It takes both a bold and elegant man to wear a shirt made of voile. That man sounds like James Bond.
Alan Flusser defines voile in his book Dressing the Man as, “Woven from fine hand twisted yarns with reverse twist warp threads, this plain fabric is lightweight, cool, and dry.” The combination of fine yarns and twist gives voile its semi-sheer characteristics. Because it is so fine, voile can be a very dressy cloth and is perfect for evening wear. But the same qualities mean that it excels in hot weather, and it can make up well into any style of shirt.
Voile is typically woven in a plain weave like poplin is, either of cotton or silk, but the high twist of the yarns means that sheer is a mandatory characteristic of voile, while poplin is only sheer in lighter weights. Voile may also be woven in a twill weave, using the same high-twist yarns that make the more ordinary plain-weave voile. Voile has a soft hand, and the high twist of the yarns helps it to wrinkle less than fine poplins and ordinary twills.
The voile shirt is uncommon for men because men generally do not like their shirts to be sheer. For the many men complaining that thin poplin is too sheer, wearing voile would be a non-starter. This is an unfortunate attitude because there is nothing wrong with men wearing sheer shirtings, though they may be too revealing in conservative business settings, especially if one is not wearing a jacket over the shirt. In warm weather and in more formal environments, a fine, sheer shirt can be most desirable. However, it takes more confidence than the average man has to wear a voile shirt, which is certainly no problem for James Bond.
Voile is French for “veil”, and it got that name because it is sheer like the materials used for a wedding veil. Voile is often used for curtains because its sheer nature gently diffuses light through while blocking the view of onlookers from the outside. It is also used for bed canopies.
Black tie shirting is James Bond’s primary use for voile. He wears many dress shirts made of voile over the course of the series. Because voile is sheer, the front is often doubled with extra fabric to prevent the visible parts of the shirt from being see-through. When dressing in black tie, the jacket is meant to stay on at all times, so the sheer parts of voile dress shirts (Tuxedo shirts) would not be seen when the shirt has an extra layer of fabric in front. The collar and cuff are already double-layered and have an interfacing. The extra fabric in front for a dress shirt is traditionally achieved in two manners, a marcella bib and pleats.
The more formal front for a dress shirt is the marcella bib, which adds a layer of thick, pique cotton to the front of the shirt. The collar and cuffs are also made of the same marcella cotton as the bib, but not the body and sleeves. The body and sleeves of of a marcella shirt are most typically made in cotton poplin, but they may also be made in cotton voile. James Bond’s marcella-front dress shirts in Tomorrow Never Dies and Skyfall, made by Turnbull & Asser for Pierce Brosnan and by Tom Ford for Daniel Craig, respectively, are made with a voile body and sleeves. In Skyfall, the airy voile is comfortable in the warm weather of Macau.
For a more relaxed black tie shirt, a pleated shirt may be entirely made of voile, either cotton or silk. Pleats in the front of a voile shirt create an opaque front, while the rest of the body is still sheer. James Bond wears pleated voile dress shirts made by Lanvin in cotton for Sean Connery in Dr. No and by Frank Foster for Roger Moore in silk for The Man with the Golden Gun and in cotton for Moonraker and A View to a Kill. Roger Moore wears his pleated voile shirts all in warm locales.
Turnbull & Asser made a pleated cotton voile twill dress shirt for Pierce Brosnan in Die Another Day. Voile twill, in contrast to the usual plain-weave voile, has more body but still is slightly sheer. Despite wearing this shirt inside a cold ice palace, the texture of the cotton voile twill was chosen for its elegant look rather than its airy properties.
Since the late 1960s, the dress shirt with a ruffled front has been in and out of fashion. Frank Foster made a ruffled-front shirt of cotton voile for George Lazenby to wear in On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, in which the voile ruffles adorn the front like a gathered veil. These ruffles, like pleats, make the front opaque.
On two occasions in hot weather, James Bond wears plain dress shirts with only a single layer of voile in front. These shirts are sheer in front to best deal with dressing up in hot weather, but the gentle texture of voile alone still looks elegant. The two shirts are made by Frank Foster for Roger Moore to wear with his midnight blue dinner suit in Egypt in The Spy Who Loved Me and to wear with his ivory dinner jacket in India in Octopussy. The shirt in The Spy Who Loved Me has black mother-of-pearl buttons, including large buttons on the “Lapidus” tab cuffs, to make it fancier. The shirt in Octopussy has only double cuffs (French cuffs) to set it apart from the style of Bond’s regular shirts in the film. The placket on the front of both these shirts is emphasised because it is an opaque double layer while the rest of the front is semi-sheer.
The plain voile shirt is also acceptable with suits in warm weather, where it can be very much needed. Often this shirt would be made with a double layer in front so that the parts of the shirt that show with a jacket are are opaque, but the rest of the shirt still would be airy under the jacket. However, Frank Foster prefers to make Roger Moore’s voile shirts with only a single layer in front, even for business wear. In Octopussy, Moore wears a sky blue cotton voile shirt with his grey rope stripe suit, and A View to a Kill, Moore wears such a shirt in cream with his tan gabardine suit in San Francisco.
In The Man with the Golden Gun, James Bond wears a cream cotton voile shirt for casual wear to withstand the heat and humidity of Bangkok. Though James Bond most often wears voile for his most formal shirts, it is a versatile cloth that can be made into a shirt of any level of formality. This shirt has a double-layer front, which would ordinarily be unnecessary in a casual shirt and undesirable in such weather. In this case, the double layer is to ensure that the “superfluous papila”—or third nipple—that James Bond is wearing to pretend he is Scaramanga is concealed under the shirt and can be revealed at the ideal moment.