In a 1989 interview with Garth Pearce, Timothy Dalton spoke of the colour that James Bond should wear: ‘The clothes say so much about Bond. He’s got a naval background, so he needs a strong, simple colour like dark blue.’
Bond wears a lot of blue, and not just dark blue. In addition to blue, he wears shades of grey, shades of brown and tan, and the basic black and white. These are the staple colours of classic menswear. Red for ties, knitwear and other accents come and go throughout the series. Red is a strong colour, and it’s often thought of as a masculine colour, so it’s a natural choice for Bond too.
However, some colours simply aren’t Bond’s style. Bond particularly avoids secondary colours like orange, green and purple as well as yellow and pink. These colours are more difficult to wear well, and caution should be used when wearing them. When Bond does wear these colours, he rarely uses them for contrast. Instead he wears them with similar tones so they don’t draw attention or clash.
Orange is one of the most difficult colours to wear, in any context. It suits warm complexions much better than cool complexions. It tends to look very harsh against other colours, particularly shades of blue, which is opposite it on the colour wheel. Muted shades of orange that are closer to brown are easier to wear than vivid orange.
James Bond only wears orange prominently on two occasions. The first is the orange polo neck jumper with his golfing suit in On Her Majesty’s Secret Service. The orange polo neck pairs well with the fawn-coloured suit, which keeps everything in the same colour family so the orange doesn’t look harsh as part of the outfit. However, orange is not a good colour on a man with cool complexion like George Lazenby. He looks his best in blue and red.
Bond’s second outfit that prominently features orange in the clown suit in Octopussy, and there’s plenty of orange beyond the hair. When most men attempt to wear orange, they end up looking just as much like a clown as Roger Moore does at the circus.
Bond usually wears orange in smaller amounts, such as in the windowpane of tweed suit in On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, the plaid flannel jacket he finds in On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, the striped tie in Die Another Day and his faded scarf in Die Another Day. His dark blue shirt paired with the tan linen suit in Die Another Day looks like it could have subtle orange stripes. Orange is only part of Bond’s colour palate in these two films.
On other occasions, Bond wears brighter shades of brown and tan that almost cross into orange territory, but they’re still muted and stay comfortably within the brown family. The polo necks in Diamonds Are Forever and For Your Eyes Only are such shades of brown. Browns are much easier to wear than any orange.
Like orange, yellow is a difficult colour to wear well. And similar to orange, wearing yellow can make one look like they’re wearing the clown suit from Octopussy. Most of Bond’s yellow clothing is in the Roger Moore era, but with his warm complexion he usually wears it fairly well. Yellow is chosen for how it pops on screen, but because it’s such a bright colour it rarely looks elegant.
Roger Moore’s very first outfit as James Bond is a pale yellow dressing gown. Because it was not a colour that Bond previously wore, it helped Roger Moore to stand out as a new version of James Bond who wouldn’t be confused for his predecessors.
Pale yellow comes up a few more times in the Moore. His cotton jersey short-sleeve shirt in For Your Eyes Only is an elegant use of yellow. The dickey that Bond wears at the start of Octopussy is part of a disguise and is quickly discarded. It pairs nicely with his brown tweed jacket but looks very much of its time. In disguise as James St John Smythe in A View to a Kill, Bond wears a similarly pale yellow tie with his brown tweed jacket, continuing the 1980s trend.
Yellow jumpsuits are a recurring theme in the Moore films. He pops on screen in his yellow and red ski suit at the start of The Spy Who Loved Me. Then in Moonraker, he is one of many characters dressed in a yellow Moonraker space suit. In For Your Eyes Only he finds himself in a yellow diving suit. In Octopussy, Bond is forced to wear a yellow clown suit.
Some of Pierce Brosnan’s ties in GoldenEye and Die Another Day feature gold accents. In accents, gold is a much easier colour to wear than yellow and orange, which sandwich it on the colour wheel.
Bond wears green and its cousin olive on a number of occasions throughout the series, but the colour is not a staple of Bond’s wardrobe. Bond rarely chooses green when the situation doesn’t require it. Because Bond is a naval man, he likely chooses blue over green, the colour of the army. When Bond wears green and olive, it’s usually either for wearing outdoors amongst the trees or it’s for a military or combat look.
Bond’s green and olive civilian outdoor looks include a safari shirt in The Man with the Golden Gun, a suede blouson in For Your Eyes Only, a Barbour jacket in Skyfall and a long corduroy coat in No Time to Die. His combat looks include an outfit of an army uniform disguise in Octopussy, tactical gear in GoldenEye and combat trousers in Tomorrow Never Dies. A few of the civilian outfits also count as combat looks.
Green comes up as a disguise on a few occasions. After the green army uniform in Octopussy it shows up in the clown suit. It’s also in Bond’s Sir Hilary Bray outfits in On Her Majesty’s Secret Service but in a more subtle way. The tattersall shirt has an olive stripe running through it. Green also appears in his Black Watch tartan kilt.
For his looks that don’t fit the above necessities, green shows up very little in Bond’s wardrobe. His Lock & Co. trilby in Dr. No is a very muted shade of green, so muted that there was a long debate about whether it’s green, brown or grey. He wears an olive double-breasted suit with an olive tie in The Man with the Golden Gun, which was likely only done so that Bond would match the set of the RMS Queen Elizabeth. One of the stripes in his multi-coloured striped tie in Venice in Moonraker is olive. One-eighth of Bond’s gun club check jacket in The Living Daylights is green. And the day cravat tucked into his navy jumper in GoldenEye is green. Much of the time when Bond is wearing green out of pure choice, it’s only a minor colour in the outfit.
Purple is an easy colour to wear, and it pairs well with grey and blue. Yet, Bond rarely touches it. His boldest use of purple comes in the form of purple velvet monogrammed Prince Albert slippers at home in Live and Let Die, yet these are hardly visible in the film.
Purple is especially effective in ties, and three of Bond’s ties feature purple. The amethyst-coloured grenadine tie that Bond wears with his grey flannel suit in Diamonds Are Forever is like a purple-grey colour. Two different shades of purple featured in the stripes of his multi-coloured striped tie in Venice in Moonraker. There is a hint of purple in the pindot tie that Bond wears with his black suit in London in Quantum of Solace.
There’s also some purple in the lining of the brown suit jacket Bond briefly tries on at his New Orleans hotel in Live and Let Die.
Bond wears pink prominently a handful of times in the series, but it’s otherwise not a staple colour of his wardrobe. It’s an easy colour to wear, particularly in pale shades, but men often shy away from it because of its feminine associations. In the late 1960s it was a Bondian colour, but Bond has not worn it since the 1970s and its disappearance makes it a rather un-Bondian colour now.
Bond wears pink in warm locales, such as in his camp shirts in Thunderball, his linen shirt in You Only Live Twice, his formal shirt with an ecru suit and navy blazer in On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, and his pink tie with an ecru suit in Diamonds Are Forever.
Should you avoid these colours?
James Bond has worn every colour, so no colour is off limits, but care should be taken when wearing any of the colours above. Orange and yellow especially take skill and confidence to wear elegantly because they are such strong colours. Green, purple and pink are much easier to wear, but like Bond it is best to use discretion when wearing these colours because they stand out more than more typical colours. Some of the above examples demonstrates how to wear these difficult colours while others are models for how not to dress. Personal taste will determine which are white.