Bond Wardrobe Review 4: Thunderball (1965)

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Let’s give a thunderous round of applause for Thunderball‘s costuming.

James Bond: Sean Connery
Director: Terence Young
Wardrobe designer: Anthony Mendleson
Wardrobe master: John Brady
Wardrobe mistress: Eileen Sullivan
Tailoring: Anthony Sinclair
Shirts and ties: Turnbull & Asser

Overview

Bond returns to the Caribbean in Thunderball after visiting three years earlier in Dr. No, but this time he comes better prepared for the hot, humid weather and water sports with a new assortment of exciting tropical clothing. Bond frequently changes his outfits and repurposes clothes throughout the film to provide a vast number of inspiring looks. Thunderball shows a continued evolution in James Bond’s tailored style while also breaking new ground with Bond’s beachwear.

Formal Wear

The midnight blue shawl-collar dinner suit is made of a vibrant, lightweight mohair that is perfect for a formal night in a hot location. The sheen of the mohair makes it one of Bond’s flashiest dinner suits of the series, but the classic styling keeps it tasteful.

The dress shirt is a wonderfully pared down design. Its fancy white-on-white stripe cotton is the only thing that makes it more formal than an ordinary shirt. The design is as basic as Bond’s other shirts, with the same spread collar, two-button cocktail cuffs and button-front placket. I think Ian Fleming’s Bond, who didn’t like fussiness, would appreciate it.

Lounge Suits and Jackets

Like Dr. No, Thunderball features only three suits, and two of them are in similar cloths. Bond starts with his usual dark grey flannel suit for a funeral, and like in Goldfinger it’s a three-piece suit. It’s an appropriate choice for a somber occasion, but in its fourth incarnation in the series it’s proven to be a versatile garment for cool-weather occasions of varying formality. It’s the signature suit of Connery’s Bond, and it’s welcome again here.

He again wears a brown suit to the office, but this time it’s a sharp dark-brown medium-weight wool and mohair three-piece suit. It’s a flashy and fashion-forward choice for London officewear, but it’s not a country suit. The shine from the mohair makes it looks more appropriate for a fancy night on the town, but it’s a beautiful suit and a modern take on the usually stodgy brown suit.

Bond continues with mohair suiting for his third suit, which he does wear for a night out in the Bahamas. This one is lightweight in a black and white contrast weave, which accentuates the sheen. It’s the perfect choice for the location because it’s a very cool-wearing suit, and Bond looks appropriately stylish when he arrives at the Kiss Kiss Club. The light colour would have looked good in daylight, but the sheen also makes it the perfect nighttime suit.

For Thunderball, Bond dives deeper into 1960s London tailoring fashions than before. The lapels continue to be narrow. The shiny mohair suits were very trendy at the time. The waistcoats have a straight hem at the front, which was also popular in the 1960s. While these aspects keep the suits very much in the 1960s, they still look good today because they don’t sacrifice a good fit. The suits are also a bit more fitted compared to before, which helps them look better to a contemporary eye. The suits are fun and interesting but still tasteful. They include just the right balance of tradition and fashion.

In addition to the suits, the barleycorn tweed hacking jacket and cavalry twill trousers from Goldfinger are back, and they appear to be the same garments that Connery wore in Woman of Straw and Goldfinger. They’re perfect for the English country setting at Shrublands. It’s also a nice touch to see that Bond holds onto clothes, making this one of the most realistic wardrobe choices of the series.

Bond also has a blue doeskin blazer almost the same as the one in Dr. No, but the lapels have a different shape and the buttons are brass instead of gunmetal. I like to think that it’s supposed to be the Dr. No blazer. While it’s a good choice to wear with flannel trousers in the English countryside under a wool herringbone topcoat and a brown felt trilby, Bond once again brings it to the Caribbean where even after dark it’s much too warm.

The Turnbull & Asser cocktail cuff shirts and grenadine ties from Dr. No and From Russia with Love make a welcome return, likely due to director Terence Young’s return. The shirts are in blue and ecru poplin, and the blue shirts are an attractive darker shade compared to the shirts from the first two Bond films. The ties aren’t just navy, and like in Goldfinger Bond’s grenadine selection now includes black and brown. It brings more interest to the wardrobe, unlike the monotony of the navy tie throughout From Russia with Love.

