYLE. Oh yes, it’s— wait a minute. Read the label… look, look at the small print: “Wearing this suit during washing helps protect its shape”. Waterproof. [Pulling off his belt, holding it up] Acronylon, * resistant, plastic, [the phone rings] rust-proof, fly-proof, proo-proof*!
And there you have a man who knows how to make even a wet suit look like a million bucks.
August 7, 2007 at 5:31 pm
Yes!!! Wonderful Essay Sart. I adore Fred Astaire! He is the only man who can pull off spats and a pinky ring without looking too “gangster” or “costume cliche”. I have watched his movies many times and his grace, style, and elegant moves brings me to tears.
Cary Grant is suave and handsome. I have never noticed his clothes. You are correct, his beauty (like Pitt) overshadows everything!
Gene Kelly deserves a mention too. Kelly in “An American in Paris”. Sexy muscles in tight polos in the 1950′s!
Last, Valerie Bertinelli from “One day at a Time?” Oh my, I like her, but never considered her a “beauty”!
August 7, 2007 at 5:33 pm
Definately Astaire. He proved you don’t need matinee idol looks to look smashing as he always did. And, you usually were always aware of the great shoes. You got a total picture of a complete style icon.
August 7, 2007 at 5:37 pm
They were both gods but I think Astaire tried a bit too hard, too much of the time.
I’ve a photo of him somewhere wearing a button down oxford cloth shirt with a double breasted flannel suit. And a collar pin. And a tie bar, pocket square, and boutonniere. The effect is dizzying rather than elegant.
Grant, on the other hand, was always just about perfect.
August 7, 2007 at 5:47 pm
ok sarthere’s the deal:why does it have to be a grant vs astaire?i think you kind of answered it yourself in your own words. they each developed their own personal style. grant would look ridiculous wearing some the “quirky” styles that astaire wore. it would not fit his personality nor his physique. and i think astaire would come across as looking quite boring and skinny in grant’s style. haven’t you ever seen someone in an outfit that looks amazing on that person. you think to yourself “wow that guy has some great style. i love that on him” then you go and try on the same outfit or same cut and you look absolutely pathetic in it? ( case in point, i think alot of men are going to look terrible in thom browne and very few will look amazing) i know that has happened to you. just because that style doesn’t work on you doesn’t make your style less “sartorial” and the other person’s more “sartorial.”i think it would be really sad if we don’t include fashion awareness of personality and physique as qualities that deem one to be sartorial.come on sart, you know this already.
August 7, 2007 at 5:49 pm
I love what you’re saying. I just wonder about Astaire and Grant’s movie wardrobes. Wouldn’t those “clothes” really be COSTUMES, designed by someone, or bought by someone on the film staff?
Perhaps this mightn’t be the case with their street clothes (or would it? Image was very controlled by film studio bosses back then)–or would it?
I like to think these fellows chose their own, but I wonder.
August 7, 2007 at 5:55 pm
If you want Astaire’s look, go to Anderson & Sheppard and insist they cut a pattern modelled on the ’30′s look.You’d need a short back neck, higher cut armholes, and very pronounced, open front quarters.The jacket will then look very soft, youthful,fluid and lightweight, and the length of your leg will be enhanced.Mix that with a preppy Brooks Bros. sensibility, and presto, you too can be Fred.
August 7, 2007 at 5:57 pm
one name: David Niven.
love the blog
August 7, 2007 at 6:18 pm
I’m more of a Gene Kelly girl but Cary Grant always wins for suits :)
August 7, 2007 at 6:22 pm
Word Sarto!Astaire is THE most sartorial man of that era. No doubt.
August 7, 2007 at 6:27 pm
Gene Kelly admits it himself:
“If Fred Astaire is the Cary Grant of dance, I’m the Marlon Brando.”
I love Fred Astaire, thanks!
