Basic Navy and Charcoal Worsted Suits: Does James Bond Wear Them?

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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.

Bond only wears a handful of true solid navy and charcoal worsted wool suits in the films. In Live and Let Die he wears a solid navy suit in the gun barrel sequence as well as in the New York scenes under an overcoat. This suit is hardly seen at all in the film, but from promotional stills it looks like a basic worsted wool suit.

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.

Bond wears a solid navy suit under his chesterfield coat in Live and Let Die

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.

21 COMMENTS

  1. I’d speak strictly on Connery’s Bond – we don’t see him in Navy suits enough. But when we do, in any shades of dark blues and navies, he’s stunning. Anthony Sinclair’s navies and blues are just the razor edges that cuts a whole new dimension in the universe.

    Of course, Matt, you’d know I’m one of those dark blue advocates. When I was in college and work, I’m undefeatable in my navy and midnight suits. But even in the IRL, darker blue shades are increasingly being underappreciated. We have the ignoramuses who wears black instead, then the wannabe trads who wears too much grey, then the lighter blues because of modern media influencers, and then people who love tan and brown shaded shoes a little more than they love their parents or their significant others. Don’t even get me started on people wearing charcoal or black suits with tan shoes.

    People want interest in their suits. Maybe that’s okay, but they fall into the fallacy of dressing to make a statement. I hope I jerk the memories back to readers who had followed for as long as I have had, but Matt, remember that article you wrote about the complex simplicity of Anthony Sinclair’s cut?

    For those who hardly remembers, allow me – the clothes you wear should lead to your speech, and let you speak, not doing the speaking for you.

    I’ve done exactly that. My suits are a lot less interesting than others, but when I speak, they can’t help but have to listen, even if I’m saying things beyond their capacity of handling. Also, according to my Battle Buddy, I looked stunning. To add, if you think I’m the only person in a suit, spoiler alert – I’ve been in rooms with many other suits, too, and I still reign supreme.

    Don’t be afraid to dressed boringly. If they find your outfit boring, chances are, they won’t ever find anything else in life remotely not boring. To borrow a quote that makes it a fanfiction crossover (LOL) – “You see, but you do not observe. The world to you is a mystery, whereas to me, an open book” – (if you know, you know). I can find interest even in observing a pile of dust on a piece of paper. Can you?

    End of rant. But really, there’s always more to a suit, no matter how you have seen or observed it.

  2. Another excellent read Matt. On your point about the world relaxing (too much I would say broadly speaking) on formal dressing; do you think that the allowance for more variation you refer to would extend to us fans of Bond’s suits introducing more variety of colours and patterns even in the office? For example mid greys and lighter than true navy, maybe even a subtle glen check? Very few offices are conservative in this day and age and even wearing a suit puts you in the most formally dressed group.

      • In my case the office has long been business casual where a suit is purely a choice. Considering that and reading this article made me think it may fine to wear some of the lighter colours and patterns Bond has worn in non business settings in the movies. This may provide a chance to wear some of those I like in this very casually dressed world.

  3. I’m interested in purchasing a Mason and sons conduit cut dark navy suit and a sharkskin variety on my next trip to London. However, Mason’s does not specify which suit on their site most resembles a Bond accurate blue nor which shade of grey for their sharkskin itineration ?! any suggestions ?

    • Which suits in particular do you want to copy? None of Connery’s suits are dark navy, but more of a mid navy shade in flannel or a mohair-wool blend. The only sharkskin is the dark grey in From Russia with Love in the train scenes. They have a good idea of what the best cloths for those suits are.

      • Thanks Matt. I suppose it’s a bit difficult to judge from some of the film stills or Mason’s catalogue photos depending on your own monitor settings. I have two of their cocktail cuff shirts in white and blue but that’s easier than judging a fabric color for a suit. It’s probably best to let David or Elliott consult on this in person rather than try ordering online. I’m particularly fond on the suits of Dr.No, FRWL , Goldfinger and TB . Sorry to digress, Michel.

  4. I wear a suit every day. I think my navy worsted suit is incredibly boring, but I think because of the colour it stands out as quite bold, looks great with a pale blue shirt, and receives the most consistent positive feedback.
    To an audience who aren’t especially into suiting, don’t really appreciate different fabrics, I think the blocks of colour make a strong statement.

    • Interestingly I’m the same. I own about ten suits in varying levels of formality, mostly greys (flannel, windowpane, sharkskin, checks etc.) a couple browns, creams, and tans, but only one navy. And for some reason I almost never wear it. I spent a pretty penny on it too, so I cannot myself figure out why it never interests me to wear it. But, like you, it always seems to get a positive reception. Odd.

  5. I love navy suits but I have to admit that they usually with a gentle pattern like birds eye , herringbone or pin point. I think that it brings that extra interest to what could be just a boring navy suit.

