Why Does James Bond Still Always Wear a Tie?

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Though once ubiquitous when dressing smartly, since the 1990s the neck tie has often been considered optional in many circles when wearing a suit. In business dress, the tie has mostly vanished in daily wear. Even when dressing up for special occasions, the tie is no longer essential. Many guests at Western weddings don’t feel it is necessary to wear a tie, even when the dress codes imply such level of formality. But for James Bond, the tie has maintained its prominent place in the wardrobe with little change since the character’s inception in the early 1950s and the start of the film series in the early 1960s. The tie is an essential part of the James Bond character, and now that the tie’s popularity is waning, it has more significance to the character than ever.

When the Bond villains are out to destroy the establishment and civilisation, James Bond represents the establishment and civilisation. More specifically he represents British civilisation, which permeated the globe through colonisation. As Hugo Drax says to Bond in Moonraker, “you have arrived at a propitious moment, coincident with your country’s one indisputable contribution to Western civilization: afternoon tea.” Though Bond does not drink tea or eat cucumber sandwiches, he does embrace many other British contributions to civilisation.

Though the British now have nowhere close to the colonial power that they once had, their culture is still present throughout the world, particularly in the form of menswear. British menswear has had an impact beyond Western civilisation in the form of the lounge suit. Although neckwear has been worn by many civilisations throughout history, the neck tie as currently worn for business and for fancy occasions throughout the world today is a British contribution to the world civilisation. James Bond’s tie represents today’s global civilisation as well as the impact that the British had on the global civilisation.

James Bond wearing a tie while the villain Blofeld is not

James Bond in a tie often contrasts the villains who frequently do not wear ties, who are often opposed to Western or world civilisation, and thus opposed to James Bond. Villains like Ernst Stavro Blofeld and Hugo Drax who wanted to destroy the world’s civilisation often wore a Mao suit instead of a Western suit and tie to show their opposition to James Bond and the Western powers who fought them. Christoph Waltz’s Blofeld in Spectre continues with the tie-less look in a Nehru jacket in Spectre to contrast with Bond in a tie. Recent Bond villains like Dominic Green in Quantum of Solace and Raoul Silva in Skyfall wear either suits or jackets without ties while James Bond does not dare get properly dressed without one.

The neck tie also has personal meaning to Bond on many levels. Bond is a professional, and whether he is going to work at a government office in Whitehall or meeting with other professionals abroad, a tie gives Bond that professional appearance. He needs to look like a London businessman working for Universal Exports no matter where he is, and such a businessman even in this era would still wear a tie to show respect to the people he works with. Even if Bond is not going to the office or meeting with someone, he still puts on a tie when he’s on a mission because it’s his way of showing himself, if nobody else, that he’s at work and serious about what he’s doing. Apart from his boss M, most people that Bond encounters today could not care less that Bond wears a tie. But for Bond, the tie is a matter of self respect.

Bond wearing a knitted silk tie from Tom Ford with his casual jacket in Spectre, when he has no obligation to anyone but himself to wear a tie

James Bond’s idea of wearing a tie comes from tradition, which makes him feel obliged to wear it. Although he preferred a contemporary and trendy fit for his clothes in Skyfall and Spectre, he wears his clothes in a traditional manner. Tradition with a suit or a jacket means a tie. When the Bond film series started in the 1960s, men would not have shown their neck when dressing up in a suit or a jacket. For Bond that meant a tie, though for others a cravat or neckerchief inside an open-collar shirt was a casual but flamboyant alternative. At the time the polo neck (also called a turtleneck or roll neck) became another alternative to the shirt and tie, but Bond wouldn’t adopt that look with a jacket until the 1970s.

Bond appreciates the traditions he grew up with and doesn’t want those things to change and refuses to acknowledge that they may have changed. He was educated as a young man at Eton College and Fettes College, where he wore ties. As a naval officer he had to wear a tie. Neckwear was always a part of life for James Bond, and as an adult he is still comfortable wearing it. The tie is only uncomfortable to those not used to it or to those who wear their shirt collar too tight. Because Bond was raised with the tradition of the tie, putting it on is second-nature to him and possibly just as important to him as strapping on his Walther PPK.

