07/13/2007 04:36 pm ET | Updated Nov 17, 2011

My Birthday Suit Part III: Granted

In all my years of bespoke suit lust, I never contemplated getting one from anywhere other than Savile Row. My yearnings have focused particularly on Anderson and Sheppard, a venerable establishment known for the soft lines of its house style, whose clients have included Rudolph Valentino, Duke Ellington and Princes Phillip and Charles -- also Bryan Ferry, whose patronage gives the place a certain currency, I guess.

Speaking of currency, Savile Row clothing is not cheap, especially when you consider how the dollar stacks up against the pound these days, factor in the cost of three round trips to England (one for each of the "required fittings" and take into account the looming expense of my son's imminent college education.

Of course there are oodles of good custom tailors in this country. I'm sure of it. Unfortunately, their most prominent clients don't always show off the merch to best advantage. Tom Wolfe's tailor seems to specialize in costumes rather than clothes, or maybe that's Mr. Wolfe's preference. Gay Talese's tailor make clothing resplendent with double-breasted waistcoats and peculiarly shaped lapels, but the look is too obtrusive for me. And please don't bring up Georges de Paris, the Washington tailor who makes our president's suits; they simply don't fit, or maybe W. is shrinking.

I began to wonder if this is the moment for the bespoke adventure. My wife wondered too, concluded that a suitable tailor could be found on these shores, and came up with one. I'd found positive mentions of him on a couple of internet forums in which men dilate on clothing with such intensity you feel a little embarrassed for them, even while wishing their posts were longer. Encouraged, I visited his shop. Unfortunately, the tailor and I don't share a common language, so we couldn't get into the finer points of waist definition or scye diameter (scyes, as you know, are armholes). I was hoping for some meaningful dialog on these issues. Maybe such communication isn't important, but I'm not convinced. I determined to cast a wider net.

It was with the quest on my mind that I visited Marvin, accountant, friend and urban dandy, traditionalist division. He likes Paul Stuart suits, Thomas Pink shirts and very serious shoes, which aren't easy to find in his triple A width. Of course, I told him about my suit to be and of course, we discussed. I said I wanted a side order of flash along with the main course of classic elegance and to that end, I was thinking of fabric with a sheen, maybe even some iridescence, like sharkskin. Quietly, he said, "Think about that." He asked what color I wanted and, without thinking about it much, I said light grey, like what Cary Grant wore in North by Northwest. Abruptly, Marvin grabbed his tie and exclaimed, "This is the tie he was wearing!"

I couldn't remember the tie, so at home I looked online for images from the film and was side-tracked -- side-swiped is more like it -- by the enormous literature devoted to Cary Grant's suit in North by Northwest. After purchasing a DVD of the film, The Sartorialist watched his new DVD of the movie and "explained at length" what makes the outfit so terrific (It's all about the shirt cuffs, apparently). GQ includes North by Northwest in its "list of the 25 Most Stylish Films of All Time", and Todd McEwan, in his essay in Granta, sees the suit as the film's real hero. It's chased cross-country, eludes the crop duster in the cornfield, hides in the overhead compartment of a train and climbs Mount Rushmore, all without ever ripping, soiling, or even being unbuttoned. Cary Grant is just its transportation system. Indeed, after the crop duster scene, the suit gets a pressing, while poor Cary slogs through the whole movie without a shower or a shave, not even a Wash'n'Dry. He always looks great, of course, and his shirt and tie remain spotless, but by the time he and Eva Marie Saint are finally safe and sound, he must be pretty ripe.

The funny thing is, no one is quite sure what color the suit is, and the truth is, it looks different from scene to scene. Sometimes it looks blue, sometimes grey. It sure as hell isn't the pearl grey I recalled. Bluey-grey? Greyish blue? Is a puzzlement.

Becalmed by the ambiguity, I visited The Sartorialist's home page to check out his most recent pictures. There was one captioned "How a suit should look from the back." How a suit should look from the back, apparently, is seriously nipped at the waist. Comments about the pic were the usual blend of enthusiasm and critique. One commenter offered a link to "Kilgour" to see another, presumably superior, back of a suit. Kilgour is a Savile Row shop that traces it origins to 1882 and in that time has dressed a constellation of stars, including Fred Astaire in Top Hat and... Cary Grant in North by Northwest.

Maybe someone there knows if the damn thing was blue or grey.