To be well dressed means that one’s clothes complement and never distract from the person wearing them. James Bond’s clothes are never more important than he is. We always look at him first, particularly his face. A good outfit highlights and flatters the wearer’s face over all else. When costume designers dress James Bond, they dress him in ways that frame his face well and draw attention to his face. While it’s not an exact science, there are techniques to make someone’s face look its best.
Whether you have a prominent bust or you’re just wearing bright shoes, you don’t want to have to say, ‘Hey, I’m up here!’ Even if your clothes are flashy or showy, they should be focusing attention to the face. They shouldn’t overpower one’s face, body or personality.
Getting the right fit is usually the focus of discussions on how to dress well, but dressing the face is equally important. The tools we use to focus attention on the face and make its look its best and essential to being superbly dressed. These tools include colour, pattern, collars, tie knots, eyewear, hats and personality.
Wearing the right colours is the most important thing to making the face look its best. Complexions can be cool, with pink or red undertones; warm, with gold undertones; or neutral, with a beige or ivory tone. Olive skin tones can fit into these three categories as well.
Cool complexions look best in blues, greys, white and colours with cool undertones. Reds and pinks should lean towards purple on the spectrum, and greens should lean towards blue. Rosy beige and rusty browns can work too. Silver-toned and rose-toned metals look best on a cool complexion. George Lazenby, Timothy Dalton and Pierce Brosnan have cool complexions.
Warm complexions look best in warm colours like browns, tans, cream, orange, olive and other colours with warm undertones. Reds should lean towards orange, pinks should lean towards salmon, blues should lean towards azure and greens should lean towards olive. The best browns and tans have a golden undertone. Roger Moore and Daniel Craig have warm complexions.
People with neutral complexions don’t have to worry so much about the colours they wear clashing with their complexion. They are, however, best avoiding very vivid or vibrant colours and look best in muted colours. Sean Connery has a fairly neutral complexion, but it leans towards cool. It’s one reason why Connery looks so good in almost everything he wears. He usually keeps to muted colours, and the vibrant shade of his pink tie in Diamonds Are Forever is partially why the tie does not look good on him.
Contrast in a complexion, which considers the relationship of the colours of the skin, hair and eyes, is crucial. People with more contrast look better in outfits with more contrast. A high contrast complexion or one that is all dark can accommodate darker colours than a person with a light, low-contrast complexion. Sean Connery, George Lazenby, Timothy Dalton and Pierce Brosnan have high-contrast complexions, while Roger Moore and Daniel Craig have low-contrast complexions.
Cool and neutral high-contrast complexions are the only ones that look good in black. Black can overpower most other complexions when used used in large amounts near the face.
These colour choices are most important at the face. Careful consideration should be taken with the colours of shirts, ties and hats. Jacket and suit colours are slightly less important because they don’t sit against the face, but they still matter because they are a large masses that sit near the face. The colour of swimwear is important too because it sits against the skin, even if it’s not up against the face.
Trouser and shoe colours matter less for one’s complexion because they sit further from the face, but their shades need to complement the top half of the outfit. If your clothes on top have cool or warm undertones, trousers that follow will usually look best.
Colour can also be used to draw attention to the face. Stronger, more vivid colours should be worn higher on the body while neutrals are worn lower on the body. If strong colours are worn lower on the body with neutrals on top, the eye is drawn down instead of to the face.
From an example in Octopussy, red works well for a tie because it’s like a red arrow that points to the face. When paired with a light blue shirt and grey suit, the shirt’s blue also draws the eye to the face while the grey allows the colours to do their jobs. Likewise, black shoes are an excellent choice because they don’t compete for attention.
If an outfit consisted of a white shirt with a grey jacket, navy tie, navy trousers and tan shoes—not an uncommon look today—the tan shoes draw the eye down because they’re the most vivid part of the outfit, especially in contrast to dark trousers. Navy trousers are also strong, and because they’re more vivid than the grey jacket they also draw the eye down. The navy tie has some strength, but not enough to be strong enough to draw the eye up. A stronger tie like red would help draw the eye to the face, but the large mass of strong colours in the lower half of the body will compete for attention. Trousers and shoes shouldn’t pop unless the upper half of the outfit pops even more.