August 7, 2007 at 6:54 pm
This is not a difficult one at all. Astire had style,Grant looked good in clothing. Astire’s style was and is his enduring legacy. Sure Grant looked “swell” but he would never use a tie as a belt ……..
August 7, 2007 at 7:05 pm
Fred Astaire. In his clothes, with his style, he is wonderfully attractive. If he wore different clothes, he would be just a guy. Cary Grant would be wonderfully attractive anyway. He’s just dressed.
August 7, 2007 at 8:43 pm
This is a tough one! I have to go with Cary Grant for pure beefiness. As for a danceman, I would have to go with Gene Kelly as well. Sorry Fred!
August 7, 2007 at 8:52 pm
> How about Gene Kelly?
Maybe we could run Gregory Peck vs Gene Kelly as a second match on the card….
August 7, 2007 at 8:53 pm
Cay Grant had wore camel socks…almost without fail a very subtle chic detail…not in your face i like that ;)
August 7, 2007 at 9:22 pm
I can’t speak much about Astaire, I rented Funny Face and haven’t watched it yet, but I grew up watching Cary Grant movies.
Why should they be compared? Can’t they just both be very stylish men for different reasons.
August 7, 2007 at 9:28 pm
While I agree that this post encourages a healthy and valid debate, I have just one point to make: Fred Astaire often complained about his costumes. He disliked the top hat and tails and other fashions of high society that he was made to wear for many of the films that you and other bloggers have mentioned. While it is undoubtedly true that he had a more idiosyncratic personal style, does that necessarily make him better than Cary Grant? I don’t think so. Assuming that the two had equal clout with studio wardrobe departments, I would have to say that Cary Grant is the more stylish man as he was able to bring his personal style to the silver screen for all of his roles.
August 7, 2007 at 9:35 pm
Astaire, all the way, not just for sartorial things, but in every aspect of everything.Which is not to say I’d don’t love Grant.
I have to say, when I opened up your blog today and saw the post I was amazed and pleased. Neither Astaire nor Grant are talked about much anymore and this just reaffirmed everything that is great about your blog.
August 7, 2007 at 9:38 pm
Give Gary Cooper a look. Grant was most graceful, Astaire theatrical, but mon ami Garee Coopaire ters elegante.
August 7, 2007 at 9:45 pm
I’m with you on Fred Astaire. Watch him in Swing Time as a dancing man down on his luck, with nothing but the suit on his back. That suit just happens to be perfectly tailored morning clothes (he’s run out on his wedding to a small town girl). The scene where he first woos Ginger Rogers by pretending not to know how to dance (“Pick Yourself Up”) is an essay in Art Deco style, from her black bias cut dress with the fan collar to the white fence around the dancing studio.
I agree with you about the moment he pushes up his sleeve- it’s something to do with the seamless way he just seems to walk into a dance. In “Swing Time” this point is also made emphatically from “Pick Yourself Up” to “Never Gonna Dance.” In order to dance, you must first learn how to walk. Both dances start out with walking. A walking not simply from point A to point B, but from everday reality into art. I think that’s also happening when he light adjusts his sleeve before he dances. It says “this is real,” but also “this is art.”
August 7, 2007 at 9:54 pm
Interesting that so many people have talked about their relative masculinity without mentioning their sexuality. Astaire could afford to be a little more colorful and creative in his dress partly because he was straight, right? (And because he was a dancer, and smaller framed, etc.) Grant would probably have raised too many eyebrows if he dressed with that much flair. I think he had to butch it down a little.
By the way, I love the other suggestions: Gene Kelly, sure; William Powell and David Niven, yes! And don’t forget James Mason…Steven Fry is a stone cold fox, I think; but then I’ll always go for the guy who can dance and make me laugh over the beauty (Rick Moranis over Brad Pitt any day).
And I love the high waisted pants.
