It’s a common trope for a man to remove his suit jacket for a fight, though Bond is often noted for being a ‘suited hero’. Bond often stays dressed in his suits for a fight or for an intense action sequence, and that’s part of his character. He’s always trying to look like a gentleman.
Bond stays completely dressed in his tailored clothes through fights at the gypsy camp and on the train in From Russia with Love, at Fort Knox in Goldfinger, in the lift in Diamonds Are Forever, in the dressing room in The Man with the Golden Gun, at the temple fight in The Spy Who Loved Me, atop the cable car in Moonraker, at the caviar factor in The World Is Not Enough, in the toilet in Casino Royale, through Istanbul in Skyfall, and on the train in Spectre. These are just a few of the time Bond stays completely dressed for battle.
A warrior puts on his armour for battle, and a suit is effectively Bond’s armour. Bond looks more like Bond in a suit, and thus he looks stronger in a suit. Pierce Brosnan particularly needed a suit to give his slight build him physical presence and make him look more believable in a fight.
There’s an element of drama to seeing Bond’s suits dirtied, bloodied or torn, which has become particularly common in the Daniel Craig era. On a few occasions it would have been a more practical choice for Bond to remove his ‘armour’ for physical activity, though he’s often caught off-guard and has no chance to remove his jacket. When Bond finishes a battle with his jacket still on, he’s able to walk away from it more elegantly than if he had removed the jacket, no matter what kind of shape the jacket is in. A Bond that looks put-together at the conclusion of a confrontation looks more like a winner.
A suit is not the most effective outfit for fighting in. Jackets are typically tailored to look their best with the arms down, which can limit one’s range of motion. High armholes, which Bond’s high-end suits have, can significantly help with freedom to move, but they can’t provide unlimited motion. Men often remove their jackets for fights because they have more movement in their shirt-sleeves. They also remove their jackets so they don’t ruin them.
One practical filmmaking reason why Bond might keep his jackets on during action sequences is that it’s easier to disguise a stunt double in a tailored jacket than in anything else. Tailored jackets have a distinctive silhouette that can take precedence over a man’s physique. If a stuntman has a different body type than the Bond actor, a suit can help make them look more alike.
There’s something that looks more badass about removing a jacket for battle and dropping it on the floor, but that’s not Bond’s style. Removing a jacket for a fight can demonstrate a metaphorical ‘the gloves are off’. Bond’s jackets are removed for fights on a few occasion, though he does not usually directly remove his jacket for a fight.
At the start of Goldfinger, Bond removes his dinner jacket as the start of him undressing for a visit to Bonita. But this almost signals that a fight is coming. His Frank Foster shirt is perfectly fitted to his body for this scene so Bond looks as put-together as he possibly can for this brawl.
In On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, Bond removes his dinner jacket at the beginning of the film to rescue Tracy from the water. Bond removes his jacket to more easily swim, though he does not have time to remove his trousers. When a few men arrive to pick a fight, Bond is already with his jacket off. Another fitted Frank Foster shirt in this scene means that even a soaked Bond looks well-tailored in this fight without his jacket.
Through the intense heat of Palm Springs, Bond removes his suit jacket in Diamonds Are Forever as he attempts to rescue Willard Whyte for his house. He encounters Bambi and Thumper for a fight with his jacket already removed, so he luckily doesn’t have it on when he’s thrown into the pool.
For the climactic showdown of Bond versus Scaramanga in The Man with the Golden Gun, Bond removes his plaid jacket for the event. Seeing Bond throw down his jacket for dramatic effect may have been out of character, so this does not happen. He’s already in his cocktail-cuff shirt-sleeves when the duel begins. Bond would have looked rather silly with his jacket on, considering this is a planned fight.
Later in the film after Bond has donned the black suit jacket that belonged to Scaramanga’s Bond dummy, Bond quickly removes the suit jacket and tie for effect when he is against the clock to recover the Solex. In this dark suit and tie, Bond would have looked too dressed up for this occasion, and he looks cooler in his shirt-sleeves. An ordinary man would roll up his sleeves, but Bond attempts to keep a more gentlemanly look by wearing his cocktail cuffs fastened.
Bond finds himself fighting Jaws on a train in The Spy Who Loved Me. He had already started the process of getting undressed, and by the time Jaws shows his teeth Bond has removed his silk suit jacket and tie. This gives Bond a more intimate look for this intimate fight, and he doesn’t have to ruin his suit jacket. Unfortunately he still bloodies his Frank Foster shirt.
Bond removes his suit jacket for the finale of The World Is Not Enough. This is one of the few occasions when Bond removes his jacket in preparation of what he’s going to do. In this case he makes a purely practical decision to remove his linen suit jacket before diving off a tower into the sea. The wet action sequence that follows would not have been served well if Bond were still wearing his jacket.
The most notable occasion when Bond removes his jacket purposefully for a fight is in Casino Royale, when Bond takes on Obanno in a stairwell for one of the most gruesome fights of the series. Bond starts the fight in his black dinner jacket, but in order to better equip himself against Obanno’s machete, Bond wraps the dinner jacket around his left hand to defend himself. On this occasion, removing the jacket provides a dramatic effect as well as a practical one as it gives Bond a wider range of motion in his shirt-sleeves. Seeing him take off his jacket for a fight both portrays Craig’s Bond as a tougher Bond as well as a less sophisticated Bond who doesn’t care about the social implications of removing his jacket in public. When he later removes his dinner jacket at the casino table, it demonstrates the same qualities. He doesn’t always need to look as perfect as his predecessor in the role.
For an escape sequence in Spectre, Bond’s blue suit jacket was already removed before the scene started. Bond spends little time wearing this suit jacket that Blofeld gave him before he finds himself in shirt-sleeves with a drill in his skull. With his jacket already disappeared, Bond is prepared for a nimble escape.
Through all these occasions, it’s designed by either the costume designer or director so that Bond wouldn’t get his suit jacket ruined in a fight or action sequence. Sometimes it’s for the effect of Bond looking rough-and-tumble in his shirt-sleeves. That gives him a tougher look. Bond risks looks like a caricature of himself when he goes through an entire action sequence with his suit on.
At other times, Bond fights in his shirt-sleeves likely as a cost-saving technique so that an expensive bespoke suit jacket won’t be hurt. Before the Brosnan era, Bond’s costumes were mostly purchased rather than provided to the series in exchange for brand exposure. There are enough fights and action sequences in suits during the Brosnan and Craig eras that any none of the costuming decisions are likely for cutting costs.
Coupled with the limitations of bespoke tailors, who have difficulties with producing 40 copies of a suit for an action sequence, it was the practical thing to not have Bond in a situation that would ruin so many multiples of his jackets. Multiples were still made for action sequences and in case of accidents–like for the five times Roger Moore was dumped into the Venice canal by his gondola while filming Moonraker.
Bond may usually be the suited hero, but there is a welcome element of realism when Bond is not dressed for a fight the same way he is for a battle at the baccarat table.