Black and white are both neutrals and strong colours. They are neutral because they have no hue, so they can complement numerous other colours. They are also strong because they are the extremes of dark and light, and their strength means that they don’t look good on everyone or with everything. They have the power to draw attention to the face and draw attention away from it. But they can overpower both one’s complexion and colours that flatter one’s complexion, so they must be worn with care.
The black and white look of a black (or midnight blue) dinner suit, white shirt and black bow tie beautifully use the power of contrast to point to and frame the face. The same principle with a dark suit and light shirt highlight the face, but other colours that flatter more complexions can be chosen.
Patterns function the same way as colour, with bolder patterns drawing the eye the same way that more vivid colours do. Pattern can be used to great effect in the upper half of the body to draw the eye to the face. A patterned shirt or tie is particularly effective at focusing the look up to the face.
Pattern on the lower half of the body can be worn well if there is a stronger colour closer to the face for balance. In Casino Royale, Daniel Craig wears grey checked trousers with a black cardigan. The checked trousers are subtle so they don’t draw the eye, while the black cardigan focuses the strong colour up top.
003. Shirt Collars
The shirt collar is an extremely important detail because it frames the face. No man looks his best in a t-shirt because it does nothing for the face. It’s a halfway point between nude and dressed, with the appeal of neither. James Bond wears t-shirts on occasion, but for dressing down he usually wears a polo instead because it has a collar to frame the face.
Bond wears his polos unbuttoned at the top—or unbuttoned all the way—so there’s an attractive V-shape that guides the eye from the chest up to the face. Camp collars and other one-piece collars function similarly.
More formal two-piece collars are better at framing the face because they have a stand—they sit higher and come closer to the face than a polo collar or any other one-piece collar. Higher collars usually look smarter and are typically found on more formal shirts, but they can be worn on casual shirts like on Roger Moore’s black jersey half-zip shirt in Moonraker.
The ideal height of a collar depends on the length of one’s neck. A long neck needs a higher stand while a shorter or wider neck needs a lower stand. An average shirt collar is about 4 to 4.5 cm high in back, and it is suitable for most men except those who have long necks, who benefit from 5 or 5.5 cm. 3 cm is a standard front collar band height, but a front band up to 4 cm may suit a long neck while a 2.5 cm front height is better for a short neck or a heavier man.
The collar point length is another key factor in framing the face. Small heads need shorter collar points while larger heads need longer collar points. Points would be considered long or short in comparison to a medium length of 7 to 7.5 cm. Most of Bond’s shirt collars have point lengths of 7 to 8.3 cm. A slightly long collar point can highlight the face without overwhelming it. Daniel Craig’s semi-spread collars in Quantum of Solace achieve this balance.
Collars come in a tremendous of variation in point length. Few men look good in collar points shorter than 7 cm, unless the collar is an Edwardian-style stiff, detachable collar that still has a high stand. Points longer 9 cm are excessive in most cases and only work in narrower collars. They were historically used in 1930s and 1940s spearpoint collars or in oversized 1970s collars, like in The Spy Who Loved Me and Moonraker.
Collar points also relate to the size of one’s body. A slimmer man or shorter man needs shorter collar points than a taller or bulkier man. This is less important than how the collar relates to the face.
Collar spread is the most discussed aspect of collar design, but it’s mainly important when wearing a tie and much less so without a tie. Spread is usually discussed in terms of the distance between the points, but that’s only relevant when the collar point length and tie space are consistent from one collar to the next. The angle of the spread is most relevant. Bond’s collars have had a wide range of spreads in the series.
Common wisdom is for spread to inversely relate to the width of one’s face: a narrow face needs a wide collar and a wide face needs a narrow collar. Sean Connery has a narrow face and wears wide collars to balance it. Daniel Craig wears narrower collars because his face is somewhat square. Anyone can wear a semi-spread collar that has a 90-degree spread, while narrow faces shouldn’t go much below 90 degrees and wide faces shouldn’t go much above 90 degrees. While wide faces can benefit from collars that point down to lengthen the face, it’s important that the collar has some tie space to balance the spaces above and below the collar. A narrow collar with little tie space frames neither the head nor the tie, and it can make a large head look like a balloon on a string.
