Sean Connery’s James Bond is considered by many to be one of the best-dressed men of film history, alongside Cary Grant, Gary Cooper, Fred Astaire and Steve McQueen. Connery’s Bond style is the essence of what the filmic James Bond’s style is, and it has served as the basis for the styles of all of the James Bond’s that have succeeded him on film. Connery’s Bond style is one that does not stand out in a crowd due to the austerity of the clothes, making him perfectly dressed for a spy. The tremendous appeal of Connery’s Bond style is that it seems so effortlessly simple, but what truly makes the clothes special is not so basic.
The Conduit Cut
Connery’s Bond style starts with single-breasted suits, dinner suits and odd jackets and trousers tailored in a style known as the “Conduit Cut”. “Conduit Cut” is a term often thrown around when discussing Sean Connery’s James Bond suits made by tailor Anthony Sinclair, and the term comes from Sinclair’s location on Conduit Street in London’s Mayfair district. But what does the term “Conduit Cut” truly mean?
First we must determine what a “cut” is. A person who drafts the pattern for a suit on the cloth and cuts the suit out of the cloth is known as the “cutter”. The shape and silhouette of the suit that results from the cutter’s work is known as the “cut”. Hardy Amies describes the essence of a cut in his book ABC of Men’s Fashion:
After the first impact of the appearance of the cloth, it is the cut that you notice in a good suit. It can do everything from allowing drape and breadth over the chest muscles, which can allow space for a pocket book or handkerchief, to skilfully by-passing a waist slightly thickened with the years and still achieve slim hips.
The cut can readily be seen in all parts of a suit’s silhouette, in the jacket from the shape of the shoulders and chest, to the waist and skirt, to the shape of the sleeves, and in the trousers from the depth and length of the pleats, to the curve around the seat, to the shape of the legs. The cut is not only about the silhouette of the suit but also about how the silhouette interacts with one’s body. However, the cut has little to do with the cloths used, though different patterns and types of cloths may need to be cut in slightly different ways.
The cut of Anthony Sinclair’s jackets is defined by a low button stance, soft shoulders with roped sleeve heads, a full-cut chest that sometimes has extra fullness on the sides known as drape, and a gently suppressed waist. The cut of Sinclair’s trousers is characterised by a high rise that sits at the waist, a trim—but not tight—fit through the hips and thighs, and legs tapered to a slightly narrow opening. These characteristics hold true for Sinclair’s suits in Sean Connery’s six James Bond films made between 1962 and 1971.
The exact cut is not entirely the same throughout Connery’s tenure as Bond, but the ideas behind the cut are unchanged. The cuts started off fuller in 1962, but by the late 1960s the clothes had a closer fit. The button stance and trouser rise were lowered slightly early on. Jackets have either two buttons or one button, but the essence of the cut remains the same no matter the number of buttons. Forward pleats are present on all suit trousers in the 1960s, but not on odd trousers or on suit trousers in the 1970s. The trousers without pleats had darts in front instead. The trousers, naturally, were cut differently for pleats than they were for darts, but the essence of trousers cuts are the same.
Details like the width of the lapels, the style of pockets, the presence or lack of vents, and method of trouser support have less importance on how the cut of a suit is defined. It is the overall silhouette that has the most importance.
While the style of Sinclair’s clothing is elegant, it is not meant to draw attention. At first glance the style seems simple, but there are many nuances to Sinclair’s cut that make it the special cut that it is. A ready-to-wear suit that checks off all the boxes can never be quite the same. A suit is defined by more than it’s colour and the number of buttons or vents it has.
For Sinclair, the cut and his philosophy of tailoring elegant suits went hand-in-hand. Sinclair told Gentleman’s Quarterly in the April 1966 issue:
I make clothes in the classic English tradition. I won’t make exaggerated, flamboyant clothes. I make only a Savile Row style. The only comment I want about my suits is that they are elegant. And I’ve given Connery the same cut I’ve given every customer all my tailoring life.
Though Sinclair was located off of Savile Row, and though a number of different styles of suits could be found at different Savile Row tailors, Sinclair wanted to emphasise that his suits followed London’s West End tailoring tradition.
Sinclair’s cut was all about looking elegant, simple and natural, which he clarified to Gentleman’s Quarterly:
I don’t believe in padding … I hate exaggerated styles. Everything should be in proportion. The eye shouldn’t be riveted on very narrow or wide lapels or wide shoulders or anything else–the suit is taken as a whole is the thing.
The way Sinclair describes his style of tailoring is the essence of Connery’s James Bond style and is the key part of why his style is still admired today. The lapels on Connery’s suits are narrow, but they are not overly narrow by 1960s standards or by today’s standards. The suits’ shoulders may seem wide, but that’s only because Sean Connery himself had broad shoulders.
