(00)7 Colours: Part 1–Bond’s Palette

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James Bond has a colour palette that defines his look, but it’s hardly anything distinctive. It’s nothing more than what has been the traditional men’s colour palette since the early 19th century when good taste in menswear started to mean subdued colours. Ian Fleming largely limited James Bond’s clothing to blue, black and white, though he occasionally dressed Bond in other colours such as red and brown when situations called for them. The Bond films started with these colours and added others, establishing Bond’s on-screen colour palette by the third Bond film, Goldfinger.

001. Blue

If there’s one colour that defines James Bond, it’s blue. Timothy Dalton told Garth Pearce in 1989, ‘The clothes say so much about Bond. He’s got a naval background, so he needs a strong, simple colour like dark blue.’

Blue is a traditionally masculine colour but it also doesn’t make a statement and never stands out too much. It looks good on almost everyone, lending a youthful look. Bond’s primary outfit in Ian Fleming’s novels was a dark blue suit. In the films, Bond stared out with navy blue blazers and suits in various shades of blue from midnight. Midnight blue is the colour of Bond’s iconic dinner suit in Dr. No and many others. He regularly wears shirts in all shades of blue because they’re flattering on most men. He wears more ties in blue than in any other colour because blue ties look subtle and serious but not overly dramatic. His casual clothes, from shirts and knitwear to jackets and trousers and shoes to a playsuit, can often be found in all shades of blue, from dark navy to royal blue to sky blue to the palest blue. Bond proves that there’s no more versatile colour than blue.

002. Black

Black isn’t as important to Bond as blue, but it’s another essential colour for the character. Black is one of the most serious and dramatic colours, but it’s also a stylish colour for the evening. While many people reflexively reach for black because they believe it’s easy to wear, Bond usually limits wearing black to when it’s absolutely necessary. The black dinner suit is an essential Bond garment, and black also the colour of the dress trousers that Bond usually wears with his ivory dinner jackets. It’s usually the colour of his bow tie for black tie. The black suit is an occasional funeral garment. Black trousers are a staple for wearing with sports coats or with casual ensembles when Bond wants his upper half to pop. The all-black look of knitwear and trousers means that Bond is going to be sneaking around at night. Black shoes are an underrated staple of Bond’s wardrobe, but no other shoe can match the formal and neutral look of a black shoe.

The black necktie is an essential item that Bond either wears for its drama or because it’s nondescript. Fleming dressed Bond in black silk knitted ties because they made little statement and faded into the background. However, he also wears black ties for serious occasions like funerals because they can make an incredibly sombre statement. Black is the rare colour that can both make a bold statement and make none at all.

003. White

White is the opposite of black, but it is likewise an extreme colour. Though it is often used to represent purity, that’s rarely why Bond wears it. For men its main use is for formal and dress shirts to brightly highlight the face, to provide a blank canvas for neckties and to contrast a darker suit. The starkness of a white shirt provides a serious and formal look that no other colour can match in this context.

The white category includes off whites such as cream, ivory and ecru. Shades of white are most often used for shirts but also in warm weather for suits, trousers, dinner jackets and casual shirts. In summer garments of linen, tropical wool and silk, white and off-white provide a light, comfortable look that stays cool under the sun.

004. Grey

Grey may be similar to black and white because it also has no hue, but it has its own characteristics. It’s an unexciting neutral colour that Bond frequently wears for suits and trousers because it makes no statement. Though men may wear blue and grey suits interchangeably, blue is a strong colour while grey has no hue and lacks the vivid strength of a navy blue. It can still look rich and interesting when its marled with various shades of grey or black or white, and Bond usually avoids wearing flat greys that look dull.

When Bond doesn’t want to draw attention to himself, there’s no better suit than a grey suit. It has an understated elegance compared to blue. Grey trousers are a frequent complement to Bond’s blue blazers because their neutrality tastefully balances the blue. Grey ties can create a refined look when matching a grey suit, especially on Bond actors with a lighter complexion who benefit from low contrast.

005. Brown

Brown is a muddy colour, both literally and figuratively. It is even less exciting than grey, yet it has a richness and warmth that grey lacks. Depending on how it factors into fashions, it can look either old-fashioned and outdated or trendy and modern. It can be duller than grey or a more attractive neutral. It comes in many shades, from dark chocolate brown to ruddy rust brown to gentle fawn. In the right settings and on the right people it is a beautiful colour.

