Notorious marked the beginning of the fruitful collaboration between Alfred Hitchcock and Edith Head. By now, you must know that Hitchcock paid the same attention to the clothes his characters wore as to any other detail in his movies. He would put the clothing directives in the script itself (even before the shooting began, he would have a clear vision of how the film would look like), so that when Edith asked him what kind of clothes he wanted, he said “I really don’t care, whatever the script says”.
About the costumes in Notorious, she said: “Hitchcock is a director who dominates every single scene of his pictures, even to fashion. The job was tricky. The clothes couldn’t be smart in the ordinary sense. They had to avoid the fussy and the extreme. They had to be right for her (Bergman). Some women need accessories galore – jewels, furs, feathers, silly hats – to look glamorous – all the things she hates. She looks marvelous in plain things – a smock, or a blouse and shirt, or a schoolgirl’s tailored dressing gown. Her clothes must have simplicity, skillful design and practically no ornamentation. This is elegance in the subtlest sense.” Alicia had to be elegant and attractive enough to attract the attention of both T.R. Devlin (Cary Grant) and Alexander Sebastian (Claude Rains), but still be believable as a spy. As François Truffaut says in his book, Hitchcock, the film has an exceptionally pure story line, part of which, the sentimental angle is the simplest in the world: two men in love with the same woman.
Cary offers her a scarf to cover her bare midriff, so that she doesn’t catch a cold, as he gallantly puts it.
In the second scene in the film, Ingrid is hosting a cocktail party and her outfit is a great example of the way clothing had a great impact in Hitchcock’s films. Bergman was filmed partially against the dark silhouette of the back of Cary Grant’s head, and the viewer’s eye is continually drawn to her, who is dressed in an ensemble with a zebra print top embellished with sequins and a bare midriff. The idea was to establish Alicia Huberman as a party girl and her outfit easily did that. But filming Cary Grant’s back had another reasoning, as well. Hitchcock chose this angle to create a dark silhouette and a mysterious mood, accentuated by Cary’s uncommonly thick neck, one of the flaws he would learn to overcome in time (for example, by wearing shirts with tall collars and broadening the shoulders of his suits with padding), but which, here, Hitch shrewdly uses to serve his purpose.
A gesture that would become one of Cary Grant’s trademarks, putting his hands into his pants pockets. As Richard Torregrossa points out in his book, Cary Grant: A Celebration of Style, it would be perfected with the arrival of double-vented jackets and it is an obvious detail in North by Northwest. He’s wearing single-vented jackets in Notorious, as shown below. Another thing to observe was Cary’s ability to mix prints (photo above), an art he had learned from Jack Buchanan, one of his style models.
Who says cuff links should only be worn to a formal attire? Cary wears a cuff link shirt to a riding outfit. But then again, there was only one Cary Grant. The interesting thing is how Ingrid Bergman’s looks, although smart and stylish, are imprinted in the fashion of the day, while Cary Grant’s outfits seem to have transcended time. He usually chose his own clothes for his movies. “…he said his secret was that he was never quite in fashion; he never went by the fads. He never went by what’s in this year. The things that he wore were the classic line.” Eva Marie Saint
The suit was, of course, Cary Grant’s thing. He wore it well, with the same ease most men wear their sports outfits. It became his trademark. “He somehow managed to make the plain grey banker’s suit seem impossibly glamorous, sexy, elegant, even daring. The shirt, flawless white, the tie, knotted with surgical precision, completed the look. And that was it. That was enough. His suit spoke for him, sang for him.” Richard Torregrossa
He wears a few grey suits in Notorious, too. And he does it well. But when I think of a Cary Grant grey suit, none comes close to the one he wears in North by Northwest. On the other hand, the image I’ve always had of Cary Grant in Notorious was of him in a black suit. Maybe it’s because of the genre of the film, but, here, it’s the black suit or tuxedo he stands out in, giving him a composed, cool air, as his government agent character demands. His clothes are always immaculate, but they don’t overshadow him.
The very few moments Cary is wearing a hat. We see him a few times with a hat in his hand, as this accessory was part of the fashions of the time and the role had to reflect that, but he eschewed literally wearing one, because it wasn’t very becoming of him, it looked misplaced on him. And Grant knew what worked for him and what didn’t, and set his own stylistic standard. That’s why he seldom wore one in real life, and in films, only if the part specifically required it. “He was already ahead of his time, a modern man, part of the future, the hatless era that had not yet arrived. […] A man in public without a hat? In the sartorial sense, this was bold, very bold for its time. Downright revolutionary.” Richard Torregrossa
Alicia is wearing flats to her evening gown – a detail to my liking. But one other reason was that Ingrid was tall and, with heels, she would have been even taller than Claude Rains. In the scenes that permitted him, Hitchcock had Rains stand on a box, so that the difference between the actor and the actress was not that obvious.
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photos: screen stills, captured by me from this Criterion Collection edition
bibliography: Edith Head: The Fifty-Year Career of Hollywood’s Greatest Costume Designer, by Jay Jorgensen; Cary Grant: A Celebration of Style, by Richard Torregrossa; Hitchcock, by François Truffaut; Alfred Hitchcock: A Life in Darkness and Light, by Patrick McGilligan