A Tale of Two Tuxedos: Opposite Ends of Black Tie

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It was the best of ties, it was the worst of ties. Not all ways of wearing black tie (a dinner jacket/tuxedo) are equal, but the differences with regards to how James Bond wears black tie are actually about being more formal or less formal rather than being better or worse. A comparison of black tie from Tomorrow Never Dies and Thunderball places Bond’s most formal example up against one of his least formal.

Both the Brioni dinner suit from Tomorrow Never Dies and the Anthony Sinclair dinner suit from Thunderball are midnight blue, but even if one was black that wouldn’t change anything since black and midnight blue are equal in formality. Both dinner jackets have the same classic details of one button on the front, four buttons on the cuffs, jetted hip pockets and no rear vent. The most important difference is the type of lapels: the dinner jacket in Tomorrow Never Dies has peaked lapels while the dinner jacket in Thunderball has a shawl collar. Peaked lapels, particularly in the case of black tie, come from the evening tailcoat. The shawl collar is derived from the smoking jacket, which is ultimately a presentable piece of loungewear. As a result of the origins of these lapel styles, peaked lapels are more formal than the shawl collar. As for where notched lapels fit in, their mundane origins as part of the ordinary single-breasted jacket place them alongside the formality of the shawl collar.

The silhouettes of the two dinner jackets also marginally contribute to one being more formal than the other. The dinner jacket in Tomorrow Never Dies has straight, padded shoulders while the dinner jacket in Thunderball has soft shoulders without padding. The softer shoulders are more relaxed and less formal than the larger, stiffer shoulders are, but since both garments are structured overall there is not a huge difference.

One of the most significant elements that increases the formality of the dinner suit in Tomorrow Never Dies is the inclusion of a matching waistcoat, with the body of the waistcoat matching the midnight blue wool of the rest of the suit and the silk lapels matching the silk trimmings of the rest of the suit. This waistcoat is an unusual double-breasted five-button style with the buttons in a “V” configuration. Despite the unusual style of the waistcoat, any proper low-cut evening waistcoat that matches the suit would add the same formality to the dinner jacket. A white cotton marcella waistcoat from full evening dress (white tie) would be a step up in formality from the black waistcoat, though the white waistcoat has largely been out of favour with black tie since after its early days.

The outfit in Thunderball lacks any kind of waist-covering, whether it be a waistcoat or cummerbund. Though menswear historians consider the lack of waist-covering to be incorrect for black tie, it has been an acceptable practice since the 1960s. The waist-covering for black tie has largely been considered irrelevant in Britain since then.

A few words about waist-coverings with different dinner jacket styles: It’s commonly said that waistcoats better complement dinner jackets with peaked lapels and cummerbunds better complement dinner jackets with shawl collars. This is because waistcoats are more formal than cummerbunds and peaked lapels are more formal than shawl collars. Also, the typical waistcoat has a “V”-shaped opening that follows the shape of peaked lapels, and the rounded form of the cummerbund complements the rounded shape of the lapels. This isn’t to say that cummerbunds cannot be worn with jackets that have peaked lapels and that waistcoats can’t be worn with jackets that have shawl collars. Waistcoats with a U-shaped opening especially pair harmoniously with a shawl-collared dinner jacket, but they can also go well with a peaked-lapel dinner jacket.

No waist-covering is ever needed with a double-breasted jacket, since the double-breasted jacket stays fastened at all times. Though Bond wears a shawl-collared dinner jacket without a waist-covering in Thunderball, any type of single-breasted dinner jacket can also do without a waist-covering. It is important that the dress shirt complements the type of waist-covering.

Bond’s dress shirt in Tomorrow Never Dies is at the higher formality end of the spectrum of shirts for black tie. It has a spread collar, double cuffs to take cufflinks and a bib, all in stiff pique marcella cotton. The bib has no raised placket and fastens with mother-of-pearl studs. The only thing that would make this shirt more formal would be a stiff wing collar, but that largely fell out of favour in the 1930s when the turn-down collar became standard for black tie, thanks to the Prince of Wales. If one was to pair a white marcella waistcoat with a dinner jacket, a wing collar would be mandatory. But James Bond always wears a turn-down collar for black tie since a wing-collar for black tie is largely considered outdated, eccentric or in poor taste in Britain.

