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The Strange Journey of Cary Grant’s Suits
Today the clothing of celebrities goes to auction; the actor’s daughter gave away his famously stylish wardrobe without anyone realizing
After his death 30 years ago, where has Cary Grant’s clothing gone? WSJ’s On Style Reporter Christina Binkley joins Tanya Rivero on Lunch Break to discuss what happened to the clothes belonging to a man synonymous with “well-dressed."

Aug. 24, 2016 1:02 p.m. ET
Los Angeles

About eight years ago on a chilly evening, a homeless man on the beach here was handed a cashmere-wool blend overcoat that formerly belonged to Cary Grant. The man wasn’t told of the coat’s provenance, so he didn’t know he had received one of the last items remaining from the wardrobe of one of Hollywood’s best-dressed legends.

Jennifer Grant, Mr. Grant’s only child, offered the coat to a stranger she had noticed shivering on the beach. “I wasn’t comfortable keeping it,” she says. “He could really use it.” The only indication of the coat’s previous owner: an embroidered inscription inside. “Dad, I love you. Jennifer.”

At a time when clothes are the subject of popular museum exhibitions and auctions, the tale of Cary Grant’s tuxedos, coats and meticulously monogrammed pajamas offers a surprising contrast. In June Joan Rivers’ couture and other belongings were auctioned in New York by Christie’s, which has been making a specialty of such sales. In 2014, Christie’s sold items belonging to Joan Fontaine, including the Academy Award she won as Cary Grant’s co-star in the 1941 Alfred Hitchcock film “Suspicion.” In September, the auction house will auction personal items of President and Mrs. Ronald Reagan.

At the time of Mr. Grant’s death by a stroke 30 years ago, his daughter, a student at Stanford University at the time, kept some of her 82-year-old dad’s art and furniture, and several items of jewelry, including a cravat holder that she wears as a ring. Ms. Grant kept the overcoat, and a favorite cashmere sweater of his that was particularly special to her. “Clothing carries someone’s scent. It’s very personal,” she says.

Ms. Grant and her stepmother donated his suits and much of his clothing to a charity for men seeking work. Everything was donated anonymously, so no job candidates went into their interviews with an inkling of what they were wearing. Mr. Grant’s monogrammed pajamas went to Goodwill.

The concept of publicly auctioning personal items is relatively new. “Things have changed in the past 30 years,” says Gemma Sudlow, head of private and iconic collections at Christie’s auction house. “We’re more interested in private items.”

If his wardrobe were available today, Ms. Sudlow says, “I’d certainly go and have a look.”

It isn’t clear what the value would be. In fact, Cary Grant’s style—unobtrusive good taste—might reduce the value of his wardrobe for some museums and collectors. In an article republished in GQ magazine in 1967, the actor described his style as “in the middle of fashion.”

“By that, I mean they’re not self-consciously fashionable or far out, nor are they overly conservative or dated,” Mr. Grant wrote of his suits, adding that he took care that “the lapels are neither too wide nor too narrow, the trousers neither too tight nor too loose.”

With her dad, says Ms. Grant, “There was no sloppiness.”

Among Mr. Grant’s jewelry was his Cartier watch. Ms. Grant had his diamond and amethyst cuff links made into earrings. ENLARGE
Among Mr. Grant’s jewelry was his Cartier watch. Ms. Grant had his diamond and amethyst cuff links made into earrings. PHOTO: AUSTIN HARGRAVE FOR THE WALL STREET JOURNAL
“He was very specific about it. He didn’t have a walk-in closet,” she says. His pajamas were monogrammed, his robes silk. His suits were sometimes purchased off-the-rack, but just as often custom tailored in cities from London to Beverly Hills. He liked his monograms small—never garishly large—and he enjoyed shopping, occasionally, at Brooks Brothers.

Those habits of understatement could make his wardrobe less interesting to some collectors and curators, such as Sharon Takeda, head of the department of costume and textiles at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. “We’re more about the history and artistry of fashion,” says Ms. Takeda.

She pounced, for instance, on a suit that once belonged to Mr. Grant’s contemporary, Gregory Peck. Mr. Peck was famously a clothes horse, shopping on London’s Savile Row, favoring custom tailoring from Huntsman, which has begun using his image in its marketing. One of Mr. Peck’s Huntsman suits has been on display all summer in Reigning Men, LACMA’s exhibit on men’s fashions, which closes this month.

Ms. Grant, now a mother of two, no longer rejects marketing some of her father’s fashion legacy. She has tentatively embarked on a venture that could reproduce some items of her father’s jewelry such as that cravat holder. She has been in touch with a jeweler, but it isn’t clear when that enterprise might materialize.

A few years ago, she finally relinquished her father’s cashmere sweater. To Goodwill. Anonymously.

Write to Christina Binkley at