Brown isn’t a colour often associated with Bond, but it has long been an essential colour for the character since Fleming dressed him in dark brown jeans in ‘For Your Eyes Only’. Brown is decidedly not Bond’s colour when Dr No dresses Bond in a brown silk nehru jacket in the Dr. No film, but that would change. Goldfinger put Bond in a brown houndstooth check suit and a brown hacking jacket to complement the colours of his surroundings: M’s wood-panelled office and the Swiss Alps, respectively. Bond wears brown throughout the series for multiple reasons, whether its to dress in traditional country colours, to follow the trends of the 1970s and 1980s or to flatter a Bond actor like Roger Moore with a warm complexion. On screen, Bond frequently wears brown jackets, trousers, suits, ties and shoes when he needs to without fanfare. Brown rarely calls attention to itself, so it’s a reliable colour for both secret agents and for anyone else. Therer’s a flattering shade of brown for everyone.

006. Tan, Beige and Khaki

Tan is a light shade of brown with a yellow cast, but it behaves so differently from medium and dark shades of brown that it is its own colour. Other pale browns like beige, khaki, light shades of fawn, sand and stone fall into the same category. In suits and trousers these colours are usually worn during the warmer half of the year, but in trenchcoats they are worn year-round. Because tan is a light colour it often avoids the dull connotations of brown.

Bond wears stone-coloured trousers with the brown nehru jacket in Dr. No, but unlike the jacket the trousers don’t look out of place on the character. Bond made the colour his own in the trousers he wears with his blue striped shirt in Thunderball, but Roger Moore solidified pale brown shades as part of Bond’s identity in Live and Let Die and in later films throughout his tenure. It’s an easy, classic colour for most men to wear.

007. Red

Red makes a fiery statement in a way that few others colours do, and is thus one of the strongest colours. Unlike orange and yellow, it retains a classic look in the most vivid shades. It’s the only non-neutral colour other than blue in Bond’s palette, but since he is not a flashy dresser he wears his red clothing in moderation. Bond’s introduction to red came with his burgundy Slazenger jumper in Goldfinger. A darker shade of red like in this jumper looks more elegant in larger garments. Bond wears many different shades of red in his ties, from bright scarlet red to dull brick red to dark burgundy. These ties have a powerful look but keep the red in smaller pieces to not overwhelm an outfit or Bond himself.

Not Bond’s Colours

Bond occasionally ventured into wearing other colours, but they never became part of Bond’s palette. Pink was introduced in Thunderball and became one of Bond’s colours from the mid 1960s through the early 1970s, but then it fell off and did not continue an association with the character. Pink could fall under the red category, but pink is different from red as it’s generally a pale magenta and not a pale red. Greens, purples, oranges and yellows—except for pale yellows that fall more into the cream category—are limited throughout the series. Read more about why these colours are not for Bond.

5 COMMENTS

  1. Considering Bond’s heritage, as the son of parents who owned a highland estate and a descendant of Scottish nobility, it’s a shame the producers didn’t put him into appropriate country clothing more often. The *On Her Majesty’s* hacking jacket is lovely, and I own a vaguely similar one in sage with a blue and cream overcheck that I could easily picture on Bond.

    The ‘modern’ films, as it were, have focused too much (in my opinion) on James as a slick city man and neglected the country Bond of Connery and Lazenby, to his detriment. I’d love to see green make a comeback as a Bond colour; not necessarily in the form of Moore’s safari shirts, but in the form of tweeds, flannels, and other country-appropriate attire. Orange, too, can work well in less-tailored clothing like knitwear and a dark orange crew-neck sweater for harsher weather might redeem the colour after that golfing fiasco in OHMSS.

    Despite the “contemptful orphan” angle of Craig’s Bond, the navy is only one half of his heritage, the highlands are the other, and the presumably coming reboot with the next actor would be a prime opportunity to dress him in colours more closely reflecting that lineage.

  2. Great article. The classic Connery look is my favorite of all of these, closely followed by Roger in grey. For some reason, the matching blue shirt and pocket square Mr Craig is wearing just doesn’t work for me. I don’t know why. Is it too close a match in terms of colour and fabric? I think Roger suffers from a similar problem with the matching brown shirt and pocket square with his white suit in Rio.

    • I find that the matching shirt and pocket square compete with each other because they’re cut of the same cloth. They take away from each other rather than complement each other.

  3. That photograph of Moore next to Felix from Live and Let Die always makes me pause to appreciate it. Roger looks handsome and healthy, the suit’s fit is sublime, and the colours make him positively glow. He reminds me of Bill Shatner’s Captain Kirk, an equally striking man in his youth looking fantastic wearing gold. But it isn’t particularly Bond-like in colour, is it? I think I prefer a man wearing his colours rather than his character’s colours.

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