Because the type of dress shirt that Bond wears in Tomorrow Never Dies is on the more formal side of dress shirts, it goes well with the peaked lapel jacket and waistcoat. This shirt can also go perfectly fine with a shawl-collared dinner jacket, which is how Bond wears it in Skyfall. This type of shirt almost always requires a waist-covering (either a waistcoat or a cummerbund), not only to match the formality of the shirt but also to hide the buttons that follow under the three or four studs at the top. Pierce Brosnan wears a special shirt of this style in The World Is Not Enough that is made to take five studs, so no waist-covering is necessary. The problem with a shirt taking five studs is that most stud sets have only three or four studs.

Bond’s dress shirt in Thunderball, by contrast, is almost an ordinary shirt, which makes the outfit far less formal. It has a typical spread collar, it has cocktail cuffs rather than double cuffs, and there is no fancy front, just a placket. The shirt is special because its a white-on-white stripe, which is a more formal cloth than plain white. Bond does not wear studs or cufflinks with this shirt, and studs would be too dressy for this less formal shirt. Studs are not necessary for black tie, and they are unnecessary even for Bond’s typical soft black tie shirt with a pleated front, which sits in between the formality of the unadorned shirt in Thunderball and the marcella shirt in Tomorrow Never Dies.

The shirt in Thunderball being the least formal of all the varieties of dress shirts means that a waistcoat is too formal for it. Even a cummerbund may be too formal. This type of dress shirt came about at the same time the black tie waist-covering started to go away. The unadorned white-on-white dress shirt, however, can go well with any type of dinner jacket. Bond even wear a white-on-white dress shirt with his peaked-lapel dinner jacket in Casino Royale.

One of the most noticeable differences between the two outfits is Brosnan’s wide butterfly bow tie compared to Connery’s narrow batwing bow tie. In regards to everything else, the bow tie shape has little bearing on the formality of the outfit. The bow tie width is simply in proportion to the width of the lapels.

These variations on black tie are not entirely interchangeable. The more and less formal black tie outfits are worn for more and less formal occasions. Bond goes all out with black tie in Tomorrow Never Dies because he’s attending a grand party. In Thunderball he’s dressing less formally for a more low-key evening out at a casino in the Bahamas.

The black tie outfit in Tomorrow Never Dies is certainly the most formal of Bond’s black tie outfits, but there are other contenders besides Thunderball for the least formal of Bond’s black tie outfits:

  • The navy velvet shawl-collar dinner jacket with a blue shirt in Diamonds Are Forever is certainly less formal than what Bond wears in Thunderball, but because because it’s velvet, comparing it to the outfit in Tomorrow Never Dies is comparing apples and oranges.
  • The double-breasted dinner suit in The Spy Who Loved Me is one of Bond’s least formal black tie outfits of the series because a double-breasted dinner jacket is less formal than its single-breasted counterpart, despite the peaked lapels on Bond’s double-breasted dinner jacket. Bond also wears it with a voile shirt that has no fancy front, and it has unusual “Lapidus” tab cuffs. The shirt has black mother-of-pearl buttons, not studs (which would be inappropriate on such a plain shirt).
  • The ivory dinner jacket in Octopussy is part of another one of Bond’s least formal black tie outfits. Ivory dinner jackets are less formal than darker black and midnight blue suits, and this dinner jacket being linen even lessens the formality. Like in The Spy Who Loved Me, the voile shirt is less formal because it has a plain front, but it has traditional double cuffs to bring it up a level. Because ivory dinner jackets are less formal than darker dinner suits, they naturally pair better with the less formal of the black tie accessories. The marcella dress shirt from Tomorrow Never Dies would not only be too formal for an ivory dinner jacket, it would also be too warm.

In the end, I chose the dinner suit in Thunderball to compare to the dinner suit in Tomorrow Never Dies because it is the most apples to apples comparison, both being dark, single-breasted dinner suits.

35 COMMENTS

  1. Thank you for the article!
    Any thoughts on the different bow ties? I prefer Brosnans’, it seems more elegant to me and perhaps even gives a more powerful look!