Though today the tie is often thought of as optional, for Bond the tie is a necessary part of a suit, unless it is an informal, warm-weather suit. Even then, Bond often wears a tie because he follows the idea that a tie completes a suit. The tie is not just about tradition but about visual harmony and self-expression. Visually, the tie is connective tissue that brings the jacket and shirt together while linking it with the body in the form of a visual “arrow” that points up to the face.

The tie is often considered a means self-expression within a traditional business outfit because unlike the prescribed colours and patterns for proper suit, shirt and shoes to wear in business, there are no such stipulations on the colour or patterns for a tie. Bond’s usual choice for plain or simply-patterned ties in muted and often dark colours shows how Bond wants to display himself to the world: emotionless and in the shadows. The consistent visual harmony of his ties with clothes, however, also portrays Bond as stable. Roger Moore’s Bond’s bolder ties, on the contrary to Sean Connery’s and Daniel Craig’s, portrays him as a spy the world knows. The tie still functions as a way to define Bond’s character to both his acquaintances and to the audience, and neither the character nor the costume designer is ready to eliminate this means of communication.

Like the neck tie, James Bond films are themselves a tradition. The film series started in 1962, and the character was invented in 1953. Keeping James Bond in a tie respects the tradition of the series and the suited hero and sets Bond apart from the many other cinematic heroes today who dress in jeans and t-shirts, tactical wear or suits of armour and spandex.

The tab collar shirt in Skyfall show’s James Bond’s commitment to the tie.

The tab-collared shirts that James Bond wears in Skyfall show Bond’s commitment to the tie after 50 years of films. The tab collar is like a narrow point collar but has tabs extending from the front edges of the collar that fasten together under a tie’s knot. The tab helps secure the collar points against the chest while framing the tie’s knot and emphasising the tie by pushing it outwards from the neck. With the tab collar there is no option to go tie-less, since without a tie the tabs would be floating and look extraneous. Bond could neither put these shirts on without a tie nor could he discard his tie halfway throughout the day without the collar looking silly.

On occasion, James Bond wears an open-neck shirt without any neckwear, typically with lightweight sporty suits or blue blazers, and only in warm locales. This does not mean that Bond has given up on the tie. Only in Licence to Kill does Bond fully embrace the tie-less look and wears no four-in-hand ties throughout the film. This is the only time he flouts British civilisation and wears dark worsted city suits without ties. Though he’s in warm places like Key West and Mexico and wears lightweight suits, he’s wearing business suits rather than resort suits, and the rules he follows to this day would demand that he wears a tie with the suits in that film. Though the look that Bond sports in Licence to Kill would be more relevant now, it is not the character that the film Bond is now.

James Bond wearing a city suit without a tie in Licence to Kill

If Ian Fleming were writing James Bond novels today, would the knitted silk tie still be part of the character’s daily uniform? Fleming’s Bond hated formalities and did not follow traditional conventions of dressing. He wore short-sleeved shirts, casual moccasins and sporty knitted ties with his dark, worsted suits. He could get away with his style in Jamaica, but it was quite a rebellious look in London. Because the literary Bond always dressed down his suits, it’s quite possible he would have followed the current trends and forgotten his ties. Or his quirky fashion sense may have kept the tie in a time of popular rebellion against it.

James Bond has always been a rebellious character in one way or another, and it is because he wants to do what he believes is right. Bond never goes against the grain just because, and he still believes in the tie and what it represents. He never felt a need to join the tie-less rebellion because he is what the tie represents: the tradition, establishment and formality of British civilisation. By fighting for the British government, Bond is fighting for the neck tie. But now in continuing to wear a tie, Bond is rebelling against the people who feel the tie is unnecessary and a thing of the past. Some people also feel that way about Bond. Since the 1990s Bond has had to prove his relevance to the world, both to his superiors as well as to the films’ audience. Because of this, the Bond character is always being tweaked, but his faith to the tie and thus himself is as strong as ever. As far as his clothes are concerned, Bond is keeping it classy.