August 7, 2007 at 10:01 pm
Are you asking which man is more ‘sartorial’, which man is more ‘well-dressed’? With this clarification, I believe Cary Grant embodies every quality of the well-dressed gentleman, and Fred Astaire possesses the sartorial gift of creativity.
If I were to give advice to a noob young professional who needed to build a wardrobe, honestly I could just send him a Cary Grant coffee table book. But I would never send him pictures of Fred Astaire, because it is a more advanced look – in my opinion, of course. Mimicking Astaire’s look requires a bit of understanding with regards to the basics of style.
August 7, 2007 at 10:34 pm
Fred hands down…. just look @ Fred Astaire Style: http://www.amazon.com/Astaire-Style-Memoire-Bruce-Boyer/dp/2843236770
August 7, 2007 at 10:36 pm
depends on the mood…depends whether i feel like i have a funny face or going north by northwest…but i’ll say this…they don’t make ‘em like they used to…
August 7, 2007 at 10:51 pm
What a great idea. With respect to Fred Astaire being the most athletic, graceful, etc. I take it that you have never seen the Nicholas Brothers. Check them out. No comparison athletically nor satorially.
August 7, 2007 at 11:04 pm
Just reinforces that you can never do fashion for fashion’s sake. You MUST take your own body shape and situation into account. Not only what looks good on you but also how your clothes need to perform when you’re wearing them
August 7, 2007 at 11:07 pm
Cary Grant is like a ‘Prince’; rather wearing it the safe way, non experimental, just looking handsome.Fred Astaire on the other hand is the ‘Clown’ with many different faces and outfits and being very ‘jumpy’. He is also respected in the music world.
August 7, 2007 at 11:42 pm
YES!!!! The Nicholas Brothers!!! And Bill “Bojangles” Robinson. Ever seen Stormy Weather?
It’s a whole nother sartorialist head entirely!!
I think this conversation is not just about the style, but the underlygin character and the depth of the men being discussed. And, in that regard, all are equally splendid. True?
August 7, 2007 at 11:51 pm
amazing…utterly amazing, and wonderful. i love this. thank you, scott.
August 8, 2007 at 12:04 am
Love them both, and I won’t compare. And thanks to all who mentioned Mr. Kelly (mmm and Mr. Flynn).
What’s interesting is that most responders seem to have the impression that Grant just stepped into his clothes, not having to work against any of his physical characteristics. In reality, he had his clothes made (very early on, very much pre-Edith Head, thank you) to accentuate his assets and draw away from what he believed where liabilities. For example, his shirts and suits are cut to minimize his very developed, yet sloping (as is common with acrobats) shoulders and thick neck. Note how his shirt collars are cut high and the roll of his suit collars. He also learned a great deal about clothes from his father, who was a presser for a garment manufacturer (I think)–his father told him to buy the best suit he could afford, for even when he was down and out, people recognized quality. Grant may be seen as the epitome of the sophisticated Continental, but he’s such an American story–the immigrant who reinvents himself.
Astaire, Grant, and Kelly shared an awareness of their bodies–and how to use style to their advantage.
Fave Kelly story: in Interview mag way back when, he stated that one of the worst fashion “don’ts” for a man was wearing his baseball cap on backwards.
August 8, 2007 at 1:01 am
Excellent summation. Fred Astaire was so wonderful in so many ways. He was exacting in the image he created for himself, both in his movements and in his clothing. Some of my favorite looks of his: the plaid-lined jacket in _Funny Face_, the sailor’s suit and cocked hat in _Follow the Fleet_, and the shirt sleeves in so, so many films.
However, I feel this discussion has by and large overlooked Grant as comedian. One thing that I love, both in personality and in fashion, is the ability not to take oneself too seriously, a talent which Grant exudes. Yes, he was exacting in regards to his personal wardrobe. If something didn’t fit the way he felt it should, he had no qualms about returning it to the tailor. Films like _Philadelphia Story_, _Notorious_, and _North by Northwest_ reflect this. But, trained as an acrobat, what he was so good at was using his whole body to make people laugh, and that included his wardrobe.
