The typical recommendation for anyone’s first suit is a solid navy or charcoal worsted wool suit. These suits are said to be the staples of a man’s wardrobe. But does James Bond ever wear these suits?
A solid worsted wool suit is one made of a smooth worsted wool, either in a plain weave or a 45-degree twill weave like serge or prunelle, without a pattern of any sort in either the yarns or the weave. There are other types of worsted cloths—worsted flannel, hopsack, gabardine, cavalry twill, whipcord and barrathea—but those are not what comes to mind when people think of a typical worsted wool suit. This article is only focusing on the basic, standard worsted wool suits.
As for the two colours, navy can be defined as a dark shade of blue and charcoal can be defined as a dark shade of grey, but there is a range for both colours. Darker shades are dressier and more traditionally accepted for conservative business dress.
James Bond’s Solid Worsted Suits
In Ian Fleming’s books, James Bond frequently wears the staple solid navy worsted wool suit. He wears dark blue tropical worsted wool suits in Live and Let Die, Diamonds Are Forever, Dr. No and Thunderball, as well as a navy serge suit in Moonraker. While Fleming mentions dark blue suits in other stories, he does not always specify what they are made of. It is possible that Bond’s dark blue suits in the books were not solids, but since there is no further description of them it can be assumed that they are.
The navy worsted suit is key to the style of Fleming’s Bond, and it may arguably be the literary Bond’s most important wardrobe item. As for the ‘tropical’ aspect, almost any navy worsted suit for sale today would likely be just as light or even lighter in weight than the tropical worsteds that Fleming knew of. The average solid navy suit that people have worn over the past two decades fills the minimal criteria that Fleming described for Bond’s suits.
James Bond of the films is a different story. In navy or charcoal, his solid cold-weather suits are often woollen or worsted flannels while his solid warm-weather suits are often a mix of mohair and worsted wool, amongst other cloths. In worsted navy and charcoal suits, Bond generally prefers a pattern of some sort, even if it’s a subtle texture or a semi-solid pattern like birdseye, herringbone or sharkskin/pick-and-pick.
Bond’s light navy suit in You Only Live Twice could possibly be a tropical worsted, but it has a sheen and crispness that suggests it’s a wool and mohair cloth. Mohair was a favourite cloth of Connery’s tailor Anthony Sinclair, and it’s practical in Japan’s heat and humidity.
Bond’s solid charcoal worsted suit comes at the start of The World Is Not Enough. Like any good grey wool cloth, it has variegation in the yarns so it does not look flat. Solid navy looks striking and rich in a solid colour because it has colour, but shades of grey need to be woven with either marled yarn or yarns in different greys to not look dull. This charcoal cloth may have hints of other colours in it, which would be unusual, but it is nevertheless a pattern-less charcoal worsted wool suit so it still counts as a solid.
In the next film Die Another Day, he wears another solid charcoal worsted suit in his Hong Kong hotel. This suit is very similar to the charcoal suit from The World Is Not Enough, but with an updated trimmer cut for the new millenium.
On other occasions he wears solid worsted wool suits in forms other than navy and charcoal, such as light grey tropical wool or tan gabardine. These other colours, however, do not fill the same role as the navy and charcoal worsted suit as they are more specific to warm weather.
Ultimately, standard solid navy and charcoal suits are not overly representative of the film James Bond style. Since Bond has indeedworn solid navy and charcoal worsted wool suits in the films, they can be called Bondian suits without question. One appearance is enough to make it a James Bond style. But in the films, Bond usually chooses suits with a little more character, perhaps to make up for his frequent choices of solid shirts and tie.
Do You Need a Solid Navy or Charcoal Worsted Suit?
The man with a wardrobe of many suits does not necessarily need these staples. He does not need one or two all-purpose suits, which is why James Bond has variation in his large suit wardrobe.
A well-dressed man can of course wear solid navy and charcoal worsted suits and look plenty stylish, but he will also be aware that there are ways to bring more interest to the worsted wool suit, such as in a subtle pattern like a herringbone or birdseye weave or a sharkskin, nailhead, pinhead or fine glen check pattern to enhance his style. For the man who needs a basic suit, these choices can often serve the same purpose—an all-purpose suit—as the solid dark worsted but look more interesting.
Today, the solid navy and charcoal worsted wool suits are less of a necessity when suits overall are much less of a necessity. They have their place as a suit for a conservative office job or, more frequently over the past few decades, as a job interview suit for people who won’t be wearing suits to the office. But with the world’s style relaxing, there is room for the expectations of solid suits to be relaxed too. When suits were an everyday outfit for more people throughout much of the 20th century, there was also more variation in the suitings people wore, and that variation should return.
For someone who is buying their only suit, solid navy and charcoal worsteds may still the best choice because of their versatility for job interviews, weddings and funerals, but they are neither the most interesting nor the most exciting. However, that is the significant advantage to these standard suits, since they draw the least attention to themselves and are guaranteed to never look out of place when a suit is required. Also, because they are the least remarkable of all suits, a man can wear such a suit repeatedly without it looking like he only has one suit. They are also the easiest suits to wear with the widest variety of shirts and ties.
If your heart is set on wearing a navy or charcoal suit like James Bond wears, consider the many varieties of these suits that Bond wears throughout the film series. But if your lifestyle is best suited by owning a solid, dark worsted wool suit, the reasons in favour of wearing them should not be ignored. And if you like the clean simple elegance of a solid navy or charcoal worsted wool suit, that’s a good enough reason to wear them too. It was good enough for Fleming’s Bond.
Finally, if you cannot decide between getting a navy worsted suit or a charcoal worsted suit, keep in mind that Fleming’s Bond always wore the navy worsted.