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44 COMMENTS

  1. Interesting as ever Matt.
    Slight tangent, we know about literary Bond’s public school and naval background, but I wonder if either have ever been referenced in the films during Craig’s tenure?
    Vesper made some oblique reference to “ex SAS guys with charming smiles” on the train, but in the last four films I don’t remember if he’s even been referred to as “Commander”, much less had his posh school days mentioned.

    • Sony published a dossier on Bond at the time Casino Royale was released that detailed he went to Eton, then to Fettes and then to the Royal Navy at the age of 17. He also took courses at Cambridge, Oxford and elsewhere. The dossier refers to him as a Commander. His education background is implied in Casino Royale, but I don’t believe any of these things are detailed in the films.

      • In the movie “You Only Live Twice” (I think), Bond told Moneypenny he had taken a First in Oriental Languages as Cambridge. I don’t believe that a University is mentioned in the books.

      • Yes, in You Only Live Twice Bond mentions that he studied at Cambridge. And as part of the Craig reboot, the character’s official biography also mentioned him taking classes at Cambridge and Oxford. The literary Bond studied at the University of Geneva.

    • When M wrote 007’s obit in Skyfall, when Bond was thought to be dead, he was referred to as Commander. Outside of that I don’t remember any other references of the four movies.

      I started working in the 80’s and I had to maintain a suit wardrobe. While I don’t have to maintain a suit wardrobe anymore, I still enjoy wearing a tie to work and any chance I can get. Just makes things look finished. Especially, when most of my co-workers nowadays are wearing jeans and a t-shirt.

  2. Almost a philosophical take on Bond and the neck tie, Matt! I’m 21, and I wear a suit and tie on occasion, which gets strange looks from time to time. Whereas other men in the room often loosen their tie and open their top shirt button (They hate wearing it, apparently) after an hour, I often think of Bond, and how ridiculous it would look if he did that while dining or during a meeting. Bond does influence me in a good way, I’d say!

    My father recently came back from a business trip to Iran, and told me that nobody wears a tie there. They see a neck tie as a symbol of hanging oneself, and gifting someone a tie means so much as wishing them dead.
    It left me with an interesting thought: should Bond, were he ever to visit Iran, forgo the neck tie in a situation where he normally wouldn’t and adhere to the local customs? Or should he wear a tie because he, as you rightly pointed out, “is what the tie represents: the tradition, establishment and formality of British civilisation.”?

    • Whether Bond is dressing to be himself or dressing to fit his surroundings depends on what his purpose is there. Bond typically dresses as himself and sometimes looks out of place because of it, but he usually pulls it off because of his demeanour.

  3. Great article, “sometimes the old ways are best.”
    I love wearing ties, it is almost a subversive act these days as well as a great method of self expression. “No well dressed man should be without one.”
    For questions such as these, “why does he wear ties?” “Why is he wearing a suit in this setting?” “How does he keep his clothes wrinkle-free?” “Why doesn’t he sweat?” “How did he fit his whole wardrobe into one suitcase?” etc. I’m willing to accept the answer “because he’s James Bond!”
    That’s the fun of it after all and why we admire him so much.

  4. The still pic from License to Kill suggests the question: why didn’t the director opt to have Dalton wear a tie up to the point of “resigning”, then remove and discard it once he got away from M’s agents, to symbolize his going rogue? Or perhaps it would have seemed heavy-handed, like the cliche of the cop handing over their badge and gun. “Turn in your tie, 007. Now the other one. AND the other one…”

    • Interesting scenario, reminiscent of Henry (Joe Spano) the ‘Lieutenant Liberal’ of Hill Street Blues who was always offering to turn in his badge and gun to Captain Furillo, especially if Furillo told Howard (James B Sikking) and the SWAT team to take a sniper shot rather than allow Henry to talk down the villain!

      Back to ties and your point, there was a scene prior to the interrogation, after the opening car chase in QoS, wherein Bond removes his tie somewhat disdainfully. It’s also a continuity blooper as we see Bond’s now disheveled shirt collar change position from shot to shot.