After all, what male star of the era would have donned a maribou-trimmed bathrobe and horn-rimmed glasses as in _Bringing up Baby_? He pitched the laughs to perfection in _My Favorite Wife_ by putting together an outfit for his wife – using himself as the model. And as an unshaven, pink-shirt-wearing beach bum with loafers and no socks in _Father Goose_? Perfection.
From the last film, my favorite moment has to be when Grant, having been working on his boat,spots a Japenese plane in the sky. He knows he has to go back to the hut and report it, but before doing anything, he takes off his boater’s cap and puts on a well-worn and sun-bleached fedora, brushing its brim on the cuff of his sleeve. He’s on an island inhabited by himself and 8 women and girls (wearing his clothes) for which he doesn’t give a hoot – he has no need to change his hat. But he understood the function, value, and power of clothes. Just when you thought you had him down, he’d throw you a curveball.
August 8, 2007 at 2:10 am
I don’t even know who Cary Grant is!! the name is definately familiar (and i am only seventeen) but i definately do know who Fred Astaire is. And he has great style. I could marry him!
August 8, 2007 at 3:38 am
Grant versus Astaire? It’s like comparing Frank Sinatra with Chet Baker. Same milieu, different jobs.For personal inspiration I’d go with Grant, purely because his style is more accessible. I can hardly imagine walking out of my door with a tie around my waist (although I’m sure there are more flamboyant types among you who’d do so in a trice), but I might be able to stretch to a suit from Kilgour, French and Stanbury (Grant’s Savile Row tailor). Grant has a more masculine, less fussy mode of dress that aligns him with Gable and Bogart rather than Astaire. But, by God, Astaire can move. He’s so nimble, the women he dances with look like they’re wearing concrete boots. He even walks rhythmically. Frankly, with his natural grace Astaire could wear a cap-sleeve T-shirt and still set the screen alight.
August 8, 2007 at 5:30 am
I like style quirks… Fred Astaire. More interesting.
August 8, 2007 at 6:01 am
August 8, 2007 at 6:05 am
You are awesome for this post. I agree totally. I especially love the tie belts he used.
Miss Jean Brodie
August 8, 2007 at 6:07 am
I suppose that it is all about how the studios of the time packaged the two stars. Grant was there to be adored, swooned over etc and therefore needed to be more obviously aspirational. Astaire was there to do a different job and be admired for something quite different.Would Grant have been such an “acting icon” had he not been as good looking? Yes, he had great lines to say but without them…?Astaire had something else in so far as he was an all-rounder, someone who would probably have made it whatever, and maybe that leads to his being more comfortable in his own skin, something that I never quite feel with Grant.
August 8, 2007 at 6:10 am
I think it’s great to see the amount of comments this entry has generated. I cannot abstain from the discussion, with the risk of repeating some of the observations mentioned by others before me. The question of style, or personal style at that, is judged from the perspective of the man-on-the-street. There is a distinction between being highly original (think haute couture) artistic, remarkable, unique, but also unimitable VS being pretty, somewhat original, practical, wearable, fitting not an individual but a general segment of the society (prêt à porter). In discussing Astaire vs Grant, I think that the man-on-the-street would see Grant as the one who could inspire trends and copycats (more or less successful), whereas Astaire could be the unique, the original – I doubt actually that he could be copied. He could inspire others to be self-aware and express their own style, but (as opposed to Grant), I don’t think that one could say “I want to buy the same look as Astaire’s”. My preference goes to Astaire because of his self-awareness, creativity and to some extent courage to be himself, even if different.
August 8, 2007 at 6:12 am
what about gene kelly? that man was something else.
August 8, 2007 at 7:11 am
Cary Grant was of course stylish, but as everyone else has pointed out, he was incredibly handsome, and good-looking people can look fantastic in almost anything.
