When James Bond enters M’s Westminster office for his mission briefing, he almost always wears a suit, and in most cases these suits follow the traditions of classic London business dress. The suits are usually dark blues and dark greys, with the occasional mid grey and dark brown. Often the suits are striped, and occasionally they are checked. The styles of the suits usually follow British tailoring customs, even the suits not made by British tailors.
When considering what the male Ms wear, the suits often fit the same overall description. So why does Bond always look like he’s dressed so much more modern than M?
The Differences at a Glance
M and Bond frequently dress with some sort of contrast between them when they appear together, whether it’s in different colours, different patterns or different types of neckwear. There will usually be something significantly different about theirs outfits when they are in the same place together so that Bond will not appear to be M’s equal. M not only needs to look more mature than Bond, but he needs to look less flashy. His clothes will often have a lived-in look to them, while Bond’s always look fresh. M usually looks more comfortable and less like a fashion plate than Bond does. His outfits are less composed, and he looks like he cares less about his appearance. The way Bond and M sit, stand and move in their clothes can, at times, also make the same types of clothes seem entirely different.
The Cut and Fit
With Daniel Craig’s Bond wearing Tom Ford and Ralph Fiennes’s M dressed in bespoke suits from Timothy Everest, the most obvious difference between the suits is the fit. Craig’s suits are tight and short while Fiennes’ suits have a trim fit but with a clean drape.
In the days when Bond was dressed by an English tailor, the cut and fit of his suits and M’s was not a whole lot different. In On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, they were both tailored by Dimi Major. The only significant difference in the cuts of their suits was that M’s suits were tailored with more fullness, noticeably in the sleeves and trouser legs. When trim cuts are in fashion, fullness gives the impression of maturity.
In Roger Moore’s 1970s films, Bond’s suits are cut and styled very dramatically, with wide lapels, suppressed waists, flared trosuers and, in the latter part of the decade, prominent shoulders. M’s suits, on the other hand, are not as interesting. Actor Bernard Lee put on weight, and his suits became boxier and more shapeless. Like Bond’s lapels, M’s lapels also widened, but the outfits maintained a more old-fashioned look overall by keeping the trousers straight-legged and not flared.
In the 1980s films when Douglas Hayward toned down Moore’s suits with soft shoulders and more traditional fabrics, Robert Brown’s M wears boxier, straight-shouldered suits that were more typical of the era. His suits look less refined than Bond’s, and they may be ready-to-wear suits, though the overall styles were similar.
M’s suits arenot always cut with more fullness than Bond’s suits. In the Connery years, M’s and Bond’s suits are usually cut quite similarly. Both wear well-fitted but full-cut button-two suits. The main difference between them is the width of the lapels. Connery’s lapels are narrow in the 1960s and wide in Diamonds Are Forever, whilst M’s lapels are balanced and do not change much.
Bond’s suits always hint at the fashions of the day, whilst M’s suits look like they’re always one or two steps behind.
Double-Breasted Suits Look More Mature, Usually
M is introduced in the first Bond film Dr. No wearing a grey double-breasted suit. The year is 1962, but M’s full-cut, low-buttoning double-breasted suit is a relic of the 1950s. Since World War 2, double-breasted suits have often had an old-fashioned look. At times they’ve come back into fashion and looked trendy, but usually they make a man look more mature. In M’s case, wearing a style of double-breasted suit that was very much of another era makes him look even more different from Bond.
Ralph Fiennes’ M revives the double-breasted suit in Skyfall, which sets him apart from Bond in a meaningful way. The double-breasted suit gives him a commanding presence over a Bond who is dressed in skimpy single-breasted suit. The double-breasted suit, particularly in its button-two, show-three configuration here, gives him a regal British look along the lines of Prince Charles, but even more so!
On two occasions, Roger Moore’s Bond is the one in the double-breasted suit while M wears a single-breasted suit. With these suits, other qualities in Bond’s suits help him look more modern despite wearing a double-breasted suit. In The Man with the Golden Gun, Bond’s Cyril Castle double-breasted suit with its dramatic cut, narrow wrap and lighter grey colour gives Bond a more youthful look than M’s dark suit does.
In Octopussy, when Bond is approaching Checkpoint Charlie with M, Bond wears a relaxed Douglas Hayward suit while M wears a stiff three-piece suit. The stiffness of M’s suit makes him look stodgy compared to the more natural look of Bond’s suit. At the time of Octopussy, double-breasted suits were starting to return to mainstream fashion, making them the more modern choice. Bond’s suit is in the low-buttoning style that M’s suit in Dr. No was, but two decades later it was now the trendy style that suited Bond better than M. Bond’s double-breasted suit still lend him one of his most mature looks of the series, though it does not make him look more mature than M.
Sometimes all it takes to make a suit look old-fashioned is a heavy cloth. One of the aspects of Sean Connery’s Bond suits that made him look more modern and fashionable was the lightweight cloths, which were a new thing for British tailors at the time. So even if his suits were cut similarly to M’s and made in similar colours and patterns, a heavier cloth could make M look more old-fashioned.
Ralph Fiennes’ M’s suits mostly look heavier than Bond’s suits, though cloths today are on average lighter than they were in the 1960s. Heavy cloths are something few tailors outside of Britain still work with today, so they contribute to his British-establishment look.
The most obvious difference between M and Bond in the 1960s is that M usually, but not always, wore a bow tie and Bond usually wore a long necktie. Bow ties with a suit always look more old-fashioned, and they give M a Churchillian demeanour that would be inappropriate for Bond. M stopped wearing bow ties after On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, and in the 1970s they became too unfashionable, even for M.
This is reversed in Dr. No, when Bond arrives to the office in black tie, though the effect of wearing a bow tie with a dinner jacket is entirely different than wearing a bow tie with a suit. M wears black necktie instead, which makes him look serious but not old-fashioned. Bond, again, is the one in the bow tie in The Spy Who Loved Me, while M is dressed down in a blue blazer.
Ralph Fiennes’ M is known for his braces, another item that Bond mostly only wears in the context of evening wear. These braces contribute to his traditional, conservative look, setting him apart from Bond’s modern style of self-supporting trousers.
Sometimes There Is Little Difference
Sometimes M does not look like Bond simply because he’s too old, too heavy or too bald, not because their clothes are any different. The first time that Bond and M dress interchangeably in their business dress comes in Moonraker, when they both wear navy striped suits to the office. The only notable difference between their suits is thickness and spacing of the stripes. Bond wears a modern thin pinstripe with a very narrow spacing, whilst M wears a traditional thick chalkstripe with a very wide spacing. While M’s stripes look much more old-fashioned than Bonds, in just the next film Bond wears a similar suit to the office.
When Robert Brown plays M in the 1980s, Bond and M dress quite similarly at the office. They’d both wear dark, classically British three-piece business suits. In The Living Daylights, M wears the same Royal Navy striped tie from Benson & Clegg that Bond wore 14 years earlier in Live and Let Die.
Fiennes’ M wears suits that don’t look any more old-fashioned than what Bond often wore to the office before Bond started wearing Tom Ford. There’s little difference in the navy striped three-piece suit that Daniel Craig wears in the final scene of Casino Royale versus the navy striped three-piece suits that Ralph Fiennes wears in Skyfall, albeit before taking on the mantle of M. By Skyfall, Bond had moved into a new era of tighter suits while M essentially stayed with the style of Bond’s past. However, M does not look old-fashioned. He merely doesn’t look fashion forward.