  5. Your best post ever, Matt! I agree with many of your observations: (1) “The neck tie also has personal meaning to Bond on many levels. Bond is a professional, and whether he is going to work at a government office in Whitehall or meeting with other professionals abroad, a tie gives Bond that professional appearance.” – agreed! I am a university professor, and I am appalled by fellow academics who still dress like 60’s rejects. What is ironic is that administrators wear suits and ties, but without faculty the university would not exist. (2) “Even if Bond is not going to the office or meeting with someone, he still puts on a tie when he’s on a mission because it’s his way of showing himself, if nobody else, that he’s at work and serious about what he’s doing. Apart from his boss M, most people that Bond encounters today could not care less that Bond wears a tie. But for Bond, the tie is a matter of self respect.” – agreed again! I wear coat and tie to work every day, both out of self-respect and to show respect for the classroom and for the academic enterprise. (3) “The tie is only uncomfortable to those not used to it or to those who wear their shirt collar too tight.” – so true! Many men, even professional men, don’t bother to update the wardrobes they bought when they got their first real job out of college, and keep wearing suits and shirts that have become way too tight. No wonder they look and feel uncomfortable! (4) “The tie is not just about tradition but about visual harmony and self-expression. Visually, the tie is connective tissue that brings the jacket and shirt together while linking it with the body in the form of a visual “arrow” that points up to the face.” Again, very true! I would also add the the “tieless” blazer and open collar look almost invariably seems somehow “unfinished” and sometimes a little slovenly. Furthermore, past a certain age, the neck and throat become the least attractive part of a man’s anatomy – there is a reason why men have been wearing some sort of neckwear for centuries.

  6. Nice Post Matt! It’s interesting to see what may be the subconscious reasons the filmmakers have for keeping a tie on Bond.

    I personally like seeing him wear a tie. You really don’t see it too often with action heroes.

  7. Most suits are made to be worn with a tie. The framing of the face looks strange without one. I’ve also always viewed the tie as a visual res presentation of ones spine. Really helps to elevate one and forces them to carry themself in the most respectful way.

    Ties and suits are definitely punk rock in this current day as well. Anothe plus

  8. From memory, I would say that Bond’s obituary in You Only Live Twice is still the most ‘authentic’ source of information on his background. I assume this was the source of the information in the Sony dossier, and also a James Bond annual I had as a boy.

  9. This may be your magnum opus, Matt. I really enjoyed it.

    Coincidentally, the points you make in this piece are driven home by another unrelated event that also occurred today: the unveiling of President Obama’s official portrait. Note what is missing from his ensemble. Clearly a deliberate choice by the artist meant to convey Obama’s status as a non-traditionalist and an agent of change.

    • Thank you!

      Obama’s portrait is beautiful, but the lack of a tie makes it look like it is missing something, in a visual sense. The lack of tie sends many messages, most of all in that it tries to convey Obama as a man of the people. By contrast, Bond’s preference for regularly wearing ties today shows that he is not a regular man and believes he is better than everyone else.

      • Hold on there. I’m not comfortable with the inference that Bond (or anyone who) has a preference for wearing a tie because it makes them think they’re ‘better than everyone else’

      • People wear clothes to display their feelings and attitudes, and Bond often displays the attitude that is he better than others (such as villains like Scaramanga) regardless of what he is wearing. Some people (but not most) do indeed wear a tie because they think they are better than others (especially in wearing so-called red “power ties”, which Bond typically does not wear), but as I wrote in this article there are many things that the tie symbolises, both good and bad. I’m not saying that people who wears ties are superior to people who don’t wear ties, but this is a way that some people wear ties. Acknowledging bad things that people believe and do does not mean I condone those things. People misuse the things that we use and love in other ways. The tie alone does not say anything, but it’s all in the way one presents himself to others in words and manner. When Bond wears things from his culture amongst people of other cultures who dress differently, it is partly because he thinks his culture is superior. This is all a part of Bond’s Britishness and being a world representative of Britain. Playing by your own rules is a way of saying that you’re superior to others. Wearing anything rebelliously says that. Some people don’t wear ties in settings that traditionally demand a tie to say they are superior to those who do wear ties.