Saying that, I like the minimal style of Grant. Fred Astaire on the other hand has always had my intense admiration as a dancer and performer and to me the difference betweent he two is that his style of dressing is accessible and while wonderful, seems almost secondary to his overall style, which, to me, is how it should be. Effortless, yet something that others can aspire to.
August 8, 2007 at 8:06 am
both of them waaaaaay to old for my taste… are they even alive?Besides, i don’t see any sex appeal.
August 8, 2007 at 8:47 am
scott, on second thought a truly interesting question and one to contemplate on a summer’s day. — so here is something more for your rich collection:
in a way german author thomas mann (“death in venice”) circled all of his life around this phenomenon. mann’s leitmotif is exactly this inner conflict of the artist (the bajazzo, the clown) vs. the man of the world (the man with clear direction, the man not concerned with himself but grounded in this world). mann, the (secretly homosexual) author, spends all of his life looking with envy at the normal people. the more normal, the less concerned with the playful mannerism of the artist folk (the less ‘southern european’ in his words) the more adorable to him. – mann also knows and feels that he can never be a part of this life and in his rich body of work he explores exactly this conflict and his suffering.
mann describes the ‘others’ – those who live in the world, not in their own creation, those with true gravity – in a way that can perfectly make you think of cary grant vs. fred astaire. grant is the cultivated guy, who loves poetry, music etc. but only to an extend that it can never harm him – and grant played soccer at high school or football – and somebody like astaire never did.
it is this style, grant’s style, which is so clean and so anonymous that it almost borders to having no style at all, that thomas mann, trapped in thinking about identity matters all of the time, adored more than anything else. – a man from the real world – a real man – clean, invincible, untouchable, and not to be irritated by matters of vanity.
grant’s no-style style, although the items he wares look much like they all come from the uninspired corners of nordstroms, even today – in combination with his very specific presence – has lost nothing of its incredible dignity.
and even as today we are all more astaires in the way we construct our identities, people like cary grant have lost nothing of their original flavor. in our world of fashion and style they may be an endangered species, but their pure gravity still always blows every room – and their pure presence still always makes you stop and think… (… that they are hopefully, probably, actually slightly boring people. – thank god! – party on!)
August 8, 2007 at 8:54 am
Superb original post and thanks to all the contributors who commented so intelligently.
The shot the other day (August 3) of the guy in shorts and a toque, where the stunning redhead is striding out of the picture, was so charming. So hilarious how nearly everyone went wild about her.
Today we have Grant-Astaire debate and I must say this is the Internet at its best! A few days ago Elton John said the Internet should be ‘turned off’ for 5 years (why 5??) but if he sees this post he’ll be eating his hairpiece… Actually who knows, he might even be commenting here, as Anonymous… ;o)
Good work Sart and all you mini-Sarts and Sartesses out there!
August 8, 2007 at 9:41 am
CG on the roof = timeless elegance and style. Except for the socks !Probably stylish then – now not.
August 8, 2007 at 10:03 am
I do not see how one can compare these two men and be any sort of serious. Fred Astaire is an iconic musical film star and Grant stradles film noir/comedy/nouvelle vague. Both are perfectly fabulous and have an accurate hold for what works with their image and personal style. However, I believe it is unfair to choose whatsmore between these two gentlemen. Comparing a Hitchcock film to that of a musical is unfair at best, thusly comparing the outfits doned by the characters in them is an unbalanced arguement. Cary Grant will go down as one of the most attractive men in history . . .even if he is wearing a brown paper bag, because he really is that amazingly attractive. Fred Astaire will go down as one of the most talented dancers of our era . . .even if he has to sport a sailor uniform and tap-shoes. These men are perfectly delightful within their own genres and individual personas. To solidify my point I challenge folks to check out the youtube clips of Fred Astaire dancing to “Putting on the Ritz” and Cary Grant keeping up with Katherine Hepburn in “Bringing up baby.”