    • I agree, although I have heard differently though. I once a rule that stated that the width of the ends of the bowtie needs to match the width of the lapels. Wide bowties with wide lapels, and vice versa. If anyone can confirm or correct this, please do.

    • As I wrote in the article, “The bow tie width is simply in proportion to the width of the lapels.” The shape, on the other hand, doesn’t matter. I don’t think you’ll find a batwing bow tie as wide as Brosnan’s, but the different shapes still vary in width.

    • You did mention that. Sorry if I’m repeating myself.
      Also, based on what you said, could brosnan or connery have worn a diamond tipped bowtie with either of their dinner suits?

  2. Very interesting article Matt. Two tuxedos on the opposite scale of formality.
    5 studs on the TWINE shirt? That’s a bit excessive, isn’t it?
    I had noticed that on the back of the Thunderball’s shawl collar there is a line in the very middle of the back of the collar.
    That is absent on all of Bond’s other shawl tuxedos. Could you explain to me why that is?

    • Five studs is excessive, but if you don’t have a waist-covering, that fifth stud is necessary.

      All shawl collars have a seam at the back. I’m sure it’s there on all of them.

  3. Very good article Mr.Spaiser.
    In my opinion one of the least formal of all Bond Black tie looks has to be the white, notch-lapeled dinner jacket, worn by Roger Moore in “A View to a Kill”(1985).

    • Yes, that’s another. That dinner jacket itself perhaps the least formal of all (it could do double-duty as a sports coat), but he wears a proper shirt with it.

  4. The waistcoat that brosnan wears it’s bit excessive is it not? He can obviously pull it off and since he is my favorite bond I would like to try to attempt it but it screams of money, and frank Lucas the notorious America gangster once said the loudest one in the room is the weakest one. I noticed Gordon gekko wore something similar to it. Is the wair coat a disguise or personal choice of bond?

    • It is a bit excessive, but there are much flashier things one can wear with black tie. An usual cut for a waistcoat isn’t going to be noticeable to many people. If he really wanted to scream, a red silk waistcoat could have done that. I don’t think that it is supposed to be a disguise.

    • Technically, Bond is supposed to be undercover as a rich banker in that particular film, so a lot of the clothing choices, including the waistcoat, match that cover fairly well. Perhaps a little flashier than required, but they say “I have wealth, and authority, and you should pay attention to me.”

  5. About grade of formality,is in theory a double breasted suit less formal that a two buttons single breasted suit?

    • While that is the case for black tie, I don’t think it is for an ordinary suit. The double-breasted and single-breasted suits were traditionally equal, though now double-breasted suits are often considered more formal than single-breasted suits.

  6. As for the dress shirt that brosnan wears I looked for it on the turnbull asser website and all I found was a dress shirt with a Marcella bib and classic T and A collar. Is that an exact match or close?

  7. Wow, these just happen to be my two favourite dinner suits in the series! Both outfits perfectly match the personalities of the respective Bonds, I really couldn’t imagine one wearing the other. And I do agree that the differences have little to do with which one is better.

    Two beautiful outfits from two great actors. This article was a fun little study in formality.

  8. Thanks Matt!

    For me this is a difficult one because generally I care little about Pierce Brosnan’s Brioni suits. However I must admit that I like this particular black tie outfit. Yes, it’s true, the double-breasted waistcoat turns it into a rather flamboyant one but it is that item which I like most. It adds some panache and without it Brosnan would look as he normally looks as Bond in his Brioni attire – boring and nondescript.
    However in comparison I prefer Connery’s less formal black tie ensemble, simply because of its effortless elegance and originality. Connery just integrates some of his signature style items in it, i.e. his cocktail cuff shirt and although I don’t know what sort of shoes he is wearing I am pretty sure that they are the usual black slip-on’s. It’s not in the least fussy or excessive and I think you can see that by the wearer’s attitude. Connery seems to be totally at ease even when wearing formal wear. He just treats it like a normal lounge suit but that goes with no loss of elegance. I like the photos you have chosen because they brillantly illustrate that. There’s a saying that a man should dress thoroughly and with attention to detail but once it’s done totally forget about it because he will never look elegant if he’s concious of what he is wearing. That’s the problem I have with Brosnan – as Bond he always seems to be very concious of what he is wearing, it’s a bit of a peacock attitude paired with arrogance. Which disqualifies himself from being as cool and confident as Connery’s Bond is.
    But Lindy Hemming did a fine job designing this outfit.

