(00)7 Ways James Bond Breaks the Rules of Style

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James Bond is ordinarily the model of how to dress, but he sometimes breaks the rules of classic style. Sometimes Bond is successful in breaking the rules and other times he isn’t. Here are seven ways Bond breaks the rules, and how you should or should not copy his transgressions:

Dr. No Dinner Suit Trousers

1. No Waist-covering with black tie

James Bond often breaks the black tie dress code by forgoing a waist-covering. Black tie specifies a waist-covering to be worn with a single-breasted jacket, which is in the form of either a cummerbund or a low-cut waistcoat. Though Bond has worn both cummerbunds and low-cut waistcoats on occasion, he more often than not does not wear a waist-covering, and it’s something every Bond actor has done as Bond. Going without a waist-covering lowers the formality of black tie.

With a well-cut dinner jacket and trousers, the waist-covering is not missed. A dinner jacket with a button at the waist and trousers with a proper rise to the waist creates a seamless look from the jacket to the trousers, and when the jacket is buttoned the look is hardly different with or without a cummerbund or low-cut waistcoat.

Should you copy Bond? Try it, especially if you’re more comfortable without a cummerbund or can’t get a proper low-cut waistcoat. No waist-covering is better than an improper five- or six-button waistcoat.

Casino-Royale-Dinner-Jacket-Shirt

2. Nontraditional shirts with black tie

James Bond has on occasion broken the black tie dress code in another way by wearing nontraditional dress shirts (formal shirts in American English). A proper black tie dress shirt is white and has either a wing collar or a turndown collar, double (French) cuffs and either a pleated front or a pique bib. Studs are not necessary on the traditional black tie shirt. The pleated front can take either buttons or studs but the pique front should ideally take studs. Where Bond’s shirts break the rules is that some don’t have a fancy front, some don’t have double cuffs and some are not white. But when Bond breaks this rule, the shirt always needs something special to set it apart from an ordinary business shirt. Like going sans waist-covering, a nontraditional shirt also lowers the formality of black tie.

To make up for the lack of a fancy front, Bond’s shirts are sometimes instead made of a fancy shirting. Some of these are in white-on-white fabrics, such as the self-stripe shirt in Thunderball or the waffle-weave shirt in Casino Royale. In The Spy Who Loved Me and Octopussy, Bond has to dress in black tie in very hot weather and wears a shirt made of a breathable voile without anything fancy on the front to best deal with the hot weather. The shirt in The Spy Who Loved Me also makes up for the lack of a fancy front by having fancy black mother-of-pearl buttons with white stitching to mimic studs instead of standard white mother-of-pearl buttons. If the shirt does not have a fancy front, it should not have studs. Most of nontraditional shirts have buttons. The shirt in Casino Royale has a covered placket to hide the buttons, which is another way to set apart the nontraditional dress shirt.

The-Spy-Who-Loved-Me-Dinner-Suit-5

As an alternative to double cuffs, Bond wears dress shirts with cocktail cuffs in Thunderball, Diamonds Are Forever, The Man with the Golden Gun and Moonraker. Cocktail cuffs turn back like double cuffs but have buttons instead of cuff links. They are in effect a type of double cuff, which makes them an appropriate alternative. In The Spy Who Loved Me Bond’s dress shirt has “Lapidus” tab cuffs, which has a large black mother-of-pearl button on each cuff to make it more special for black tie.

A few of Bond’s shirts are not the traditional white. In Diamonds Are Forever, Bond wears a light blue pleated shirt with his navy velvet dinner jacket. As a velvet dinner jacket is a less formal and private alternative to the dinner jacket, the light blue dress shirt is an appropriate alternative to the white dress shirt in the same way. In The Man with the Golden Gun, Octopussy and A View to a Kill, Bond wears cream dress shirts. The cream dress shirt is a more subtle alternative to white than blue is and can be worn generally when a white shirt can be worn. Roger Moore wears cream dress shirts because they flatter his warm complexion better than white does, which looks very cold against him. Cream dress shirts also look better on film than pure white does.

Should you copy Bond? Try it. You can take inspiration from Bond for nontraditional dress shirts or discover your own way to make a modern alternative to the traditional dress shirt. But keep the modifications to the dress shirt subtle and tasteful as Bond does.

