Fleming: The 1939 Navy Three-Piece Suit

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Fleming: The Man Who Would Be Bond is a currently-airing mini series starring Dominic Cooper as James Bond creator Ian Fleming, and the first episode takes place at the beginning of World War II in 1939. The mini-series opens with Fleming in 1952 as he is finishing Casino Royale, the first of the James Bond novels. A conversation between Fleming and his wife introduces the concept that Fleming and Bond are one in the same. “It’s just a pot boiler. Just words, nothing more. Make believe,” says Fleming.

Fleming-Navy-Suit-3“Really?” his wife responds. “Is that why he has your golf handicap and taste in vodka?”

“He’s not me,” retorts Fleming.

“You as you would like to be. Your fantasy,” states Fleming’s wife. And that’s what the series is about.

We know that Fleming also passed on his unique fashion sense to Bond. The first episode at first features Fleming wearing typical late 1930s clothing in busy patterns with extraneous accessories. That’s not what we think of Fleming or Fleming’s Bond wearing. Fleming was not known to be a flamboyant dresser, yet he was a quirky one. The last of the suits in the mini-series before being fitted for his naval uniform is a suit one could picture Fleming wearing in 1939: a navy worsted three-piece suit. It has the straight shoulders, the draped chest and the nipped waist that was the fashion at the time, in a one-button cut with wide peaked lapels. It has jetted pockets, 3-button cuffs and no vent.

The waistcoat has six buttons with five to button. We don’t get a good look at front of the trousers but double forward pleats were typical for English tailoring at the time. The trousers have turn-ups. As we can see with other trousers in this episode, Fleming wears braces, so it would naturally follow that he wears them with this suit as well.

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Fleming’s white shirt has a long, soft point collar. The collar is designed to be worn with a collar bar or pin, and earlier in the episode Fleming wears the former on his collars. Fleming was generally known to not be a fan of fussy accessories, and here he just lets the collar points hang. This shirt also has double cuffs, so Fleming hasn’t yet given up long sleeves. Fleming didn’t like dirty shirt cuffs, but he is still wearing them. I am interested to see if the series shows the development of Fleming’s sartorial quirks. We haven’t yet seen Fleming’s penchant for bow ties in the mini-series, though the real Fleming can occasionally be seen in a four-in-hand tie in photos. Fleming here, of course, ties a four-in-hand knot for his steel blue tie with a printed pattern of white horizontal lines intersected by dark blue diamonds. His black shoes may be derbies, but we don’t get a very clear look at them. They aren’t the moccasins that Fleming wore and dressed Bond in.

Fleming-Charcoal-OvercoatOver his suit, Fleming wears a charcoal melton, double-breasted chesterfield coat. It has six buttons with two to fasten, and it’s a traditional length hitting just below the knee. It has a single vent, peaked lapels, a welted breast pocket and welted hip pockets. With the overcoat Fleming wears a black lord’s hat, which is like a cross between a homburg and a fedora. It has an unbound curled brim, a thick black grosgrain ribbon and a crown with a centre dent and a front pinch.

The clothes look very authentic, from the cuts and styles to the accurately heavy suiting. The cloth weight is often where film costumes make their mistake. The average suiting was considerably heavier 75 years ago, and it gradually started getting lighter after World War II. A 1930s-style suit made in a modern 8 oz cloth won’t look authentic. Since there are few photos of Ian Fleming at this young age we don’t know for certain how he would have dressed, but this outfit looks like something a young James Bond might have worn in the 1939. It’s stylish and fashionably appropriate for a playboy, but not too flashy for a spy.

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19 COMMENTS

  1. Matt – do you not think the trousers in this suit are suspect?

    Turn ups or otherwise, they appear to be ever so slightly larger at the hem than the knee (not because of the way the fabric flops either).

    I’d expect the genuine article to fit with more of a U-shape cut as it reaches the hem. These things look more like a pair of 1970’s pants from the knee down, with the 1930’s cut restricted to the full thigh/waist area.

    Whatever the case, something about the cut hasn’t sold me on the era. Even if Fleming was a sloppy dresser, the break doesn’t look right either.

    -Kurt

      • They may have tailored it with a straight cut, as in literally the same width from knee to hem. But that’s closer to the “boot cut” trousers in the ’70s that tailors offered as a compromise to those awful bell bottoms.

  2. Shame he doesn’t look in the least like Fleming!

    Funny that you post this, Matt. My wife and I just spotted the trailer for this series the other night on TV and both of us thought instantly the same thing; another classic modern day screw up. A chance for a compelling tale of a very interesting man’s life story completely spoilt by the (mis) casting of an actor unsuitable for the role and, of course, one of the usual type offenders; a boyish looking lead completely divorced from the alpha masculine Ian Fleming’s appearance. It’s akin to casting Justin Bieber in a bio-pic of Sean Connery. Why, oh why, must film producers insist on this type of defilement? Of course, one assumes, this is to appeal to a younger, mostly female audience you think but then how many of these will watch a series about Ian Fleming so you’re left with just crass stupidity. Another squandered opportunity.

    At least the suit looks ok!

    • I agree with you regarding Cooper’s lack of resemblance to Fleming. That said, the series itself seems to be only loosely based on reality, which made the first episode entertaining to watch if nothing else. Although I doubt it’s intentional, Cooper’s take on Fleming probably has more in common with Roger Moore’s portrayal of 007 than that of the other Bonds.

      As for the suit, I’m glad to see that some effort was made to come up with an authentic piece of clothing.

      • And much as I (as everyone knows) find Moore’s Bond the most admirable, a portrayal of Fleming in that style I would find ridiculous.

      • I suppose Cooper’s approach has a certain roguish playfulness about it that reminded me of Moore. I also think that the tone of the production has a light heartlessness that reminds me of some of Moore’s Bonds as well.

    • David, I’m not seeing this. Look at the last still. That jawline! That brow! Does that remind you at all of Justin Bieber? It sure doesn’t to me.

      Putting looks aside, what matters more is his performance. If he nails that, he has me convinced.

  3. Matt, I highly recommend you check out Charles Dance’s Ian Fleming tv biopic called GOLDENEYE (1989). Dance is excellent as Fleming and captures his cool, cruel manner as well as he looking physically spot on. Would be interested on your thoughts on the clothing in that film as well since they seem well researched and based on actual photographs of Fleming.

  4. I really like the look of this outfit. Navy one button suit, steel blue tie. It just needs a white cotton pocket square in a TV fold and it would be perfect!
    I haven’t seen the miniseries and I honestly don’t know when it will be coming to my part of the world. But, I’m looking forward to it. I’m seeing mixed reviews for it right now. Will just have to wait and see.

  5. He really needs to have his tie fixed, like Brosnan would do !
    I love soft, long pointed collars, but here, a pin collar worn without a pin like this look just a mess and ugly.

    Nice coat apparently though.

  6. The trousers might want a slightly different shape, but overall I rather nice 30s inspired look. The heavy cloth makes a great difference to the way the suit sits. I noticed recently looking at photos myself in a suit that actually fits very well but is a super-100 how it seems to pull more than other heavier suits I own.

    As for the shirt collars, I’m not much of a fan of the long pointed collar but it is appropriate to the time.

    I’ve never heard of the Charles Dance TV film but he certainly has the looks. And a google search reveals a website where someone appears to have provided plenty of screenshots and an almost complete plot summary: http://you-only-blog-twice.blogspot.co.uk/2013/11/goldeneye-1989.html

  7. I recall the Dance TV Movie from the time but I have never watched it. However, from the stills here he looks far, far more convincing that this recent incarnation but that wouldn’t be difficult!

  8. Matt, since you have covered all of the naval uniforms worn by Bond on film, will you be covering the one worn by Cooper as Fleming as well?

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