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Fashion Theory (2000) - Language of the PurSuit: Cary Grant's Clothes in Alfred Hitchcock's "North by Northwest"


  • article: Language of the PurSuit: Cary Grant's Clothes in Alfred Hitchcock's "North by Northwest"
  • author(s): Ulrich Lehmann
  • journal: Fashion Theory (01/Nov/2000)
  • issue: volume 4, issue 4, page 467
  • DOI: 10.2752/136270400779108708
  • journal ISSN: 1362-704X
  • publisher: Berg Publishers
  • keywords: North by Northwest (1959)



Lehmann uses the structuralist approach of Roland Barthes to analyze Hitchcock's North by Northwest. He argues that the film and Cary Grant's role are best explained by looking at appearances - because they are deceptive - and not at hermeneutical codes, cinematic quotations, or self-referential truths. Lehmann believes his argument is exemplified by Grant's suit, which exerts a continuous presence throughout the duration of the film and thus stands analogous to the suit's normative presence in men's fashion throughout the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. By the end of the film, Grant's character changes attire from the conservative suit to casualwear. Lehmann contends that it is too simplistic to see this as a reflection of a change of attitude, arguing that the new attire is just another surface. The emphasis placed by Hitchcock on the suit, which appears deliberately superficial, suggests that the interest in the surface is much greater than an attempt to account for the character's psychological development. Barthes's reading of fashion can be extended to the appearance of Grant in the film because commodified products surround and clothe the character. One of these products develops in a manner analogous to that of a linguistic constituent in visual language; not for a metaphorical reason, but as an integral part of the narrative.