Charcoal-Suit-Both-Buttons-Done-Up

3. Fastening the bottom button

On occasions in Dr. No, From Russia with Love and Diamonds Are Forever, Sean Connery fastens the bottom button of his button two jackets. It’s not just a breach of etiquette but a mistake that ruins the lines of the jacket. Standard jackets with two buttons and three buttons are not designed for the bottom button to fasten because the bottom of front of the jacket (known as the quarters by some) is cutaway beneath the waist. Sometimes the skirt is cutaway a little and sometimes it is cutaway to be very open. However, it is just about never cut for the bottom button to align with the button above it, and because of this the bottom button and buttonhole do not match up without unnaturally pulling the skirt closed. Fastening the bottom button distorts the jacket’s front, pulls the vent or vents open in the back, or pulls the skirt too tight around the seat in the case of a jacket without vents. Fastening the bottom button will also give you another button to unfasten when sitting down and hinder your stride. The bottom of the front is cutaway to provide balance to the jacket’s opening above the jacket, and some are of the opinion that the useless button and buttonhole are also there to give the jacket balance.

Should you copy Bond? Don’t try it. Sean Connery look like an amateur suit-wearer when he fastens the bottom button, and you will too. That is unless you have an unusual jacket where all of the buttons line up.

For Your Eyes Only Shoes

4. Casual shoes with city suits

Bond not only likes to dress down his dinner jackets but also his suits. Bond sometimes wears casual slip-on shoes/loafers with a city suit, which are traditionally not formal enough to wear with a city suit. A city suit is a dark suit worn for business or dressy occasions, not for sports or leisure. There are different types of slip-on shoes of differing formalities. While none are traditional choices to wear with city suits, the soft, hand-sewn type—no matter how luxurious and expensive—are too casual to wear with a city suit. The ripples in the apron make these shoes more casual.

Ian Fleming’s James Bond wears “well-polished black moccasin shoes” or “black casual shoes” with his suits. Roger Moore wears these types of shoes with many of his suits, with and without a horse bit (the shiny horse bit does not add much formality). Bond always wears them in black with his city suits since black raises the formality over brown. The casual slip-on shoe is slightly more appropriate with less formal warm-weather suits in gabardine, cotton or linen than it is with a city suit.

Should you copy Bond? Try it if you know you can pull it off with confidence. Non-handsewn slip-ons are better with city suits if you want to wear slip-ons in a more formal setting.

Grey-Linen-Suit-White-Shirt

5. Short-sleeve shirts with suits

The literary James Bond makes a faux pas by wearing short-sleeve shirts with his suits. Bond-creator Ian Fleming passed on his own preference for short-sleeves shirts to Bond in Diamonds Are Forever and Dr. No. Daniel Craig also wears a short-sleeve shirt with his grey linen suit in the 2006 film Casino Royale. Short-sleeve shirts are always casual and are never dressy enough to wear with any suits. This is yet another way that Bond likes to dress down his suits.

There are two reasons that wearing long-sleeve shirts with a suit is essential. The first is that long shirt sleeves protect the jacket’s cuffs from body oils and abrasion from your wrist. A suit should last many times longer than a shirt should and cannot be washed like a shirt can, and thus the shirt should take the wear. The second reason is that having shirt cuff extend beyond the jacket cuff gives visual balance to the wrist to match the shirt collar sitting higher than the jacket collar at the neck.

Should you copy Bond? Don’t try it. Only boys can wear short sleeves shirts under their suits, particularly since they will outgrown their suits before they wear them out. Long sleeve shirts in breathable linen, linen/cotton blends, cotton voile and zendaline are what a man wears in hot weather.

George Lazenby wears a knitted tie in On Her Majesty's Secret Service

6. Knitted ties with city suits

Bond not only dresses down his suits with casual shirts and casual shoes but also with casual ties. These casual ties are knitted silk ties. Though it’s not against the rules to wear them with city suits, they quite don’t match the formality of city suits. Today most people don’t think of putting on a tie to dress down, but knitted ties are easier to wear with sporty suits and jackets than they are to wear with city suits. The chunky texture makes knitted silk ties more casual than ordinary ties, and this texture also clashes with smooth worsted suits. The square bottom and lack of structure contribute to the knitted tie’s casual status.

The only necktie that Ian Fleming specified for James Bond to wear is a black knitted silk tie, which Fleming mentions in seven of his stories. Connery wears knitted silk ties with his city suits throughout Goldfinger and with his navy suit in You Only Live Twice. George Lazenby wears knitted ties with his city suits throughout On Her Majesty’s Secret Service.