Bond’s formal footwear includes a pair of black slip-on demi boots with elastic on the instep. Like the suits, this boot style was very trendy in the 1960s, but as Fleming’s Bond abhorred laces it’s an excellent choice from that perspective. The style is very streamlined and still looks good, if unusual, today.

Casual Attire

Despite its memorable suits, Thunderball‘s casual style is the wardrobe’s main attraction. Most of the casual clothes look refined, showing that Bond puts as much effort into dressing down as he does dressing up.

Spending time at a health spa involves dressing Bond in dressing gowns and towelling. The towel skirt with a pocket is particularly fun and practical, while his more luxurious blue dressing gown looks comfortable and elegant.

  • Bond also wears a black fine-gauge wool polo with fawn cavalry twill trousers at Shrublands (the same trousers he pairs with the tweed jacket) and later with black tropical wool trousers in the Bahamas. Both of these outfits are perfect examples of how to dress down elegantly and are amongst my favourites in the series. The long-sleeve polo sweater with wool trousers has inspired me to dress the same way when I want to dress down but look put-together.

Camp shirts in cotton and linen dominate Bond’s clothes in the Bahamas, with five total in blue and pink solid, gingham and butcher stripes. He pairs some of them with skimpy Jantzen swim trunks, while other he pairs with lightweight tailored trousers. The blue striped camp shirt with stone trousers is a standout and is easily the most elegant of the Bahamas casual outfits. Espadrilles and sandals comprise the footwear, and unlike for Fleming’s Bond the sandals thankfully don’t get dressed up with suits.

The solid blue camp shirt with matching trousers is the only questionable look of the bunch, and the shirt’s styling with large buttons would almost make the outfit look pyjama-like if it wasn’t for the tailored fit. Still, it looks good on Connery along with the straw hat.

He wears black Cool-Ray Polaroid N135 sunglasses styled by Cari Michelle with a few of these outfits. The sunglasses are a rectangular Wayfarer style but the sunglasses themselves don’t look all that sophisticated. The construction is cheap and the shape is a bit wide, but they manage to look cool on Connery,.

The polo returns, but this time it’s a mid-blue polo from Fred Perry with the iconic logo on the chest. Like with the Jantzen swimwear it’s interesting to see Bond wearing branded sportswear, and the branding helps make his clothes seem more accessible in a good way.

He also wears a few diving outfits in the film, which don’t particularly interest me. I can’t deny that Connery looks superb in them, and the red one looks fantastic on screen. They’re just the right gear for the film’s underwater sequences.

Other Characters

Emilio Largo is one of the best-dressed Bond villains of all time, particularly in his Casablanca-esque double-breasted ivory dinner jacket. His 8×3 double-breasted blazer looks particularly regal, and he wears it well. By dressing in a way that rivals Bond’s elegance, it paints him as a worthy adversary. The film’s three Bond girls always look striking as well, whether dressed up in their evening gowns or dressed down in their swimwear.

Well Done, James

I appreciate seeing items from previous films return, whether they’re the same like the hacking jacket and cavalry twill trousers or updated versions like the shawl collar dinner suit, the grey flannel suit, the grey mohair suit and the navy blazer. Even though the casual clothes are new styles for Bond, the familiar tailored looks do an excellent job at reinforcing the classic Bondian looks. The casual style throughout the film is always elegantly done and is still memorable today. The long sleeve polo and the blue striped camp shirt are amongst my favourite casual looks of the series. Bond always looks his best throughout the film, and every outfit is exciting.

Not Perfected Yet

Though Bond wears unvented suits in the previous two Bond films, all three of his suits in Thunderball are without vents. I personally don’t care for the style, but this is a matter of personal preference. I think that double vents look better in the action sequences because of how they move with the body. Vents look more dramatic.

There are also some continuity issues, like when cocktail cuffs turn into double cuffs when Bond flies the jet pack, or when demi-boots turn into loafers when Bond is wearing his black and white suit. But every item he wears still looks fantastic.

Verdict

Thunderball is a film that may be more style over substance, but only the style counts in this review. With so many items in this wardrobe, there is so much more to love. While some of the clothes were considerably of their time, they’re still relevant today. For the last two decades, most of Bond’s clothes have been in fashion again. Even if the clothes fall out of fashion again, they will always been seen as tasteful. Bond looks perfect at all times in this film, and the entire film is glamourous.

