Black Tie in Licence to Kill: Bond Breaks the Rules


Most of the time the only black tie rule that Bond typically breaks is forgoing a waist-covering, such as a waistcoat or cummerbund. In Licence to Kill he remembers the cummerbund, but the black dinner jacket breaks a few conventions.

For the casino scenes in the film, Bond wears a black dinner suit made in a luxurious napped cloth that is possibly a wool and cashmere blend. The dinner jacket has a full cut with wide, padded shoulders, which was a highly fashionable look for 1989. The dinner suit was made at the tailor shop at Universal Studios.

The dinner jacket has notched lapels, which traditionalists do not approve of but are a classic Bond style going back to Goldfinger. The satin-faced lapels are wide and have a low gorge characteristic of the time.


The 1980s low button stance is does not break convention, but having two buttons does. A single-breasted dinner jacket would traditionally never have more than one button, and only would a double-breasted dinner jacket have more than one button on the front.

The rest of the jacket’s details are classic: jetted hip pockets, three-button cuffs and no vents.


The dinner suit’s trousers have double reverse pleats and a silk braid down the leg. They are worn with white moire silk braces, likely made by Albert Thurston.

Bond’s shirt has a fancy striped bib and a placket front with four onyx studs (the only time Bond wears onyx studs), an undersized spread collar and double cuffs. Bond’s silk barathea bow tie is cut in a narrow batwing shape. Bond’s shoes are black patent slip-ons.


The dinner jacket may go against tradition (including Bond’s traditions), and its full fit is the opposite of current fashions, but at the time it would have been fashionable and has a high-end look that is up to Bond’s standards. At this point in the film, Bond is dressing to look wealthy and powerful to fit in with villain Franz Sanchez’s crowd, and this costume by costume designer Jodie Tillen succeeds in its purpose.


  1. I'm sick of the constant bitching about Dalton on this blog. Timothy Dalton brilliantly portrayed Ian Fleming's vision of Bond- a man with no interest in pompous stuffy following of other people's fashion rules.
    This blog would be of more interest if you canned the opinions and merely described the clothes.

    • There is not moaning about Dalton’s performance….I’m a huge fan of Timothy Dalton as 007 he is my second favorite actor to play the role behind Sean Connery of course but this film totally ruined him as the clothes were too baggy and dated.

  2. Anon, Ian Fleming cared very much about Bond's image, and the clothes in Licence to Kill were both un-British and un-Bond-like. Fleming's Bond thought very highly of a well-tailored suit, something absent from this film. Fleming's Bond made up some of his own rules, but he wasn't devoid of standards. Whilst Fleming would approve of Dalton's excellent performance as Bond, he would not approve of the way he dressed in Licence to Kill. Moreover, this blog is about clothing more than it's about James Bond.

  3. Matt, love your blog. Keep up the good work. I liked Dalton's performances too, but his two Bond
    films struck me as being somehow shabbier than those of his predecessors. Thanks to your blog, I can put my finger on at least one of the reasons for this impression–his lousy wardrobe. Say what you will about Roger Moore, but he was always impeccably tailored.

    • I believe the fault lies somewhat with the producer he didn’t invest in Timothy Dalton as Bond as much as he should’ve I read somewhere that Dalton even had to buy his own dinner suit….

  4. I think the accusation of bitching re; Timothy Dalton’s Bond could be directed to a great extent in my direction so I’d like to explain myself.

    While I never liked Timothy Dalton’s performance as Bond (in the same way as I don’t appreciate the current incumbent) I can see how a hard core of Bond fans – especially those who were fans of the original Fleming books – appreciate the integrity of his portrayal of the literary character.

    The problem with Dalton (like Daniel Craig, a fine actor) was that his portrayal deviated starkly from the cinematic portrayal of the character hitherto, especially in the 2nd of his two movies. His Bond was dark, humourless and moody and (for the purposes of this blog) dressed in a fashion which was, again, completely removed from the established formula of Bond as a smooth, dapper (lady) killer, an image which resumed again with his replacement, Brosnan.

