Commander of the Cloth, Part 1: Sean Connery

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While the colours of James Bond’s suits are evident in the films, the more specific fabrics or cloths that the suits are made from—known as suitings—and the composition of those fabrics is a bit more complicated. Each Bond wears suits of various types of fabrics, many familiar and some more luxurious. Sean Connery is no exception to this.

Worsted Wools

James Bond’s creator Ian Fleming typically dressed the character in a “dark blue light-weight worsted” or a “dark blue tropical worsted” suit in the original novels. Sean Connery’s Bond is often said to take after Fleming’s Bond with a preference for lightweight suits, but his suits are far more varied than Fleming’s Bond’s are. Connery’s Bond’s most preferred colour is grey instead of dark blue, but he occasionally wears suits in blue and brown along with the occasional black and cream suits for very specific purposes and locations.

A lightweight worsted glen check suit in Goldfinger

Starting with the lightweight worsteds that Fleming’s Bond wears, Connery’s Bond tailor Anthony Sinclair tailored plenty of suits in classic twill, plain and hopsack weaves, making up herringbone, sharkskin and glen check patterns. “Lightweight” for suitings in the 1960s had a very different meaning than it has today. With 9-ounce cloth being a standard weight for a suit today, a lightweight suit would be a 7- or 8-ounce cloth. In the 1960s, an 11- to 12-ounce suit—which would feel slightly heavy to most people today—would have been around the weight of Connery’s warm-weather suits in the 1960s. Global office warming, the over-heating of offices during winter, has killed off not only heavy-weight suits but also medium-weight suits.

Other Fabrics

A heavy woollen flannel suit in Thunderball

Alongside the lightweight worsteds, medium-weight grey woollen flannels were another staple of Connery’s Bond wardrobe, featuring in 5 out of his six Bond films. At around 14 oz, such suits would be very heavy by today’s standards and unbearably warm for many men in a building with central heating, but for the 1960s these flannels would have been on the lighter side for a woollen flannel.

A mohair tonic suit in Thunderball

Though Connery’s Bond typically dresses in an understated manner, he also likes wearing some flashier fabrics. One of these is “tonic”, which is a two-tone worsted wool and mohair blend that was trendy in the 1960s and has a bit of a sheen. In 1957, Dormeiul started making the original fabric that they called “Tonik”, and knock-offs known by the generic name “tonic”—avoiding the trademarked name with a “K”—soon became widespread.

These suits appeared in a few of Connery’s Bond films, and he wears two suits of this in Thunderball, in grey and dark brown. He also wears dinner suits made up of wool and mohair blends for the evening, when the sheen of mohair gives depth to the suits under artificial light.

A dupioni silk suit in From Russia with Love

Dupioni silk is perhaps the most luxurious and showy fabric for a suit that Connery’s Bond wears, but in charcoal it doesn’t draw too much attention on screen. But nevertheless it’s still a silk suit, and it dispels the notion that Connery’s Bond always wears clothes that help him to blend in amongst the crowd.

A heavy tweed hacking jacket in Goldfinger

For jacketings, Connery’s Bond prefers woollens. Jacketings are fabrics that are appropriate for jackets rather than suits, and often due to a looser weave they do not make up in trousers so well unless they are very heavy. Connery’s blue blazers are made of heavy doeskin, a finely napped woollen flannel with a smooth surface. His hacking jackets are proper tweed, and at around 16 ounces they are amongst the heaviest of Connery’s Bond clothes.

S Numbers

Today, wool is familiarly graded by S numbers, like 90s or Super 120s. The S number describes the fineness of the wool fibres directly from the sheep, not the quality of the finished cloth or the weight of the cloth. Finer wool fibres are softer but are less durable and don’t keep their shape as well. There are very high-quality Super 100s fabrics and there are very poor quality Super 150s fabrics, though the poor Super 150s will likely feel softer and be more appealing at first until it quickly shines or falls apart. Even the best-quality Super 150s, however, may be too fine and delicate for the stresses Bond puts his suits through. Despite the hype from S numbers, a wool cloth is much more than the fibres that it is made from and cannot be judged from the S number.

A black-and-white worsted herringbone suit in You Only Live Twice

70s and 80s wool was the standard at the start of the 1960s, but in the early 1960s Lumb’s Huddersfield developed a 100s wool from only the finest fibres that they dubbed “Super 100s” because they had reached what had been previously unthinkable. According to Nicholas Antongiavanni in an article for The American titled “The Controversy Over Super Wool”, “Lumb bought an entire year’s lot of the wool and, in part­nership with the cloth merchant H. Lesser, brought to market suitings dubbed ‘Lumb’s Huddersfield Super 100s.'”

Super 100s seems like a low number for today, but it was the finest wool in the early 1960s. No worsted had ever been so fine before. Fibres of Super 100s wool are 18.5 microns in diameter, and sometimes such wool is known as “superfine” wool. Super 110s to 120s is the standard for quality suitings today, which are made up of fibres 18 microns and 17.5 microns in diameter, respectively.