August 8, 2007 at 11:04 am
WOW, what an interesting concept. I’d like to start my own X vs. Y old movie star style post on my own blog. Are you cool with that? Off course, I don’t know if I can be as knowledgeable as you on such things. I have just been in love with the Sartorialist for sooo long, but this is by far one of the best posts I’ve seen!!
August 8, 2007 at 12:00 pm
This is a cruel assignment, Sartorialist, but now that you have posted the excerpt from the book, I must try to win it!
Cary Grant edges out Fred Astaire for me by looking like *he just can’t help looking fabulous.* The way he looks seems to be the last thing on his mind as he jets about, solving important international mysteries. He just throws on anything and carries it off.
Fred Astaire looks great but is actively and openly working to achieve greatness. He wants to give the audience a visual feast because that’s what dancers are trained to do. So everything about him is perfect, from the cock of the head to the shine on the shoes, but it’s all bursting at the seams with performance endorphins. To me, it’s a slightly less amazing gift.
August 8, 2007 at 12:15 pm
plus: after reading a little bit on CG’s biographical data… it is quite astonishing to find that such an impeccable surface can actually have such a rough and diverse background.
the fact that his style lacks any personal handwriting and (therefore) creates the quintessential male, is even more astonishing when you find that this was not passed down to him by his family – but that it instead was pure self creation.
so perfectly walking the line as if he was born and raised for that – but instead his biography suggests that he was more than familiar with the ‘dangers’ and temptations that are waiting for you on the sidetracks.
quite a masterful creation. what a talent. – define it once and then let go — don’t think about it anymore. what a master of focussed attitude. laser sharp.
August 8, 2007 at 12:20 pm
Cary Grant embodied the time period. His handsomeness illuminated whatever rags he decided to throw on. He didn’t need clothing to characterize himself… he was already established. He sits in our memories as “well-dressed” simply because his good looks and natural ease brought clothing to life. We remember him as the ladies’ man, the cougar, the hunk that he was. We include “well-dresssed” simply because this seems synonymous with the aforementioned adjectives.
Astaire, however, earned street cred as a well-dressed man because of his outstanding eye for piecing together a look. Though he may not have recieved due praise during his lifetime, we look upon his legacy and remember him as downright dapper. To this day, people strive to imitate Astaire’s personal style. Not because he was the most handsome man, nor because he macked the most honeys, but because he was a gentleman of artistic talent. And he dressed the part.
August 8, 2007 at 12:27 pm
P.s. You could always tell with Astaire, fashion was fun.
August 8, 2007 at 12:47 pm
Although Fred Astaire is certainly an embodiment of class and elegance, my pick is Cary Grant, who remains the quintessential Hollywood leading man – the ultimate charmer, possessing the charisma, wit, humour & sex appeal all the while looking dapper in the process.
Trends come and go, but style is something that one possesses for a lifetime. Case in point here we are in 2007 discussing two stylish men of the ages, who in their heyday, set the standards of style.
But what really makes a man stylish? While knowing what flattering clothes to wear, keen eye for accessorizing, consistency & having one’s sartorial personality are all part of it – style is really a blend of what you wear and how you carry yourself. The way a man carries himself can make the difference.
Archibald Leach (Cary Grant) transformed himself into the model of a debonair man. As one of Grant’s biographer’s aptly suggested, “Grant’s greatest creation was the illusion that the suave Cary Grant really existed off-screen”. Probably one the most stylish man ever, James Bond and the men who portray the character had this confident, no-nonsense air about them. These points proves that style comes mainly from within. It’s all in the attitude. Something that Cary Grant knew especially since he made it a point to look for roles that made him be the object of the leading lady’s swooning affection & desire – not the other way around.
George Clooney has been labeled numerous times as the new Cary Grant. George Clooney in turn is considered to be one of the most stylish men of today. Simply stated, Cary Grant’s classic style continues to deeply resonate with men and women as the archetypal example of a stylish man.
