Grant would look good in a bin bag, but here he has what is arguably the best wardrobe of his career in the Hitchock classic
To Catch a Thief is perhaps my favourite film, and almost certainly the closest I am going to get to the Côte d’Azur this summer. This 1955 Hitchcock film has the lot: glorious vistas of a pre-tower-block South of France, a pre-Rainier Grace Kelly, and a suave Cary Grant with a terrible French accent, portraying a retired cat burglar who lives in a handsome country house in the arrière-pays and wears the perfect Riviera wardrobe.
As far as I am concerned, Grant would look good in a bin bag, but here he has what I would argue is the best wardrobe of his career in film inasmuch as clothing is as much about where as how one wears it.
When he and Kelly head for their picnic overlooking a sleepy-looking Monte Carlo, he wears a grey flannel jacket that is half blazer, half sportscoat, white shirt, navy blue ascot with white pin spots, wide-legged pale fawn trousers, and low vamp slip-on shoes. It sounds unremarkable, but somehow it lodged in my mind the very first time I saw the film as an impressionable early teenager, and I have used it as the reference against which to calibrate resort dressing ever since.
In particular, I have come to think of the ascot as a great invention in that it requires the same effort in terms of knotting, pochette-pairing, colour coordination and so forth as a regular tie, and yet nevertheless, for all the effort it entails, it implies a level of warmth-related sartorial relaxation. In addition to its many other virtues, To Catch a Thief is a mini-masterclass in male resort neckwear.
Early in the film, Grant has to make a quick getaway wearing a long-sleeved T-shirt and a red neckerchief – I think it is cotton – which strikes the correct note of informality (somewhere below an ascot but above a naked neck) appropriate to evading law enforcement officers. I sometimes toy with the idea of an ascot with a long-sleeved T-shirt, but as usual Grant shows the way with a bold red polka dot bandana worn with a navy and fine white longitudinal stripe-sleeve T-shirt, grey worsted trousers and tobacco-coloured espadrilles of unusual construction – probably a 1950s cat burglar thing.
I find further on-screen inspiration for Mediterranean resort wear in Evil under the Sun. Adapted from a 1941 novel of the same name by Agatha Christie, the film is a masterpiece: Diana Rigg and Maggie Smith singing a duet arrangement of Cole Porter’s ‘You’re the Top’ is one highlight among many.
An early-Eighties adaptation of a late Deco detective novel, the film is set in a resort that claims to be in the Adriatic, but it was actually filmed in Mallorca – although I was reminded of it most powerfully (albeit sans murder) when I whisked Mrs Foulkes away for a wedding anniversary to Mezzatorre on Ischia. In other words, it captures a multi-purpose, universally applicable, non-specific dolce far niente Mediterranean glamour, and as you can imagine it is a riot of blazers, cricket sweaters and the most expressive use of ascots, silk scarves and cotton bandanas I can recall on film.
This banquet of neckwear is modelled by Roddy McDowall, who is of course known to posterity as Cornelius in the original Planet of the Apes films and TV show, but he and his wardrobe truly excel in this lush ensemble piece starring, among others, Jane Birkin and James Mason.
Roddy’s sailor hat, beach gowns and neckwear steal the film. When it comes to bandanas, there is a blue and white spot worn with a jaunty piece of mariner’s knitwear with shoulder buttons, and a red and white spot (with blue border) worn with a delicious patterned white and blue towelling beach coat.
His navy and white striped dressing gown with polka dot shawl collar is slightly more formal and warrants an ivory silk scarf knotted around the neck muffler-style with a red spotted pocket handkerchief, and the pièce de résistance is a crimson silk scarf (or giant ascot) with large white spots worn unconventionally with a pin-stripe suit and filling the entire area usually occupied by shirt and tie.
Rather predictably, much of lockdown was spent trawling the internet for ascots (Turnbull & Asser does a Cary-Grant level navy and white spot) and bandanas )I can recommend Drake’s parasol print in particular). The only sadness is that I will be swapping July and August in the Mediterranean for a staycation summer of social distancing… but at least I will have some nice colourful face masks.