Should you copy Bond? You should feel free to try the knitted silk tie with your city suits as long as you don’t have an important meeting to attend. Dark colours like black and navy are the most formal and thus are easiest to pair with lounge suits. But if you want to play it safe with texture, wear a grenadine tie. Grenadine silk has a similar look to knitted silk with its open weave, but it has the streamlined shape of an ordinary folded tie and lacks the chunkiness of a knitted tie. This is what Sean Connery wears most of the time as James Bond.

The-World-Is-Not-Enough-Pinstripe-Suit-3

7. Belts with three-piece suits

Roger Moore, Pierce Brosnan and Daniel Craig are all guilty of the faux pas of wearing a belt with a three-piece suit. A well-tailored waistcoat should sit close to the body and lay flat, but with a belt under the waistcoat there’s no way it can lay smoothly against the body when covering the top of the trousers. A belt leaves an unsightly lump under the waistcoat, particularly at the buckle.

Bond wears a belt with his three-piece suits at a time when self-supporting trousers (Connery and Lazenby’s method of trouser support) were out of fashion. Braces, on the other hand, were seen at the same time as something that only old men or showy bankers wore. Additionally, Brosnan’s and Craig’s belted three-piece suits came from Brioni, who being Italian specialise in neither side-adjusters nor trousers cut high enough to comfortably wear with braces.

Should you copy Bond? Don’t try it. Only wear a waistcoat if your trousers have side-adjusters or are being supported from your shoulders with braces. Braces have the added benefit of ensuring that your shirt will never show between the bottom of the waistcoat and the top of the trousers. If your waistcoat rides up when you’re wearing braces, so will your trousers. And with a waistcoat on, nobody will ever know you are wearing braces.

9 COMMENTS

  1. Another great entry Matt, well articulated and I agree with all your dos and dont’s too.
    Entry number 8 might be wearing sports watches with city suits (and formal wear), something I’m guilty of myself as I like to emulate Bond and wear my Rolex sub with business suits.

  2. a sports watch with a suit another way Bond breaks style conventions, even in the 1990’s it was common for a man to wear a sports watch with a city suit. Brosnan probably made that famous at the time as well as the Omega watches in general. I’m pretty sure Craig wore a short sleeved shirt under the navy linen suit in Casino Royale as well.

    • *I mean’t it “wasn’t” common in the 1990’s to wear a sports watch with a suit. Everyone mostly wore dress watches.

  3. I am always surprised Bond wears a cheap canvas NATO watch strap with a £4000 suit and a £3000 watch instead of a matching metal bracelet or leather strap. I guess it represents a hangover from his Navy days. I know Omega sell the straps for upward to £100 but you can get no name branded ones for a tenner and they look identical.

    I’m pleased though, it’s the one item of Bond apparel I can wear that I can actually afford.

    British comedian Jimmy Carr is always well turned out on TV (suit, waistcoat, pocket square, knitted tie, tab collar sometimes) but wears an awfully tacky white plastic digital watch. I guess it’s the same thing. It grounds the outfit in reality!

  4. As you’ve noted, Matt, Craig wears another short sleeve shirt under his navy linen suit in the PTS of “Casino Royale.” Obviously the white sport shirt he wears under his grey suit later is meant to serve a specific plot purpose — it allows the rude guests at the One and Only Ocean Club to mistake him for a valet. But I have often wondered whether the short sleeve shirts at the beginning of the movie have other functions as well. They are a nod to Fleming and the literary Bond, of course. But they also may have been meant to demonstrate that Vesper really does teach him to dress better over the course of their brief relationship. See the scene with the dinner jacket.

  5. I think that Bond is deliberately portrayed as a bit of a schlub junior Agent in CR, and it all comes together in the final scene with Mr. White where he’s very well turned out in a three piece and says ‘Bond, James Bond’ as if the whole film has been building up to him growing into the character that we the audience know all about.

  6. I’ll add my two cents that knitted ties look better with city suits if they are of a tighter knit. The really crunchy looking, open summer knits don’t look as great with a smooth worsted.

  7. Let’s also remember that Bond is a spy and therefore always pretending to be, to a greater or lesser degree, someone he is not – be that someone who is entirely at home/newly acquainted/ignorant or completely disdainful of the ‘rules’ of his particular social situation. Add to that the distinct possibility of maybe having to do a quick-change or, more often than not, kick the bejaisus out of a henchman or two in the course of a typical Bond evening , then perhaps omitting a waist covering or foregoing a double-cuff’s cufflinks just comes down to cold practicality.
    Or he doesn’t give a rat’s ass either way.

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