Are Anthony Sinclair’s cut and the “Conduit Cut” the same thing? “Conduit Cut” is not necessarily a term that applies to all Conduit Street tailors—there were a number of tailors there historically—but a term only used in reference to Anthony Sinclair’s suits. David Mason of Mason & Sons, who produces ready-to-wear, special order and bespoke suits under the Anthony Sinclair name, offered some insight into the origins of the “Conduit Cut” term:
Nobody is quite sure who coined the term “Conduit Cut”, but it is widely attributable to the tailoring of Anthony Sinclair. I don’t believe it’s a term that he used personally, rather describing his own cutting style as “drape and shape”—which I think is a wonderful expression. Given modern tastes, we are currently producing more “shape” than “drape”, but we discourage tightness … comfort and movement are key elements of our clothing. Sinclair was against heavy padding and rigid construction.
Whilst some of his customers, such as Sean Connery and Richard Burton, were hard men, they liked soft suits—particularly Burton who always demanded softness and lightness … and probably more “drape” than “shape”.
Mason has a thorough understanding of what the essence of Anthony Sinclair’s tailoring is all about. Though Mason produces a line of ready-to-wear suits under the “Conduit Cut” moniker that are not exact copies of what Sinclair tailored for Sean Connery, they follow the essence of the suits Sinclair made just with modern updates. Mason believe that if Sinclair himself were still making suits today, he would have updated his cut to hint at today’s fashions, just as he updated his cut throughout Connery’s tenure as Bond.
How simple is Connery’s Bond style?
David Mason attributes the origins of Connery’s Bond style’s understated elegance to Conduit Street during the Regency Era:
I suppose my personal view is that the Conduit Cut is really about simplicity, and the classic British style of understated elegance that all began with Beau Brummell over 200 years ago. Ironically, Brummell’s tailor, Jonathan Meyer, was located in Conduit Street from the late 18th century until the 2nd World War when the firm was bombed out of its premises.
Brummell famously wore a plain white starched linen stock (or cravat) with his suits, often spending hours working through dozens of them until he’d tied a satisfactory knot. I suppose it is true to say that the simplest things are often the most difficult to perfect.
Almost all aspects of Connery’s Bond style follow this idea of wearing clothes that aren’t as simple as they first seem to be. If the clothes seem simple, they need to be perfectly tailored and comfortably worn in order to stand apart as special.
Proportions and fit are the most important aspects of a suit, and Anthony Sinclair always got them bang on for Sean Connery. It’s the main reason why people still admire Connery’s clothes over half a century after he first starred as James Bond. A suit needs to both be properly cut for the person wearing it and be properly cut to work as a unified garment.
Many of the finer details set also Connery’s Bond suits apart from more typical suits without being readily noticeable. These are subtle facets that usually aren’t given much thought because they do not detract from the simple look of the clothes, but they have a powerful impact on the overall look of the clothes. The waistband of the suit trousers is such an example. It has “Daks tops”-style adjustable tabs on each side of the waist with three smoke mother-of-pearl buttons on each side to elegantly hold up the trousers without a belt or braces. The front of the trousers close with a waistband extension that secures with two hidden hook and eye fasteners. The extension keeps the waistband straight in front, and the lack of a visible button is most elegant and least disruptive.
Colours and Textures
The simple elegance of the “Conduit Cut” is mimicked in all parts of Sean Connery’s James Bond clothes. Like the cut of Anthony Sinclair’s suits, the colours and textures of the fabrics Sean Connery wears as James Bond at first seem simple but with a closer look reveal so much more.
Sean Connery’s Bond rarely wears flashy patterns or bright colours. His suits are often grey, sometimes blue and occasionally brown. However, the suitings and jacketings that the clothes he wears are made from are far from boring. He wears many grey suits over the course of six James Bond films. There are 16 of them (two more if you add Never Say Never Again), which are over half of the suits he wears. That does not sound very exciting, does it?
Connery’s Bond’s love of grey suits would be boring if they were all flat piece-dyed worsteds. Instead there is always some sort of visual texture (except in the rare occasions when he wears chalk stripes). The texture could come from the fuzziness of a woolen flannel, the slubs of dupioni silk or the sheen of a wool and mohair blend. Often the texture comes from weaving multiple shades of grey together in a pick-and-pick (sharkskin), herringbone, plain-weave glen check, hopsack glen check and Glen Urquhart check. Connery wears five different grey suits in From Russia with Love, and even if they were all in the same shade of grey they would all have a texture uniquely of their own.
Connery’s Bond style uses the texture approach to the ties’ silks as well. The ties Connery’s Bond wears are almost always solid and in dark colours: navy, dark brown and black. Again, doesn’t that sound boring? It isn’t boring because the ties always have texture. Most of the time the texture comes from luxurious grenadine silk, which has an elegant lace-like appearance. Navy grenadine is his favourite tie, and it could successfully be paired with just about anything he wears. When it’s not grenadine it’s a knitted silk tie or, in Diamonds Are Forever, a fancy ribbed weave. Connery never wears flat solid repp ties (except with his Royal Navy uniform) or the flashy satin ties that Roger Moore is a fan of. The ties never stand out—apart from a pink tie in Diamonds Are Forever—but they are never unimaginative.