    By any aesthetic appreciation of Dalton’s Bond, he was badly dressed for a British agent, notwithstanding the images of his 3 predecessors. In “The Living Daylights” he could be said to be passable whereas in “Licence to Kill” he’s poor. Matt’s blog is all about the sartorial aspect to the cinematic character as he himself points out and therefore, by this measure, Dalton is found wanting. I genuinely don’t think this is snobbish or elitist.

    As for his portrayal, that’s a matter of personal taste and a lot of people think my personal favourite, Roger Moore, was dreadful. Fair enough. Opinions differ and the director of all the 1980’s Bonds, John Glen ranks Licence to Kill as his personal favourite of the 5 movies he directed. I would just say that, on account of it’s complete deviation from it’s radical departure from all the previous Bond movies, Bond fans either (like you) love it, or (like me) hate it.

    • I believe if time had go on and had Dalton stayed in the role after the series came back from hiatus he would’ve been more highly ranked amongst best bonds that’s just my opinion but me personally I loved the hell out of the two films which he did. Despite the sartorial rubbish of Licence to kill to me it’s still one of the most underrated entries in the series and Timothy Dalton’s best Bond flick.

  5. A couple of years ago I bought a box set of the Bond movies, up to, an including, Casino Royale (good story, lousy choice of replacement for Brosnan).

    I had watched them all, for many years on TV and (some) in the cinema but watching them all, in sequence, from stylish start to tedious finish, gave a good perspective on the series as a phenomenon. Within this there were a number of movies which were outstandingly good (Goldfinger, On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, The Spy Who Loved Me and Octopussy would be my tops) a lot of decent Bonds with many memorable moments and some which, for one reason or another were a poor entry such as Diamonds Are Forever, The Man with the Golden Gun or A View to a Kill (the first two were hurriedly produced I believe). However, the most outstandingly awful entry in the Bond canon was, without a doubt, and on every level, “Licence To Kill”. I hadn’t seen it since I, insanely, viewed it in the cinema on it’s initial release and thought, 20 years later it mightn’t seem as bad. Wrong. It still stank and the comments of the last anonymous blogger echo mine exactly (violent, humourless, inelegant). I cannot see any redeeming or likeable features to this cinematic turd and how John Glen can regard it as his finest hour as a Bond director, frankly, mystifies me. It still ranks as the worst Bond movie (if it can even be fairly termed such) for me, followed closely by Brosnan’s preposterous swan song, “Die Another Day”.

    The anonymous blogger hit the nail on the head in saying that Moore’s interpretation (and to be fair to him, Connery’s too) was “fun”. Stylish and witty too. Unless you’re the kind of person who enjoys pulling the legs off spiders, there was no fun or entertainment in watching Dalton’s sour, dour and funereal desecration of a much loved cinematic character in a paper thin story about drug dealers which had nothing to do with Bond. This is a man who has saved the world from Armageddon for Gods sake, reduced to a tedious revenge caper against Central American drug barons.

    Why can’t Bond be fun again? Does it all have to be aggressive, humourless rampaging? Life is stressful enough for everybody nowadays. Films like Bond movies should be an escapist antidote to all this, not merely mirroring it.

    My wife refers to singers desecrating a much loved classic and inappropriate actors playing roles covered by another previously admired, as “rapists”. Think the tediously unfunny Steve Martin having the temerity to play Peter Seller’s unique Inspector Clouseau or Telly Savalas singing the Righteous Brother’s “You’ve Lost that Lovin’ Feeling” (he did!) and you get the idea. By this token she (who is not a particular Bond fan) and I have dubbed Dalton and Craig rapists. Now that is, at least, fun…

    • I don’t regard Craig as Bond in any sense but even when it was all serious with Timothy Dalton in the lead role the series still had some flair back then I would rate Licence to kill higher than A view to a kill any day of the week. Licence to kill is a lot more ‘believable’ compared to some of Roger Moore’s film and I am not a hater of Roger’s I think LALD and TSWLM are two great entries in the series and definitely showcase Roger Moore at his best as 007.

