Good and Evil in Contrasting Dinner Jackets


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.


  1. Something that often go by unnoticed. We need these more often.

    Also, I kind of tend to think that it’s a story of an underdog with more than one card up the cuff, and the villain with too many cards out on the deck. Bond dresses simple, but there is a sense of understated elegance that elevates him more and more as we see him. Whereas with the villains, they’re flashy, trendy, and while they try too hard to absorb the light, the more they try, the less they absorb, or have any meaning thereof.

    Excellent analysis, Matt!

  2. 1. I think Largo’s outfit in Thunderball is fairly subdued. Although he is a wealthy, high-ranking member of SPECTRE (or possibly because of that), he limits his flash to the relatively subtle plain gold studs, in a setting where the ivory double breasted dinner jacket, like Bond’s mohair blend dinner suit, is distinctive but not showy.

    2. Largo’s outfit in Never Say Never Again, on the other hand is very flashy, especially in the early 80s, when menswear was returning to a more conservative style and Largo’s black shirt and long tie would have been seen as much more out of place than, say, Terry Benedict’s similar base layer in the heist sequence of Ocean’s Eleven. The contrast piping also marks him as vain and attention-seeking.

    3. Like you said, in addition to any narrative purpose, Kalba’s ivory jacket serves the character in his day job as an entertainer. Even more flashy is his shirt, with it’s pearl-embossed fly front and pleats replaced by either ruffles or guyabera-style stitching on the bib. Again though, since the man is a club owner, it serves to flesh out the character as much as to contrast him with Bond.

    4. Zukovsky’s outfit serves a similar purpose in The World is Not Enough, contrasting him with Bond’s more sedate outfit and singling him as both the owner of the club and as someone striving for elegance, but with the lack of experience you might expect from someone who spent a lifetime as a midlevel agent for a communist government.

    5. Silva’s shirt is very flashy, but it is also well hidden behind a gray vest (waistcoat), reflecting his status as an affable villain, who obfuscates his duplicitous nature behind an elegant front.

    6. At the horse auction, Bond is posing as the same sort of nouveau-riche climber as Zukovsky, so the slight fault of the more day than evening day-to-night jacket is part of his cover. Zorin, on the other hand, has embraced the look of the gentlemanly man about town from his first appearance, going so far as to wear gloves and a cane with the morning suit and topper prescribed for Ascot. Here he is similarly in a very classically proportioned dinner jacket, with wider lapels than were fashionable in the 1980s. The black pocket square still singles him out as sinister though.

    7. Every player at the poker table in Casino Royale is wearing a different variation on evening wear, so it is difficult to single out Le Chiffre as distinguishing himself significantly from Bond, especially when Mr. Big and the Yakuza representative are wearing such wildly variant versions as an all-burgundy shot silk suit with day cravat and what appears to be a herringbone silk jacket with either a turtleneck or a tab-collar shirt. Le Chiffre’s monochromatic look is elegant despite not being classic, in comparison. He is still strongly distinguished from Bond and Leiter (who is even more classically dressed than Bond, with a vest and stud fronted shirt), who wear white shirts and full suits in contrast with his velvet dinner jacket and black shirt.

    8. One thing to note on Blofeld’s look in Diamonds are Forever is that, like Silva, Blofeld is dressed casually and not in what he intended to be evening wear.

    9. Khan’s outfit is almost certainly intentional, since as Matt pointed out he has no problem dressing in Western fashion later in the film when he has no need to present himself as a mysterious Easterner to attract the attention of the European hotel guests. This is probably the only time that the contrast, even if not specifically intended by the character to reflect against Bond’s outfit, was intentionally chosen by the character (in-film rather than simply a production choice) to provide a villainous contrast.

    • On a side note, my sister moved her wedding ceremony from April to October (they’re now doing the ceremony in October and a large reception next April, assuming things return to some form of normalcy by then), and has requested that all men wear black tie for the October gathering, so I finally get a chance to wear my tuxedo again. Instead of the scoop fronted vest and pleated shirt I wore to my wedding, I’m going to wear my T&A Casino Royale shirt, either with no waist covering or with a cummerbund.

      • Would recommend you ditch the cummerbund altogether. There are traditions to be preserved, but there are some that should be optional. The cummerbund leans toward optional to “just ditch it”.

    • Keep it simple and well balanced. The less amount of fuss and flashes, the better. Wear lighter colors, not brighter colors. Make sure the composition is taken in as a whole, and nothing stands out except for yourself.

    • Although it happens to be my favourite iteration of black-tie in the series, Brosnan’s dinner suit in Tomorrow Never Dies makes him come off as a bit pompous, I think.

      I don’t always agree with the notion that a flaw with Brosnan is that he was always the most obviously best-dressed man in the room, but it’s true there.

      In fairness, his cover character is probably meant to come off that way.

      • You’re kind of right, though, Tim. A good many parts of Brosnan’s Bond was characterized by the overuse of cliché gadgets and pompous, almost Playboy-like outfits. Then again, Brosnan was dressed by Brioni, and before Tom Ford was the prime of all dimes, Brioni was “it”.

      • I always saw Brosnan’s overdressing as a statement and also his cover. The 1990s were the first decade towards the casual world we live in now. By being so obviously the best-dressed in the room – or diving a BMW convertible into an oil field in Azerbaijan – he was signalling he was against the trend by going the other way. It made sense for his cover too: it is behavior that isn’t too unbelievable for an account man at Universal Exports.

      • Generalizations usually lead to assumptions and interpretations. We all know that assumptions are the mother of all (Fill in the negative word here and make sure it consists of four letters. If you don’t know, its the word that Ian Fleming hated seeing on the page but said at the golf course.)

        In one of the old time books on Bond, I read never carry a clip made out of a Mexican silver dollar. Being Mexican I take pride in wearing cufflinks made out of Mexican silver, and now im starting to rethink my position. I used to try to match belt buckles and cufflinks, but is the matchy matchy thing a bit too much? I thought a double monk buckle was a bit much as well.

        They say we cant be perfect…I say why not?

        Keep Firing comrades,

      • Having your cufflinks perfectly match your belt buckle might look affected to those who notice it, but I doubt too many people would. If it’s just a matter of having both a buckle and cufflinks made of silver, then matching the metals (white vs. yellow vs. red I mean) makes stylistic sense in the same way as matching your leathers.

  3. The dinner jacket in LTK is awful but is a contrast to Sanchez’s striped wing collar shirt. It also contrasts with Heller’s tie and Truman-Lodge’s wing collar.

  4. Some good analysis here Matt. I’d say the origin of some of these contrasts comes direct from Fleming himself, who usually described Bond kitted our in respectable but non flashy even utilitarian clothes by day and night, but in contrast went into the flashy details of how many of the larger-than-life villains (Goldfinger, Lippe, Drax, etc) were dressed.

  5. