Casino Royale tells a story about how James Bond became the familiar character we knew from before, eschewing the typical plot-driven Bond tale for one focused primarily on the character. Bond’s clothes are typically chosen based on where he is and what he is doing, but for Casino Royale, costume designer Lindy Hemming was able to help tell the story about how Bond becomes Bond through his clothes. We see Bond transform from a cocky and careless ‘blunt instrument’ at the start of the film into the polished, suave and capable 00-agent at the end of the film.
When we first see Bond on screen, he has yet to achieve his 00 status. He’s wearing a pea coat, which while being a very stylish and fashionable garment is something that a young sailor wears. Longer coats like the greatcoat or bridge coat are a symbol of a more mature officer. Bond is not meant to be dressed as a military officer in the opening scene of Casino Royale, but he’s still known to be a military man, and wearing the coat of a younger, less-experienced military man establishes him as such.
Whilst still earning his 00-status, Bond also wears a casual navy linen suit without a tie. Though he’s appropriately dressed for the occasion, and a tie would be overkill, seeing Bond in a suit without a tie paints a picture of a less refined man.
A New 00 Agent
The first time we see Bond as a 00 agent in action, he’s in Madagascar wearing the ugliest and loudest printed shirt we’ve ever seen him wear. Despite being a 00 agent now, he’s still a rookie and does not know what he’s doing, including not knowing how to dress. He’s in a crowd of people, and while some are wearing loud shirts, many are not. He should have taken cues from the people wearing clothes that don’t stand out rather than the people who do. Instead, Bond chooses to have some fun and picks a shirt that matches his brash personality.
When Bond arrives in the Bahamas, he dresses in a suit similarly to how he dresses in the pre-title sequence. He pairs a casual short-sleeve shirt with a grey linen suit and does not wear a tie. Again, this casual way of wearing a casual suit is completely appropriate for the setting, but to see Bond in two suits already without ties shows that he is most comfortable this way. Short-sleeve shirts with suits is an unrefined way to dress, even in hot weather, though this trait is taken from Ian Fleming’s source material.
Later when Bond dresses in an untucked black polyester shirt for a poker game at the casino at the The One&Only Ocean Club, he’s dressed more like he’s a young man going out ‘clubbing’ than like his usual gentleman in a dinner jacket. While a dinner jacket would have been completely inappropriate at this venue, Bond’s still not dressing with the maturity we had come to expect. Bond is also by no means inappropriately dressed at this club, and there are a few men there who look like they’re still dressed for the beach from earlier in the day. But many men there put on linen suits or sports coats to look more sophisticated for the evening, and that’s how a more mature Bond would have dressed.
One item that James Bond wears on many occasions throughout Casino Royale, whether its under the printed shirt in Madagascar, under the Armani leather jacket pictured below, under a cardigan, under a dressing gown, under a v-neck jumper or under a rugby shirt, is the crew-neck t-shirt. Sunspel provided most of the t-shirts for Casino Royale, primarily in heather grey.
T-shirts have rarely been part of James Bond’s style because they’re inherently unrefined garments due to their simplicity. Without a collar to frame the face, t-shirts are amongst the least flattering garments. When snugly fitted, they are able to show off a young, muscular body, but for the less fortunate they offer no assistance. The t-shirt is a utilitarian garment, best worn under other garments where it will never be seen or for housework or exercise. Even the finest of t-shirts will never look refined—though they may feel more refined.
Because Bond is still unrefined in Casino Royale, the abundance of t-shirts throughout the film shows Bond before his discovered his more mature sense of style. At least Bond treats the t-shirt as an undershirt, and it’s never the focus of his outfits. But he has yet to learn the benefits of always wearing a shirt with a collar.
Wearing a suit with disdain
Bond finally puts on a business suit and a tie for his meeting with Vesper Lynd on a train ride to Montenegro, but Vesper is not impressed.
By the cut of your suit, you went to Oxford or wherever. Naturally you think human beings dress like that. But you wear it with such disdain, my guess is you didn’t come from money, and your school friends never let you forget it.
From this line, Vesper believes that Bond thinks he has to dress in a Savile Row suit—Brioni is not what someone who went to “Oxford or wherever” would wear, so we’re supposed to believe it’s English bespoke—and tie to prove his place in the world, but doing so is beneath him. This younger Bond in Casino Royale would rather be wearing his t-shirts than playing dress up in what he thinks is merely a stuffy uniform that is necessary to be a part of society.
In the films made before Casino Royale, Bond was typically comfortable in his suits and took pride in the clothes he wore. Ian Fleming’s Bond, on the other hand, is like Craig’s younger Bond and is at odds with the formalities expected of him. Fleming’s Bond rebels against suit-wearing conventions by casually accessorising his suits with short-sleeved shirts, knitted ties and moccasin shoes. Craig’s Bond in Casino Royale chooses to stick to the conventions rather than rebel by making himself more comfortable while still wearing a business suit.
Dinner Jackets and Dinner Jackets
James Bond: I have a dinner jacket.
Vesper Lynd: There are dinner jackets and dinner jackets; this is the latter. And I need you looking like a man who belongs at that table.
James Bond: How the … it’s tailored!
Vesper Lynd: I sized you up the moment we met.
Vesper looked through Bond’s luggage and saw that his own dinner jacket would not pass muster. We never see the dinner jacket that Bond already has, but we can assume that is one of the cheap models from the time that has two or three buttons on the front and notched lapels, being essentially no more than a black suit with satin silk (or polyester) trimmings. Or perhaps it’s was something too flashy, like what a villain would wear.
Bond is so immature in Casino Royale that he needs to be taught what a proper dinner jacket is so that other men will respect him and trust he knows what he’s doing at the poker table. But once Bond dons the dinner jacket and admires how perfect it looks in the mirror, he has taken a step forward to becoming the proper, more sophisticated Bond.
That is, until he removes it at the Casino table before the end of the game. It’s an ungentlemanly thing to do that shows he’s cocky and gotten too comfortable. It shows that he has let his guard down. It also makes him look like the croupier. While it does not work against him in the game, it’s not something that Bond would or should do, especially if everyone else has kept their jackets on.
“The name’s Bond, James Bond”
The final scene of Casino Royale shows Daniel Craig as a fully formed James Bond wearing a three-piece suit as he says the famous words, “The name’s Bond, James Bond”. This three-piece suit demonstrates that Bond is now the more suave, confident and mature character from the previous twenty films. The only men who wear three-piece suits are the ones who want to; there’s no occasion when a three-piece suit is necessary when a two-piece suit wouldn’t do. Bond no longer has disdain for wearing a suit since he’s wearing something he chooses to wear.
Vesper Lynd has proven herself to have a good understanding and appreciation of proper menswear, and she is the one throughout Casino Royale who notices and corrects Bond’s clothing mistakes. Bond’s love for Vesper influences him to better appreciate dressing well and change the way he dresses, and he no longer has disdain for the suit. Bond now understands the suit and channels its power on his terms.
Considering Bond’s background as a public-school educated man, he should have been taught how to dress properly as a young man rather than learn at 38 years of age. He would have been more comfortable wearing a tie and owned a proper dinner jacket. It’s a bit unrealistic to expect a 38-year-old to suddenly start appreciating and feeling more comfortable in tailored clothes. For Bond to not have established his own style until this point in his life is absurd. Most people become set in their ways and are who they are by the time they are 30. However, significant life events can also help a person change, and perhaps Vesper’s death inspired Bond’s change of heart towards dressing well as a way of remembering her.
Though we find out that James Bond is still learning the ropes in the next film, Quantum of Solace, he is dressing much more maturely and stylishly on his own.