  6. I am re-posting this comment under my name now that I have figured out how to do it: I, too, was a big fan of Roger Moore, both sartorially and in his interpretation of the character. I have read all the Fleming novels and have to concede that Dalton's interpretation is the closest to the original literary character, which is exactly why it was not very much fun on film. The Moore movies, on the other hand, were FUN. Even now, popping an old Roger Moore Bond movie in my DVD player is like getting reacquainted with an old friend – the warm, comfortable feeling that not only will all be well in the end, but also that the ride itself will be enjoyable and aesthetically pleasing. As far as the clothes go, Moore made some (comparatively tame) concessions to the fashions of the age, but I have never seen anywhere else suits so well fitted and worn with so much style and panache. Conversely, I still remember the bad taste License to Kill left in my mouth when I first saw it, not just for the over the top violence and humourlessness, but also for the absolute lack of elegance, style and wit. And the wardrobe truly was atrocious…

  7. Matt,

    I find it amusing you refer to this dinner suit as a rental, as I recall renting an almost identical one in 1989 for a high school prom. Though my tie was better….And while not sartorially-related, Dalton would look better if they gave him a toupee. He seems to have suffered an amazing amount of hair loss since The Living Daylights.

    It has been about ten years since I last read the Fleming (though I have the novels 3-4 times) but as I recall, Fleming’s Bond was not exactly Nick Charles, protagonist from The Thin Man. While Bond inherited his creator’s tastes, he was also portrayed as a cold-blooded killer, a blunt instrument to be used to advance Britain’s interests. He always struck me as a man without snobbish affectation regarding his clothes, though same cannot be said either of the clothing of others or of Fleming’s writing. While I recall a lot of name dropping of things like the type of shampoo Bond uses and that he wears a Rolex (back when Rolex was a “tool watch” and not the luxury symbol of today), aren’t his clothes fairly non-descript? If my memory serves, they range from dark navy to an occasional dinner suit, and are fit for a spy without reference to a tailor, such as Kilgour (my personal Savile Row favorite). This ground was well-covered in The Spy Who Came Out of the Closet, referenced, I believe, on this blog. Bond’s fine sartorial tastes are in large part, I think, a result of Terence Young and the early 1960s time frame of the original, and most successful, films.

    I generally concur with David’s and Dan’s comments above, especially about Roger Moore (whose generally sophisticated portrayal added even greater weight to his serious moments in The Spy Who Loved Me, Moonraker, For Your Eyes Only, and Octopussy).

    “Timothy Dalton” and “Licence to Kill” are Bond fandom’s equivalent to “Sarah Palin” – that is, nothing else can split a room and elicit strong, opposing opinions like merely mentioning the name. I do agree that Dalton’s portrayal is the closest to the literary Bond, but such a character is not very cinematic. I also think that Dalton’s acting is not very good, well-suited to the stage, but ill-suited to deliver the subtleties required of film acting. And I completely concur with David’s paragraph about Dalton being badly dressed, especially after the first half of The Living Daylights is over.

    As for Licence to Kill, I think it is a mid-range Bond film that tried to remain relevant and compete in a vastly changed cultural marketplace – and, commercially speaking, failed spectacularly. It always struck me as a rough draft of a script, lacking polish and made by an exhausted creative team, ill-suited both to compete against Indiana Jones, Lethal Weapon, and Die Hard and update Bond to 1989, but entertaining on its own terms.

    And, while I know this is about Bond’s clothing, I generally agree with David’s estimation of Bond films, though my personal picks are From Russia With Love, On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, The Spy Who Loved Me, For Your Eyes Only, and Casino Royale, with a slightly lower tier of Dr. No and Thunderball. Though I also find Moonraker and Octopussy very underrated and endlessly entertaining (and yes, aesthetically pleasing) escapism. And Diamonds, Golden Gun, A View to a Kill, and Die Another Day are awful, with the first two even looking cheap. But this blog has pointed out to me that even a film as awful as Golden Gun and made in a horrid time for suits has some great suits, with the Marine Blue Suit and the Classic Charcoal two of my favorites.

  8. Good points Christian.

    Even a lower entry Bond like Golden Gun still showcased some excellent tailoring. The 2 suits you mention are indeed classics. 1989 was as bad a time for men's fashions as 1974 but the difference was the former movie starred an actor with an innate good taste and sartorial style and the latter didn't.

    With Brosnan as Moore's replacement the tailoring would've been better in 1989 but then again, Licence to Kill was "tailored", excusing the pun, for Dalton's mode of performance and wouldn't have been made with someone like Moore or Brosnan, or even Connery, in the role.