  9. Excellent article. Matt, what are your thoughts on wearing (or not wearing) braces with black tie? Bond often chooses not to wear them, as well as not wearing a cumberband, cuff links, etc. Braces fell out of fashion in the 60´s and they would probably interfere with the shoulder holster. However, Dalton wears braces with black tie in TLD and Craig in CR.

  10. I noticed that brosnan was walking around with his dinner jacket unbuttoned, perhaps it was left unbuttoned to show the unique design of waist coat? Your thoughts? Also, shouldn’t blacktie always be worn with the dinner jacket buttoned? Should the dinner jacket be only left unbuttoned when you are wearing a waistcoat ?

  11. The next dinner suit I will purchase will most likely have peaked lapels. Either midnight blue or black in colour with silk facings. But both dinner suits here are elegant in their own way, even though they are on either ends of formality. I wore a light navy black shawl collared dinner suit to my wedding, which I still have, but it will date because of the colour. A black peaked lapel dinner suit in a classic cut won’t ever date and I should be able to wear it for many years, until I need to update because of wear. But either examples here won’t ever really date. Brosnan’s fuller cut jacket is dated to the 90’s and really the heavy padded shoulders are too, even though shoulders on the narrower side with medium amounts of padding won’t really date. What do you think Matt ?

  12. I would have expected a banker not to wear such a fancy-cut waistcoat -as far as sartorial stereotypes go, of course. A simple 3-button single breasted vest, or a double-breasted dinner jacket. 4*1.
    It’s a shame Brosnan didn’t wear one double-breasted suit in the series. After all, he posed twice as a banker. DB suits weren’t particularly out of fashion in the 1990s, and I am sure he would have looked great. As usual.

    I also think the waistcoat could have been cut slightly lower. But it’s still a great and interesting look. One good reason to watch TND again, since I never spotted it before.
    One the flrst pictures, one thing striking me is the differences between the collars. Connery’s look very small yet he probably had a bigger neck size than Brosnan. The tall spread looks great on Brosnan though.

    • I think the reason is one of movie magic. They probably wanted Bond to look like he could blend in as any profession, but still be James Bond. In this case, single breasted suits only. (Despite that he wore the double breasted blazer in Goldeneye… poorly at that.) The only time they really dropped the ball on this was in Spectre, where the black herringbone suit with peaked lapels and collar-pinned shirt was too different from his usual style. It didn’t look like something he’d have in his closet.

  13. “If one was to pair a white marcella waistcoat with a dinner jacket, a wing collar would be mandatory. But James Bond always wears a turn-down collar for black tie since a wing-collar for black tie is largely considered outdated, eccentric or in poor taste in Britain.”

    Bless you for saying this. I personally don’t even like white marcella waistcoats with black tie. Seems a little out of place to have stiff waistcoats and stiff fronted shirts with the more relaxed lounge-cut jacket. These are the two best examples at both ends you could have picked. Too bad Bond had ditched pocket squares halfway through Connery’s reign, because even that outfit — less formal as it is — could have benefited from one.

    • White waistcoats – with their White Tie associations – generally went with a wing collar. That’s partly because they haven’t often been worn with a dinner jacket since the 20s and 30s when the wing collar was standard and a turn down collar an innovation of the Prince of Wales and his set with the double breasted DJ. I don’t believe there is any convention requiring a wing collar with the white Marcella waistcoat though.

      In the 30s the mess jacket would be paired with turn down collars and white waistcoats at times. Louis Armstrong appears to have worn white waistcoats with turndown collars – a look he kept going long after the wearing of white waistcoats had become very rare. Personally, I think a Marcella shirt with studs, even if it has a turndown collar, is both smart and formal enough to carry off the white waistcoat for a different black tie look.

  14. Incidentally, Marcella fronted shirts aren’t stiff. They are thicker than a standard shirt front but that is it. The Marcella fronted shirt was a replacement for the traditional boiled shirt which was starched within an inch of its life.

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