James Bond and the villains of many Bond films are often dressed by the costume designer in contrasting dinner jackets to show them as foes. Bond is meant to look heroic in any colour dinner jacket, whether it’s black, midnight blue or ivory, so it’s the contrast between Bond’s and the villain’s attire that says more than the colour that they’re wearing.
The first time that Bond and a villain face off in black tie is in Thunderball at the chemin de fer table. Bond is wearing a midnight blue single-breasted dinner suit and Largo is dressed in an ivory double-breasted dinner jacket. Both Bond and Largo stand out in their dinner jackets, but Largo’s ivory dinner jacket is flashier. His pompous look is emphasised with gold shirt studs, as opposed to the ordinary buttons on Bond’s shirt. Flashiness often portrays someone as pompous and untrustworthy, which are characteristics many Bond villains have.
Orson Welles’ Le Chiffre and Peter Sellers’ ‘James Bond’ are dressed similarly in the only truly Fleming-derived sequence of the 1967 Casino Royale spoof.
Never Say Never Again places Bond and Largo in similar evening attire to what they wore in Thunderball, but with more exaggerated contrast between the two of them. Bond is in a classic black dinner suit with a plain white shirt and black tie, and Largo again wears an ivory double-breasted dinner jacket. But Largo also contrasts Bond’s white shirt with a nontraditional black one and wears a four-in-hand tie instead of the classic bow tie. His dinner jacket is flashier too, with contrasting black piping on the shawl collar and black buttons.
Max Kalba wears an ivory dinner jacket to contrast Bond’s midnight blue dinner suit in The Spy Who Loved Me. Kalba is the owner of Mojaba Club in Egypt, and he may be wearing an ivory dinner jacket as a nod to Rick Blaine’s ivory dinner jacket in Casablanca, the most famous owner of a North African nightclub in film. But as Kalba is a sort of henchman, his contrasting jacket shows him as Bond’s adversary. If he were on Bond’s side, he would more likely have been dressed in a black dinner suit to show it.
In The World Is Not Enough, Bond’s frenemy Valentin Zukovsky wears a very flashy taupe dinner jacket, which contrasts with Bond’s midnight blue dinner jacket. Again, the flashiness of his light-coloured dinner jacket gives him an untrustworthy look compared to Bond’s more classic look.
When Bond meets Skyfall‘s villain Silva, Bond is dressed in his midnight blue dinner suit minus the bow tie. Silva is not wearing eveningwear, but he is wearing a cream jacket that contrasts with Bond’s outfit. A flashy shirt marks him as untrustworthy, but since Bond has lost his bow tie, he is brought down to the villain’s level to demonstrate that both he and Silva are a fair match for one another.
The opposite of the above examples sometimes occurs, with Bond wearing an ivory dinner jacket and the villain in a black dinner suit. Bond wears an ivory dinner jacket at Max Zorin’s party in A View to a Kill, when Zorin is wearing a black dinner suit. In this case, Bond’s white dinner jacket paints him as the good guy and gives him an angelic look.
This effect is done more subtly in Casino Royale, when both Bond and the villain Le Chiffre are wearing black dinner jackets, but Bond is wearing a white shirt while Le Chiffre is wearing a black shirt, giving him an all-black villainous look.
On a few occasions, Bond wears a dinner jacket while the villain wears an Eastern or Eastern-inspired outfit, creating an East versus West look. This first happens in Diamonds Are Forever, when Bond breaks into Willard Whyte’s penthouse wearing a black dinner suit to encounter Blofeld in his typical Mao Suit.
The East/West and black/white contrast between Bond and the villain are taken to the extreme for Bond’s backgammon game against Kamal Khan in Octopussy. Bond wears a classic ivory dinner jacket to look like the good guy from the West, while Kamal Khan is dressed as a villain from the East in a dark, navy Nehru jacket. They’re dressed as polar opposites in this scene in their first face-to-face confrontation, while in their next evening scene both are wearing black dinner suits to show that Khan can play Bond’s game too.