With his understated suits and sober ties, does Connery’s James Bond make a statement with his shirts? Of course not! He sticks with classic light-coloured shirts that draw attention to his face. Usually his shirts are solid light blue and cream, and his shirts in Goldfinger are white and off-white with very subtle grey broken stripes.
The collar is always a spread, which balances Connery’s angular jawline. It’s the most basic collar, but when shaped well, properly interfaced for a subtle roll and sized proportionately to the face it can do no wrong.
But like everything else that Connery wears as Bond, his shirts are not ordinary. In all of his Bond films with the exception of Goldfinger, the shirts have cocktail cuffs: a type of double cuff that fastens in a barrel fashion with buttons rather than with cufflinks. Cocktail cuffs are the only gimmicky aspect of Connery’s Bond clothing, but they’re the only way he has fun with his shirts. And what fun they are!
Cocktail cuffs set Connery’s shirts apart from most other shirts without drawing attention in a way that bright stripes or flashy cufflinks could. People who pay close attention to the clothes will notice the cuffs, but the average person will not. It’s a more sophisticated way to stand out, and screaming isn’t so gentlemanly.
White Pocket Square
Sean Connery wears pocket squares in his first three James Bond films, and they’re always straight-folded white linen handkerchiefs. He does not match his pocket square to his shirt; it is a consistent plain white.
The plain white pocket square never distracts and never clashes. It may not be the most fun, but it gets the job done. When Connery wants to have more fun with his pocket square he folds it in a single point, which can be seen in Goldfinger. He’s careful not to go any further with pocket square colours or folds or risk it draw all attention away from the rest of the outfit and himself.
The styles of Connery’s shoes have varied more than the styles of any other garments he wears. They include two-eyelet and three-eye derbys in plain-toe, cap-toe and full brouge styles to elastic-sided short ankle boots and shoes, to cap-toe oxfords. The shoes that he wears with suits are almost always black, which keeps with the understated British look of his dress.
Basic Black Tie
Simplicity and minimalism is again often the key with Sean Connery’s Bond black tie style. Dinner jackets (Tuxedo jackets) are the traditional single-breasted model with a single button fastening and have shawl collars or peaked or notched lapels.
The dress shirts (Tuxedo shirts) are always in the classic soft style with a spread collar and a soft front. He never wears studs, which both fits with the understated nature of of Connery’s Bond style and with the English manner of wearing soft-fronted shirts.
The shirts usually have pleats in the front and double cuffs to take cufflinks, in the traditional fashion. But Thunderball features James Bond in the dress shirt that perfectly fits with the minimalism of Connery Bond style. Instead of a pleated front, the front is completely plain. And in place of the double cuffs are cocktail cuffs to eliminate what Bond might consider unnecessary cufflinks. The shirt is not a plain white but a white-on-white stripe, giving it the interest and fanciness that the pleat-less front lacks.
Throughout the 1960s, Connery also never wears any type of waist-covering—neither a cummerbund nor a waistcoat—with black tie. Since the cummerbund and waistcoat should just barely seen with the dinner jacket fastened, and the current trend of a high button stance and low-rise trousers that shows a triangle of white shirt beneath the fastened jacket button was unheard of at the time, the waist-covering is not at all missed. Though Connery’s Bond was not opposed to waistcoats with his suits, the minimalism of no waist-covering with black tie fits in with the basic ideals of Connery’s Bond’s dress.
The key ideas behind both Anthony Sinclair’s “Conduit Cut” and Sean Connery’s James Bond style overall are to be the ultimate in elegance and to never be distracting. The austerity of Connery’s Bond clothes teach us a number of lessons:
1. Fit and cut are of the utmost importance. They are the minimum that is necessary to be well-dressed.
2. Get the small things right first. Be aware of not only how the clothes fit but also of how your trousers stay up or how wide and tall your shirt collar is.
3. Subtlety is stylish. Fine patterns and textures can be just as interesting as bigger patterns.
4. Know that what you’re wearing is special. Clothes can be unique without shouting it to the world.
5. Know that you are special. Connery’s Bond dresses for himself and not for his clothes. His clothes are perfect for him, from the fit of his suits to the shape of his shirt collar, because the clothes let him speak and do not overpower his voice. The overall philosophy by which he dresses can work for almost anyone, but not all of the specifics of his clothes may.
Connery’s method of dressing is not only way to dress, but dressing simply and dressing spectacularly are two things that are difficult to do at the same time. Connery’s Bond mastered how to dress with the most elegant simplicity and does not feel the need to go beyond because there is so much fun and pleasure hidden within his clothes.