Since we have so much more visual evidence to support Cary Grant’s Sartorialism ,than say Gianni Agnelli or the Duke of Windsor, I would guess most people would say he was THE most stylish man ever.
Recently ,however, my sartorial beliefs have been shaken to their very foundations.
I have been watching every Fred Astaire movie I can get my hands and I have to say that Mr. Astaire is easily the most stylish, most graceful, most inspiring, and most athletic man I have ever seen in a suit.
Fred Astaire had many more enduring style quirks ( tie as belt, slanted tie clip, slim cut sleeves on his suits, etc) but I can’t really think of any specific quirks for Cary Grant. Astaire was more like ,but pre-dated, Agnelli in that department.
The outfits that Fred Astaire wore in movies and in photos are consistently more complicated and interesting to me than Cary Grant’s. Cary was like the original minimalist – very sleek, very modern- but Fred’s outfits were a magical mix of pattern, texture, and color (ok, I am completely guessing on color because his best style movies were in black & white)
Cary Grant was a perfect hanger for his clothes but he made sure that his clothes did not overshadow is 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 against and alongside guys like Randolph Scott and Cary Grant. I could totally imagine a guy in the Thirties taking a photo of Astaire into his local store haberdasher and saying “I want to look like this guy” and not being laughed out of the shop. 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. That is why Astaire is so inspiring.
Finally, Astaire was soooo physical in his clothes and yet always, always looked perfect. I know….I know…Cary Grant was an acrobat and he was also very physical in some of his movies but to compare the athleticism of the two is like comparing the beauty of Valerie Bertinelli to Erin Moran (ok, that’s too close, Valerie Bertinelli to Schneider). Just watch the Astaire movie “Carefree” in which he dances while actually hitting golf balls all while dressed in perfect 30′s golf attire I could rest my case on that scene alone but we know Astaire has four scenes like that for ever Grant North by Northwest chase scene.
Secondly Finally, Astaire has ,what I consider, the ultimate Sartorialist moment of throw-away casual cool. In “Flying Down To Rio” Fred and Ginger are about to attempt their version of the Latin dance “The Carioca”. Just as Fred is about to embrace Ginger he pushes up his left shirt and jacket sleeve the you or i would push up the sleeve of a sweater. He doesn’t push it up very far (not Don Johnson-ish) and it doesn’t stay up for long but it is the idea that he is getting ready to really get down to some serous dancing but that he is so comfortable in his perfectly cut suit that he has no need to remove the jacket just push the sleeves up a bit. As a photographer (Funny Face) I dream of one day have a wardrobe that I would feel so comfortable wearing while working that i would never need to “dress-down” to go shoot.
Really, that moment is so small, so throw-away and yet speaks so loudly about “HOW” one would like to feel wearing any clothes that it is inspiration absolute.
Don’t get me wrong Cary Grant is everything that everyone says he is but ,to me, Fred Astaire is all that AND a bag of chips ( I can’t believe I just described Fred Astaire that way – I have no class!!……and yet, I do have a delete button and spellcheck that I never seem to use)
So, am I crazy?
Grant vs Astaire – what say ye?
This week we will also hear from Bruce G. Boyer (Fred Astaire Style, Assouline) and Richard Torregrossa ( Cary Grant: A Celebration of Style, Bulfinch) – the two men that literally “wrote the book” on the style of Astaire and Grant.
For the readers that offers up the most compelling defense of Astaire and Grant the authors have offered to send that reader an autographed copy of their book.