Yours in style,
M. SilvaToronto, ON
August 8, 2007 at 2:31 pm
Grant, for the gravitas.
August 9, 2007 at 4:40 pm
Didn’t know how to comment this, I know too little about it for valuable input. But I’ve enjoyed the debate on the topic. And this – ‘With Cary Grant, it would like me taking in a picture of Brad Pitt to Saks and the sales guy telling me no amount of money is going to get me to Pitt-level but I might hit a Rick Moranis high.’ – made me laugh. The self-deprecation, it’s almost amazing.
August 9, 2007 at 6:22 pm
It may be pretentious of me to post “defenses” of both, and I admit I do so in part in hope of gaining the prizes of one or both books – as they would be treasured much. In the end, I can draw no conclusions (perhaps I lack Mr. Torregrossa’s confidence) except that we need both Grant and Astaire, and desperately. Cary Grant, I think, is the icon that could re-introduce the suit, whose history could force, broad-shouldered, the classic back into prominence. His elegantly simple clothes and his ability to re-focus them around his face (he wore tails only once to my knowledge, with a extremely fitted jacket – which divides the legs from upper body) allows him to be a style icon for businessmen, men who need power and confidence, who, were they to wear a tie as a belt would suffer not only the derision of the people from whom they must win confidence, but worse, the derision of their own self-assurance. The simple effectiveness of Grant’s dress is fitting for such men. What is perhaps even more interesting is the way Cary Grant’s style have become all the more fitting for our time. It does not strike me as right that Astaire is regarded as the “common man” of the two, because, while Grant is undoubtedly handsome, he lacks Astaire’s lean aesthetic, which permitted him to be dashing in tails. The common (American, at least) man seems to mimic more Grant’s figure, larger, broader of shoulder, and less graceful. I can not help but think many of my acquaintances would look horrifying in a tie-belt or socks to match the shirt, and, as Esquire’s Things a Man Should Know about Style said “Tails make most men look like a penguin. You, sir, are most men.” Grant’s style, too, is fitting for Suburbia. Strange how many of Grant’s films have a long sequence in the country (especially compared to Astaire, who almost continually remains in the city.) and this country-readiness seems fitting for his “professorial” dress, of Bringing Up Baby and Monkey Business. A man who can match city and country is fitting for Suburbia, where one must remain confident in surroundings that do not inspire the confidence of the city, without the straight lines of towers. Though I can not agree with some of his statements about Astaire’s style, I am fascinated by the way Mr. Torregrossa’s rhetoric mimic’s both Grant’s character and dress. Cary Grant is a thunderhouse, his grey suits mimicking grey clouds and grey concrete, power and certainty. Only a man who is certain of his conclusions could speak so certainly about the failings of so great a performer. In Mr. Torregrossa’s rhetoric, too, is the power of Grant’s personality. Astaire sometimes would hang back, a secondary character, until the time came for him to dance, Cary Grant, when he is on screen, is the center of attention almost always, even when faced with a monster of a man as in Arsenic and Old Lace.Why then, do we need Astaire? Because Astaire, too, could re-introduce classic style. I live in Southern California, where even Grant’s square-edged pocket square is widely regarded as foppish, pretentious (sometimes I loathe this state.) Astaire did not dress to define a style, but was a thing of constant invention, in both functionality and appearance. He had the assurance of a man born upon clouds, an assurance wholly different from Grant’s confidence. His invention, if properly applied, could allow the re-introduction of classic styling into a minimalist culture of white t-shirts and jeans. Astaire could take what existed and make it work for him. He could dance with broomsticks and coat racks, on floor or ceiling, and his style is the same. I have little doubt that were Astaire given jeans and a white t-shirt, he would do something, something, that would make it classic, something that would push the edges of the uniform, not in a way that would instantly become uniform, but in a way that would make others desire the same invention and self-assurance. Mr. Boyer, too, seems to write in a fitting way (as was