Though Antongiavanni says that Super 100s wool did not catch on with Savile Row tailors at the time, Anthony Sinclair—with his shop off of Savile Row on the less stodgy Conduit Street—was more willing to experiment with the latest and likely made Connery some suits in Super 100s wool. For Dr. No the worsted suits are still likely in 70s or 80s wool, since Super 100s may have cost more than it would have been worth for a film wardrobe that only allowed for 5 tailored outfits.

Cloth Merchants

Where did Connery’s suitings come from? David Mason of Mason & Sons, who now has control of the Anthony Sinclair name, wrote about one of the suppliers of when discussing recreating Connery’s midnight blue mohair and wool blend dinner suit from Dr. No:

Smith & Co. (Woollens) Ltd. was established in 1923 and together with it’s [sic] slightly older sister company, W.Bill Ltd. (Est 1846), represents the last of the London merchants to hold stock of their cloth in the West End, which often proves useful to Mayfair tailors who sometimes need to expedite urgent orders. They have been regular suppliers to Anthony Sinclair since the 1950’s when (as can be seen from their advertisement of the time below) they were based in Beak Street, Soho – the location of Sinclair’s business before he moved to Conduit Street in Mayfair.

Many cloth merchants that were once in London are no longer around, and unfortunately the records of Connery’s Bond suits no longer exist.

14 COMMENTS

  1. Thanks Matt!

    BTW: I remember having read somewhere on this blog that Mason disposes of some photos showing details of one of Connery’s original Bond suits – did you consider asking him for those? Would perhaps make a nice post (i.e. breakdown of the suit).

    Best,
    Renard

  2. In your opinion, are any of the cloth houses overrated? Second, dupioni silk should we attempt it or leave it on film?

    • I prefer English cloth and think that a lot of the high-end Italian cloth houses are overrated, or at least overpriced.

      Dupioni silk is fantastic for special events (not the office since it may draw too much attention), but I understand it wears very warm though it is not something for cold weather.

      • Speaking of Dupioni Silk…
        Matt, when you wrote about Connery’s Dupioni Silk Suit, you mention “the slubs of dupioni silk”. What do you mean by “slubs”? Is that referring to the way it shines in the light, or the way it drapes?
        Also, wouldn’t tonic mohair be a more practical choice instead of silk?

      • I have a dupioni silk suit – a vintage Polo Ralph Lauren in a shade of grey akin to the Moonraker suit – and yes, it’s perfect for wherever situation a suit might be worn, aside from business wear (which, for many nowadays, isn’t that many!). I see where you’re coming from with the cloth breathability; while silk’s probably not as breathable as, say, a wool gabardine or some linen blend for very warm weather it’s still definitely something for the mild temperatures of spring, summer, early autumn. I’m thinking of a very dark grey or black version for dressy evening wear. Trouble is, the material doesn’t seem to be used as much nowadays or a popular as it was in the 1960’s or 70’s and I guess that’s down to the “I don’t wear a suit outside of work where I have to be shoehorned in to the thing as grudgingly as possible” mentality!

  3. Hm. Hadn’t really thought about before, but it’s interesting to consider the effect better heating and cooling systems have on fashion.

  4. I think dupioni silk works best as cloth for an odd jacket. I am not sure if it’s the ideal material for a suit since it does not resist wear and tear very well – trousers would be outworn rather quickly. But if it has to be a suit made of d.s. then it should be one which is only worn during the warmer months of the year (or abroad in countries with a milder climate – like Bond does). Of course also a nice cloth for any kind of formal wear (as such an alternative to mohair). Downsides are that today d.s. in a good quality is hard to find, and – certainly – far too expensive. But nevertheless in my book one of the nicest cloths menwear has to offer…

    @Matt
    Do you know any place in New York where you could find an off-the-peg d.s. jacket? The usual suspects – R.L. Purple Label or Paul Stuart?

    • I have seen suits and dinner jackets of the similar but shinier shantung silk from Tom Ford, but I haven’t seen dupioni silk. I have also seen silk in other forms from Purple Label, but nothing in dupioni silk.

  5. How can one find fabrics similar to those of the 60s? Fabric books I’ve seen will have weight and weave info but often nothing about S numbers. I cannot tell if the top English mills still sell S 70s and 80s or if marketing has forced them all to sell super 100s and higher. Michael Alden’s London Lounge claims to have revived old-school fabrics that you cannot get elsewhere but I’ve never handled the fabrics myself and I wouldn’t even have the experience to know anyway.

  6. I believe some English cloth merchants still sell cloths with lower S numbers than what is typically found. I think that if S numbers aren’t mentioned, you won’t be getting anything above Super 110s for sure. Anything below Super 100s won’t sell well, not just because of marketing but because people have become used to finer wool.

  7. I never thought the various cloths used to construct Connery’s suits were very interesting compared with Moore, Brosnan, and Craig’s suitings. Along with the cut, it always felt a little stodgy to me. But they were in-line with Connery’s approach to the character as being closer to the values and world view of Fleming’s Bond, who was from a prior era. As you work through this series, I will be interested to see if similar parallels crop up with the other actors and their suitings.

  8. As an aside, I like the phrase “global office warming.” It does not, however, apply to high rise where I work. In fact, during the northeastern winters,I have to wear tweed or flannel sports jackets most days because all of my suits are too lightweight to keep me comfortable. On the positive side, I’ve built up a nice repertoire of odd jackets as a result!

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