      • And have you forgotten how in Casino Royale (2006) that Vesper implies that Bond dresses the way he does because he thinks he is better? She doesn’t say that to his face, but you know that’s what she means by the way she says it. His smug expression would say he agrees with that.

      • Ironically, I always thought that Obama (who studied at Harvard and Columbia, BTW) projected a certain hauteur. He certainly never struck me as a “man of the people”. What other president ever told members of the opposition party “I won, you lost!”

      • In many of these examples I think you’re conflating ‘different from everyone else’ with ‘better than everyone else’. Note it was you who said ‘everyone’. Bond as written was a holdover from WW2 and empire / colonial days, and had some very disagreeable traits (“Quarrel – get my shoes!”) a few of which continue to permeate the character as portrayed in the current films. While I dare say that he considers himself better than the villains he comes up against because he abides by a personal moral (legal?) code which they have failed to live up to, I still don’t agree that him wearing a tie makes him “feel better than EVERYONE else”.

  10. Interesting article, and very well written! Thank you! However, I would disagree that the necktie is “disappearing”. Yes, people don’t wear suits and ties as much as they used to, but this doesn’t mean that this style of dress is disappearing. Ties are still mandatory in banking, law, politics, and government. Almost all TV anchors wear ties, many doctors wear ties, and even college professors, who work in a much more “casual” environment are still often seen wearing ties (a friend of mine, who studies at Yale says all his professors wear suits and ties). Hermes alone sells like a million ties a year. There is an infinite number of tie brands, from the cheapest department store ones, and cheap (but great) thetiebar ties, to very expensive, handmade Italian and Britisb ones. handmade printed silk ties and grenadine ties have become very popular in recent years, and people are willing to spend as much as a few hundred dollars on a tie. I’d say that the necktie is as much a “thing of the past”, as high heels. Neither is worn as often and by as many people as 50 or 70 years ago, but neither is going to vanish either. Not in this century at least.

  11. Matt, i would like to offer my compliments for this insightful article. It captures the very essence of James Bond. It allows one to comprehend why he is like how he is. It also provides moral support for people who take about themselves and take pride in dressing up, to the last detail.

    In my opinion, this article is equivalent to social service! 🙂

  12. Also, this article could not be better timed, considering that how people these days favor casual dresses and also increasingly ghastly outfits and combinations, all in the name of being unique or forward-thinking.

  13. As one of the black sheep and followers of this thread this editorial by far acknowledges why in a world of uncertainty a necktie along with a good suit can add a few more bullets to the chamber. I can’t speak for anyone, but as for me, I feel more comfortable in a suit, and it’s probably because the suit represents old fashioned integrity. I’m with the great jack taylor of beverly hills, when he says, “A suit is a uniform, a man dresses up for the part and for the part.”

  14. Now this question is for everyone, my wife and I enjoyed dining at sir winstons of the queen mary a few years back when I was courting her. The last time we came we noticed people dressed more casually and this concerned us. One of the main reasons we dined there was to be in a formal setting. Even though the queen mary has other restaurants people still chose to “complain” their way in.

    My wife and I were always in black tie and we really did recieve stellar service and the wait staff seemed to be inspired by our attire and etiquette. (I’m not blowing my horn on this one guys). Anyhow long story short ( I know too late), we inquired with the receptionist as to why the dress code had somewhat been lifted, and they said very sadly “People were threatening to sue the restaurant.”

    Any comment 007?

    • How on earth can a customer sue a business for operating a policy which simply doesn’t appeal to them? Doesn’t ring through. Otherwise, hotels etc would have dropped dress codes too and not all have

    • Isn’t that the truth! In my experience, the more I try to dress better, the more I realize I’m going against the grain. Everyone is more concerned with following fashion trends or dressing comfortably, rather than looking their best.

      Though I may just be preaching to the choir now. Just had to get that off my chest.