Rating: 10/10

Do you agree or disagree with my assessment? Leave your comments below.

34 COMMENTS

  1. One of the best JB films ever made. In many ways, it feels more contemporary than some of Roger Moore films, that were made later. Almost all the clothing in the film could be worn today — even the ladies’ fashion doesn’t appear ridiculously outdated. Domino’s black and white bikini would look just as stylish today as it looked back then.

  2. For me, the most interesting thing about the Thunderball looks is that it’s the last time Connery looked in shape for the role, but it was also the first time the hairpiece didn’t look convincing.

    I was less enthusiastic about the wardrobe that you. What he wore at the health farm didn’t really work for me, he looked a bit sombre (perhaps reflecting Bond’s attitude to the place!), the brown suit looked heavy (I appreciate the look may be deceiving) and I feel vicariously uncomfortable when I see someone in a heavy suit. The grey one I liked, and Connery still looked good in shorts and polo shirt.

    More generally, Thunderball is a film that doesn’t really enthuse me. I find it too long, it meanders, it could do with being more taut.

  3. Totally agree Matt, thankyou and these articles are helping me build my Bond inspired wardrobe.

    I love the imclusion of the casual wardobe along with the Craig movies we see Bond in normal stylish clothing we can all wear.

      • If you go to a Crockett & Jones store they may still have a pair. I got the Kempton III in the January Sale (since it is discontinued) earlier this year.

        You may want to wait and think about it until July (next sale), but depending on your size they might just have a pair.

        Like Fleming’s Bond, I don’t care much for lace-ups or even straps. They look and feel great. For me, it’s perfect formal wear for a non-conformist of the rules for style.

        Keep in mind that they’re more of a boot than a shoe. In Thunderball (Kiss Kiss Club scene), You Only Live Twice (with both suits), and On Her Majesty’s Secret Service (some scenes), there is a similar style but the sides and vamp are low cut like a loafer so it’s more of a shoe which you might want to consider.

        Don’t know why shoe makers don’t seem to do them. The other alternative for Plain Toe Slip-Ons that you can get are in the style of Venetian Loafers or Plain Toe/Albert Slippers.

  4. Thunderball is my favorite Connery Bond movie and the first one that feels completely 1960s to me. And you are right, the sharp, minimalist cuts on the suits has been in and out of style a few times since then. But I think it stays popular because it’s so sharp.

    • Great review
      I am a fan of Connerys Bond and his wardrobe. I have taken a number of fashion questions from him.
      I would really like to purchase the cocktail cuff dress shirt, really love the look but they are so expensive.

  5. I also agree, I dunno which movie I like more of the early ones. I appreciate that this movie portrays de Resort ambient Bond the best of all Sir Connery movies, maybe this somehow inhibited the “substance” of the plot.

    I fancy the fawn cavalry trousers so much!

    Matt, you didn’t dwell at all on the pink outfit, I will check your older posts on that. I like the pink shirt but not with the shorts of the same color.

    Thanks for this post, I always look forward to read your Monday’s post and my black Yirgacheffe coffee.

    I also appreciate all the posts by fellow readers. I learn much from their opinions.

    Regards

      • ah, amazing. Gonna rethink the all pink, I do like the Dr. No all sky blue outfit, just adjusting the contrast a bit. Since your article on monochromatic outfits a couple of weeks ago I am more interested in those options. It’s somewhat disappointing that Orlebar Brown did the Dr. No blue trousers in a polyester at that price level.

  6. I missed the little white pocket square in the breast pocket of Bonds suit jackets. Largo is definitely the best dressed villain. I personally thought the slimmer cuts of the tailored outfits were just due to Connery being a little heavier here than in Dr No -but still in wonderful shape of course.

  7. I agree with this review. The wardrobe is gorgeous and stylish (although personally I think the straight hem on the waistcoat looks a bit odd) and I definitely agree with the sunglasses; they look good on Connery, but they’re not the sunglasses style I would ever choose. I also agree with the sentiment that Thunderball is style over substance. If I had to choose a Connery Bond movie to watch, Thunderball would be at the bottom of my list. All the actors are all great and the film is shot well, but the underwater scenes just bring the pacing to a complete stop. Still, the wardrobe is great.

    • I’m reminded of the sight gag in the Will Ferrell film ‘The House’ in which, when asked if he is wearing women’s sunglasses (which he is), Ferrell’s character curtly responds, ‘They’re Italian’.