mentioned in a response to his post) for Astaire. I have long admired Mr. Boyer’s book Elegance which, too, seems to be fitting for this sort of understanding – it is a book of self-assurance, assured that the man reading it wants to know the histories of fabrics, the significance of what he wears, and assured that any man, given proper encouragement, can don a silk neck-scarf and face the world.There is value and danger in both approaches. On many men Astaire’s innovations would be unbearably pretentious, on some, perhaps, Cary Grant’s clothes would be unbearably dull. If we do not learn from both, we will become unaware of our own selves, lost in a culture of one or the other. We will loose our ability to dress above and beyond, and through our dress to experience life above and beyond the normal. Some have much to learn from Cary Grant, others have much to learn from Fred Astaire. It is not for me too tell them which they may learn from, though I am happy to suggest when I can, but ultimately, clothes, to me, are about finding one’s own way through a field rich with history and possibility, and if we were to loose either of these great figures, we would diminish not only our understanding of that history and possibility, but we would loose our understanding of the remainder. Cary Grant would not look as powerful without the contrast of Astaire’s flippant style, Astaire’s flippant style would look foppish without Grant’s simplicity. In the end, such a diminished understanding of the past would decrease our understanding of the present, and the disease of ignorance would spread far over a field already too dark with the scorched earth of passing fashion and polyester ties.
August 10, 2007 at 12:30 pm
Lachipie— Edith Head “chose” clothes for Grant the same way she designed those Givenchy gowns for Audrey in Sabrina!
Head was a notorious liar who passed off other’s work as her own–she got her first job by using her student’s work in her portfolio.
August 11, 2007 at 6:10 pm
Personally. I feel it is very hard to pit these to extremely stylish men against each other.
each had there own distinguishable style that worked for them. Grant was a sophisticate and had a simple elegance that he exuded. even in the beginning scene of to catch a thief, where he wears a striped sweater and red scarf, he simply cant help but exude a natural style. to catch a thief was a film where his wardrobe wasnt the cookie cutter suit constantly and almost stereotypically donned by grant.
while astaire he was seemingly graceful, and i think that due to his face, he could pull of such quirky outfit choices. saying quirky when compared to those of grant.
if grant were to wear some of the things astaire wore, it would be easy to call him over the top, or exaggerating. now if astaire were to wear some grant attire, he could be called simple, possibly even drab. it just wasnt his style.
they are each undeniably some of the best dressed men in film. yet each contributes in a different way.
the same way it would be difficult to compare audrey hepburn with marylin monroe. stunningly beautiful women, yet each with a style that defined them personally.
July 24, 2008 at 11:08 am
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June 13, 2009 at 11:40 am
I go with Fred Astaire certainly. I agree with that Cary Grant was quite stuffy. Fred Astaire democratized and liberated the word "elegance" that often overused at him. He made elegance so effortlessly and every man wants to be like him. His lithe figure always looked good and especially good when he moves. What makes this fine gentleman and his amiable style is truly a wonder of a time-being.
July 25, 2009 at 1:05 am
I'm really glad Gene Kelly was brought up so many times because he was definitely the sexiest and the most athletic in my opinion.He looked good in anything :)Also where's that documentary where youbring fred to your parents and gene with you because now i'm interested…oh and to go with this discussions grant is better looking
July 29, 2013 at 11:21 am
Bravo! Fab post! My two favorite actors of all time. You were spot on the description and differentiation between these two stylish gentlemen. I discovered Astaire & Rogers when I was about ten and to this day I scour thrift shoppes for old striped Brooks Brothers ties to wear as a belt with skirts and pants. Just wanted to stop and commend you on an awesome post!
January 1, 2014 at 2:53 am
Let’s also remember the DESIGNERS dressed both Astaire and Grant for each movie.