    Interesting aside, to consider that all the main actors (Connery, Moore and Brosnan)'s last Bond movies were very poor.

  9. David – excellent observation on the difference made by the two actors in 1974 and 1989. And of the tailoring of Licence to Kill for Dalton. While I am a fan of the literary Bond, the producers seem to have forgotten, in their attempt to update the series, there was a reason for altering the literary character into Dr. No's (Terence Young's ?)cinematic one.

  10. I agree re: Dalton's hairline. The straight back 'do was probably the worst choice they could make — it makes it very apparent. I'm not against thinning or balding men by any means, but there's a way to make it not so blatant and unflattering.

  11. I don´t remember by the time of "The Living Daylight" anyone about Bond or Dalton lacking style on the sartorially aspect. I think the only problem is "Licence To Kill", specially when you see the scene in the Bank: everyone EXCEPT BOND, were suits. 007 would know tha for bussinnes matters regarding millions of dollars, you should be dressed propperly.
    Anyone if you see some images from Dalton in the 1980´s(like the tv series "Sins") you can see he can be smooth and sartorially. I´m pretty sure that they learned the leasson from LTK and in the projected 3d Dalton movie, he´had got a better clothes and better hairstyle.

  12. Watched this again a few days ago. In the pictures, the jacket shoulders don't seem obviously oversized, but in motion, definitely. It has the effect of bunching up the jacket when he sits down with Sanchez.

    Personally, I do like Dalton's interpretation, though I think LTK let's the canon down – though there are some great moments, and it's always fun to see Q with a few more scenes than usual.
    Moore's acting was always suspect, but it worked for what it was, and with Dalton following was almost, in terms of his interpretation of Bond, his antithesis.(By the way, Dalton sending himself up in Hot Fuzz is worth seeing). Brosnan, I think, restored the balance, and is my second favourite Bond (and well dressed).

  13. It wasn't destroyed, as you can see in the last picture of the suit hanging the valet. After that he doesn't wear it again until the final scene.

  14. As with the much-maligned morning dress in the pre-titles sequence, I'm going to assume that Bond didn't pack his own tuxedo for the mission in Turkey that was to follow the wedding. Thus, he probably went to a tailor in Isthmus City to get this one made up. The jacket… well, maybe it was the last one they had in stock?

    Regardless, it is not a good look. The other aspects of the tux, I think, are actually quite good: the shirt with studs, the batwing tie, the cummerbund, the white braces, the trousers and shoes.

    Outside of replacing the atrocious looking jacket, how else would we improve the outfit? If we were to take the jacket away and replace it with, say, the shawl-collar jacket from The Living Daylights and match the bowtie, would we have a winner here, Matt?

  15. If the dinner jacket was like the first dinner jacket he wore in the Living Daylights it would have been much better, though that one could have fit better as well. The 2-button front is as just a problem here as the lapels are. I don't approve of reverse-pleated trousers either and I can give you reasons as to why forward pleats are better, but technically they aren't incorrect or fashion-forward so that's more of a personal complaint. I could also come up with a number of arguments against the studs, but technically they aren't a problem either. Let me know if you want to hear why I don't like the studs either.

    You're right that there is a lot of good here, especially the bow tie, cummerbund and braces.

    As for what shirt studs are, they are used to close the shirt front instead of buttons. Like cufflinks, they are dressier than buttons. Bond wears black onyx studs here.

  16. What is wrong with studs? I used mother of pearl studs and onyx studs before and I found them great, better than mother of pearl buttons and regular buttons with a fly front placket.

  17. Mother of pearl studs are traditionally used in white tie. With black tie, black onyx studs became the standard (with mother of pearl still acceptable), but on the same shirt with the starched front and starched wing collar. But then came along the soft shirt, with a soft turn-down collar and pleated front. With this less formal shirt the studs are out of place. The shirt should at least have a marcella front like a white tie shirt if studs are to be worn. That's what Brosnan wore in two of his films. Just as the wing collar is, studs with black tie are often frowned upon in Britain for the reasons given above. That's why Bond has so rarely worn them.