004. Tie Knots
Tie knots make statements all their own, but they also function like an extension of the face. The size and shape of a knot must balance the face. A large face looks better with a larger knot, while a small face looks better with a smaller knot. Bigger knots, like bigger collars, have more presence and can lead the eye to the face, but if the knot is too big it can overpower the face and compete with it. The knot also needs to be balanced with the shirt collar. If one has chosen their best shirt collar, the best tie knot should be the perfect complement for the collar.
The size of the knot depends not only on the knot used but also on the width and thickness of the tie. While a full Windsor knot is larger than a four-in-hand knot with the same tie, a full Windsor knot with a lightweight narrow 1960s tie is likely to be much smaller than a four-in-hand knot with a wider and heavier tie from the early 2000s. Thus, it is impossible to attribute knot size to specific knots when ties vary.
Different knots create different shapes. A full Windsor knot is wide and triangular, a half Windsor knot is more square, a Pratt knot is even and triangular, a four-in-hand knot is narrow and triangular, and a double-four-in-hand knot is long and tubular. The first three are mostly symmetrical and point the tie down, while the last two are noticeably asymmetrical because they point the tie off to the side.
Men with longer faces, like Sean Connery, look good in a wider knot. A wider face, on the other hand, can benefit from a longer knot that elongates the face. Many men are opposed to asymmetrical tie knots because they think they look sloppy, but they can highlight the face by pointing to it in a more dynamic way than a symmetrical knot. They should not be feared, especially if the narrower nature of a four-in-hand and double-four-in-hand knots are flattering to one’s face.
Eyewear is another key factor in dressing the face. In Bond’s case he mainly wears sunglasses, except when he wears eyeglasses for a few disguises. Trends in eyewear may determine their size. Larger glasses were trendy in the 1980s, as seen in A View to a Kill, while smaller glasses were trendy in the late 1990s and early 2000s, as seen in The World Is Not Enough.
In any case, glasses should look balanced on the face in both width and height. The width should appear to match the width of one’s face. Taller glasses shapes can look good on a longer face but overwhelm a wide face.
The right hat is very important to making the face look its beat, but it’s less relevant today when few men wear hats. Soft caps take on the shape of the head and vary little in brim size, so they are less pertinent to this discussion.
Most of James Bond’s hats are in the trilby style, which have a tapered crown and a narrow 5 cm brim. The brim size is traditionally chosen to relate to one’s height, so the trilby’s narrow brim is not usually recommended for tall men like Sean Connery and George Lazenby. The trilby’s tapered crown and narrow brim look best on slim faces, so Connery and Lazenby still look good in their hats.
A slightly larger brim at 5.5 or 6 cm might look more balanced on these men, but the 1960s cool factor of the narrow brim would be lost. It’s not extremely narrow, and anything narrower would have looked poor on them.
Connery’s homburg in Dr. No has a slightly wider brim, which looks more balanced on a man his size, and the curled brim gives the hat more presence to match Connery. Lock & Co currently make their homburg with a 5.5 cm brim.
Roger Moore looks superb in a top hat in A View to a Kill, which has a narrow curled brim, likely the same 5 cm wide that the current Lock & Co top hat is. Patrick Macnee has a wider face and as a resullt does not look as good in the narrow-brimmed top hat. However, if the brim were too wide it would make his face look even wider, so a balance needs to be had.
One’s clothes must match one’s personality to be flattering to the face because the face expresses personality. The contrast of how James Bond and Raoul Silva dress in Skyfall shows how two men with similar complexions need to wear different clothes to make their faces look their best. Bond is traditional and stoic. He needs to wear classic and subdued styles to match his personality.
On the other hand, Silva has a flamboyant personality and needs flashy clothes to match. His printed shirt of navy and burnt orange draws attention to the face and is flattering to his warm complexion, but it also complements his manner. If Bond were to wear the same shirt, we would see the shirt instead of Bond’s face, even though the colours would look equally good on him. If Silva were dressed in Bond’s classic midnight blue dinner suit, the clothes would stand out as being incongruent to his personality and again draw attention away from his face.