  6. This is a timely article for me, as my doctor is insisting that I need to lose weight, and if I can do what he says that I need to do, I will need new suits and sport jackets. I love dark blue suits, but I’m somewhat frustrated since I would like to find a dark blue fabric with the same kind of color variegation that you find with gray fabrics. The closest that I have found is Scabal’s Turbo Travel 705312, but that is a polyester and wool blend, and I just can’t make myself go for polyester – although I do have a piece of Scabal’s wool/viscose Stardust 802971 fabric waiting for me to have made into a jacket.

    Amusingly, the last blue suit that I had made was in a tic-weave fabric that was inspired by an illustration in an older version of the article on the Grey Mohair suit in Thunderball.

    • Personally I don’t prefer any variation in my Navy suits. I get more compliments on my solid navy suits than anything else, even though they aren’t the best for my complexion. My current “solid” navy is a herringbone I just had made by Steed, MTM not their full bespoke. Made from Harrison’s Premier Cru, I really like it and have received a lot of compliments. If I did have some variation I would go with Birdseye. There are a lot of different birdseyes out there and some are very subtle and some have a significant amount of contrast. Personally I prefer subtle, and I’m planning on my next suit being a Charcoal Birdseye from Harrison’s Oyster bunch.

      • Honestly, the first-place best “pattern” on a solid navy blue has to be herringbone. Interesting enough to be seen with light casted on, but not too loud to ask people to look at. My suit is from Anthony Sinclair, two of them, and the first is a – now discontinued – H. Lesser and Sons 16oz dark navy herringbone, and the second one from Harrison P&B Universal. Always the suits that leads the attention to my face and voice, and also the very suits that allows me to dominate the room.

      • How do you like the P & B Universal? Probably a little heavy for me living in Texas, but I work in an old building that does a good job of keeping me from getting too hot in the summer, but not a good job of keeping me from getting cold in the winter. I regularly have to have a space heater.

  7. A very insightful post Matt and you make a very good point that though a solid worsted navy and charcoal suit are often regarded as menswear staples and are often regarded as the first suit (and possibly only if one isn’t too sartorially-inclined or required), Bond doesn’t wear them often (save for the examples mentioned) and opts to add a little pattern or texture to make them more visually interesting and less boring. That said you also make a good point that despite being plain and unmemorable, they still have a place in many men’s wardrobe and are arguably the most versatile and timeless types of suits men could wear as they serve as a canvas for a variety of outfit combinations.

    For my take, I’ve heard an alternate advice to this that instead of both suits being worsted, one could be worsted and the other could have a texture. One example would be a solid navy worsted suit and the charcoal suit being flannel which certainly adds variety and makes one suited for warmer weather and the other for cooler weather. Another take I heard is that ones first suit will depend on your age as it is based on the wisdom that charcoal is better for a young man as it makes him more mature due to the serious neutral colour while navy would help slightly older men appear younger and would thus be better suited to them. (Though in my opinion, I think both navy and charcoal can work well for young men and some older men can still do well with a charcoal suit depending on one’s complexion).

    For my taste and if I had to pick between the two, I find a navy worsted suit would be my pick as its a fairly conservative colour but it has some colour in it to add visual interest whereas a charcoal suit needs to have variegation in the yarns to add life to it and not look flat so I think it would benefit from a little pattern or texture if one doesn’t have access to a decent cloth (which a pick-and-pick could do). And as someone who’s career requires predominantly (and possibly only) dark suits, solid navy and charcoal suits would be the backbone of my wardrobe (along with some variations in patterns and textures to add variety)

    I also noticed that you mentioned that Brosnan’s suit in Die Another Day is a solid charcoal suit even if in the past you described it as blue birdseye. Though it clearly is a solid (which you corrected) did the colour and lighting of the scene convince you that the suit was charcoal and not navy/very dark blue?

    • Thank you, Ivan, for your well-thought response.

      As for the Die Another Day suit, I had seen a close-up of the navy birdseye suit in another scene and thought it was the same suit. But after examining the Blu-ray as well as many promotional photos I see that the suits are different.

  8. I’ve never actually considered navy blue to be apposite for funerals in being too ‘stand out’, whilst black is too somber (though I wish the Japanese would understand this); am I wrong in my condemnation of navy for a funeral’s primary participants though? Personally I’d restrict myself to darker shades of grey, ideally.

  9. Correct me if I’m wrong Matt, but would the Double Breasted Navy Suit in Octopussy count as another instance when Bond wore a solid worsted suit (unless of course it is made of flannel or it was excluded because its more of a double breasted model instead of the more simple and ubiquitous single breasted suit)?

    • I looked into that suit when writing the blog and I believe it’s a flannel suit. It would make sense considering that there were three flannel suits in the previous film that there would be one in Octopussy.

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