  18. I found this on another website, and I’m starting to think it has some merit:, post 100

    I’m speaking specifically about the comments made about Dalton being a “Baggy, balding mess”. While I think Dalton’s performance is pitch perfect, subsequent reviews of the film have allowed me to see in more detail the faults you raised in Dalton’s clothing. And yes, there are a lot of faults, particularly the bagginess. The question is, WAS Dalton torpedoed?

    While it seems unbelievable, I can’t think of any other Bond outing where Bond has been dressed so tackily. Also, there are at least two shots I can remember where we see a very glaring bald spot (I feel for the guy, I’m losing my hair too) on the back of Dalton’s head. Would that have ever flown in any other Bond film?

    And even when they’re not showing off his bald spot, they’re giving him tacky hairdoos. The comb-back they sidle him with in the casino scenes is appalling. His hair looks perfectly fine in the opening scenes. When they keep it to that, it’s fine.

    Matt, you have a very good eye for tailoring, and obviously you’ve seen the films. Can you think of another instance where Bond’s wardrobe and hairstyling have been so universally low? Because it definitely does seem there was some behind the scenes crap going on (Not from Cubby, Cubby was delighted to have Dalton, but was forced to leave the production due to ill health) that tried to weigh Dalton down.

    • I don’t think Daniel Craig’s hair looked very good in Skyfall. The very short cut doesn’t flatter him, but it’s not sloppy in the least. The suits are poorly tailored as well, being the exact opposite from Licence to Kill with a size too small instead of a size to large. But I don’t think the costume designers wanted their respective stars to look bad, just fashionable.

  19. Agreed, there have been times, “The Man With the Golden Gun” being an example, where a lot of Bond’s wardrobe hasn’t worked. But going through the posts, it really seems like nothing at all Dalton wore (Save for the wetsuit) ended up looking very good. It seems like every other Bond film at least has had a few outfits that worked well.

    I know Costume Designer Jodie Tilden said that they based the costumes on the fact Bond was caught off guard in Key West, and thus went rogue with only a few outfits at his disposal. That works in the Key West scenes, but once Bond gets the 4.9 million from the drug heist, that could easily have been incorporated into Bond having a better wardrobe. that comment seems like a cop-out when Bond’s posing as a rich mercenary in Ithsmus City.

    I’m thinking as well of Bond’s two-button tuxedo in the casino. Was the two-button style popular in the 80s? As you said in other comments, no single-breasted jacket should have more than one button, and I would agree. Are there any other instances of Bond wearing a two-button single-breasted jacket?

    The only costume that Bond wears that really fits the locale to me is the very brief scene where Bond goes to re-collect the money at the bank. He wears a light-colored shirt and light colored. but not matching, slacks.

    • The suit in Key West was one he would have brought with him. Everything was going as planned up to that point, so there’s no excuse there for not having a suit that was up to his usual standards. He would have brought a suit and a dinner suit with him, as he does wherever he goes. All the suits in the film look like expensive Italian suits. If he had to buy suits off the pegs, was there nothing available in his size?

      Bond has never worn a button two dinner jacket in any other film. It was not a 1980’s style, as well-dressed men were still wearing single-button dinner jackets. Typically it’s a cheaper way to make a suit jacket into a dinner jacket, only by adding satin to the lapels. Fashion designers may also do that, if they want to use their suit design and make it into a dinner suit. That’s the case here. They often just do what they want to without any regard for tradition.

  20. Wouldn’t the trousers and shirt be destroyed in the scene where Bond leaves Sanchez’s lair to go to the hotel?

  21. I can see there is a lot of Timothy Dalton in the comments but I would like to clarify that Ian Fleming never intended for the character of Bond to be a comedic character or some pretty boy which is why I think Dalton nailed the part fair enough he was dressed very poorly in this film but his performance I think was very much believable.

  22. Having just learned what a guayabera is (and now seeing them everywhere this year), it’s occurred to me that the grouping of the pleats on his shirt’s bib resemble the pleats on a guayabera. Perhaps a purposeful nod to the movie’s Central American setting?

  23. Timothy Dalton could be wearing a bin bag the entire movie for all I care. The man oozes charisma, danger and sex no matter how big the shoulder pads. Plus the 80s are back anyway :-D


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