      The ‘Thunderball’ eyewear was an odd choice and I can’t help but think that their addition in the narrative was unplanned and that some crew member behind the scenes simply lent them to a slightly sun-perturbed Connery . . .

  8. What sold me a 10 for this movie was the grey flannel three piece, and the extensive use of flat bottom waistcoats. I know Anthony Sinclair brought the design back, and they’re available for special orders. The flat bottom waistcoat is underrated as an everyday practical waistcoat design.

    Once my investment returns clear through, I’m doing a bit of splurging. I’m well overdue for a gray suit anyway.

    • And something that went amiss in this review – this movie showed that Anthony Sinclair’s cut can easily conceal a compact/micro compact pistol like the Walther PP series, with a well cut holster, of course. The scene of Bond in grey suit in the Bahamas before Kiss Kiss Club was the proof. Also serves to prove that drape and fullness in the chest is essential for any suit to be fully practical, to be honest.

      My personal experience – thanks to drape and fullness in my suit coats, I can carry a lot more than most people who wear suits too tight. I make full use of my suits as they were.

  9. Another great read Matt. This is a 10/10 for me too. While I personally don’t care for any type of boot worn with a suit and am not a fan of the brown mohair suit, the highs in this film’s wardrobe both formal and casual are so high that any nitpicking goes out the window. Sean Connery looks fantastic throughout and agrees with others that most of the clothing worn by the Bond girls and other characters and villains stands up very well too. I don’t think time will be this kind to Mr Craig’s choices, certainly not the formal outfits.

  10. Excellent write-up Matt.

    Echoing all the positive comments. Thunderball is probably my favourite of the entire canon – or at least up to the Craig’ era at which point the series is a whole different animal.
    Having visited the Bahamas many times I love the location shooting and I think this is the film with the most Mod-adjacent styling. The sharkskin suit for the Junkanoo is one of my all time favourite cinematic suits and I’m even an advocate of ventless jackets. The midnight blue dinner suit improves upon the one in Dr. No in my view.

    There are some aspects of the film that detract – the egregious use of the jet pack and the underwater ‘kitchen sink’ are probably responsible for the explosion of gadget-heavy spy spoof films that sprang up soon after this film’s release. . There are bloopers galore due to some very poor editing. The Double O briefing (navy blazer) is clearly supposed to have taken place on the same day as the individual briefing with M, but somehow Bond has had a chance to change into the brown suit!! I hate the towel skirt – it even looks dingy and threadbare! But they stayed close to the source material for the story, Largo is an excellent villain – sinister and cruel and yet evenly matched by Fiona Volpe (but why would Domino fall for a millionaire gangster?), there are at least five foxy ladies for eye candy, and as a scuba diver myself I love the underwater scenes which bring a new dimension to the routine set piece shoot ‘em ups of the series.

    Turning back to style, as mentioned above we hadn’t seen Bond in many casual outfits up to this point in the series and Thunderball proves he can be just as stylish on the beach as he is in the city. Just about every outfit would be wearable now almost sixty years on. Thank goodness they strayed from the book and declined to have him patrolling Nassau in a suit and sandals. The dark blue shirt and matching strides is known as a ‘walking suit’ in some circles. Very popular with elderly Black gents in the southern states during the summer but a curious choice for Bond.

    Anyway – one of the best films and having the best wardrobe is surely a part of that!

    • Yes! In Thunderball, James Bond revealed himself as a mod. Or was it a pose? Never went as far as wearing Boating Blazers though.

  11. Matt, I share your reservations on the pyjama-like proto-leisure suit and the non-vented jackets but the wardrobe is near-perfect. “No well-dressed man should be without one” of any of the outfits from the film. It is a complete town to country to beach day to night wardrobe. And I do not go to a summer holiday by the sea without a camp collar shirt !

  12. I agree with your ranking Matt. This movie outfits are spot on and I like to see the return of outfits like the barleycorn jacket.

  13. Matt, any recommendations on RTW camp shirts in linen or cotton? I am looking for something maybe a little more roomy than Orlebar Brown, Thanks.

    • I only have experience with Orlebar Brown and Mason & Sons, but I don’t think the latter is offering any at the moment. They have similar fits. Sizing up is good for a roomier fit.

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