  15. Let me join in the praise for this excellent, very well considered post, Matt. Almost a treatise of its own.

    Yes, It is quite extraordinary to consider how quickly the tie, a staple of so many men’s wardrobe and day to day dress, has fallen out of favour. Even, as you say, in business circles. The Presidential portrait you refer to wouldn’t have happened, even during the Bush era. I’ve noticed a dramatic drop in sartorial standards since the start of this millennium and especially in the last 10 years or so.

    The tieless professional looks unprofessional; at least along the standards we have become accustomed to. The favoured business suit worn with open neck shirt has accelerated in popularity in direct parallel to the overall drop in general standards during the period I mention. It looks awful, regardless of the shirt worn and especially so when so many of the chosen suits are the most boring imaginable; plain navies or black (another lazy modern trend, as black was generally a funeral suit up to recently). Conversely, the open neck shirt worn with a blazer or sports coat, on account of the informality of the jacket in comparison to a suit, would be preferable, yet these guys persist with the crappy suit and open neck shirt look.

    You’re right in your assertion that Bond’s “keeping the British end up” via his wardrobe, now signals an attitude of superiority whereas until the 1990’s it just would’ve been run-of-the-mill. However, as the tie becomes less and less a staple of male dressing, how long can he continue doing this without appearing as a dinosaur; a man out of his time? Still, at least Bond never endures the asinine “are you off to a wedding?” question in his day to day life

    • It’s a tough call for the film makers as Bond has always been seen to be the upholder of some sort of sartorial standards. Wearing suits in the daytime and dinner clothes in the evening would have been perfectly acceptable in the fifties and sixties when the books and first few films came out, thus setting up our expectations. The conundrum now is that we expect to see Bond in a suit but with today’s trends that sets him apart in many settings – not a good thing for a secret agent! Then they have to come up with at least one scene in which he can wear his dinner jacket (hopefully not anachronistically like on a train in North Africa!) which comes with an even narrower remit.

      I have a very flexible dress code on my job when I’m not working from home, and I do enjoy the idea that I’m being mildly subversive and rebellious in wearing suit and tie!

      • Your last sentence; its staggering to grasp but yes, it seems that’s what it’s come to!

      • I see your point about the dinner jacket on the train in Spectre. But then again, I actually believe that Bond would wear it in this setting. It goes along with wearing the ties. Bond simply doesn’t give a damn what others are doing – he lives by his own code. Very Fleming-sequel in its own right and one of the things that has always appealed to me about the character. Does it covey an air of superiority? Of course, as it should. To hell with conformity in this shabby era.

      • I just don’t buy it in that scenario. Of Craig’s tenure we see him in a tux for the Casino in CR = plausible. In QoS he manages to pick out a perfectly fitting rig with shoes too from backstage at the opera = implausible but not impossible. In SF he’s sent to Shanghai in pursuit of the list of agents and to rub out Ronson’s killer then follows the trail to the Shanghai Casino. Luckily he packed his tux. = possible but a bit of a stretch. In CR Vesper says “I suppose you dress that way cos you think you’re supposed to, but you wear the suit with such disdain”. Yet in SPECTRE we’re supposed to believe that on the run from baddies in Switzerland at wintertime and hunting for Blofeld’s ‘secret underground lair’ he somehow had time to stop off en route to North Africa and get a summer tux rig … to wear on a train. A bridge too far for me!

  16. I have been blessed to acquire a second hand caraceni in a dark gray Glen Urquhart check with a deep red stripe in the pattern. Anyone have any suggestion on what type of neck tie would be best with this? I’m assuming I should stick with a white shirt.

    • That sounds excellent! A white, light blue or cream shirt would all be fine choices. You can match the tie to the red overcheck or go for a simple black tie. A tie with deep red in the pattern can work well in a more subtle way, but the red overcheck should not be ignored. A grenadine or ribbed tie would pair nicely with the suit. A knitted silk tie can work if you’re trying to dress down the suit, though knitted ties are never my first choice with a suit.

  17. Too bad the tie has declined. Aesthetically, the combination of suit, shirt, tie, and pochette work together. And with the increasing obesity rate in the world, in particular the West , I’d think a tie might hide an unattractive neck.

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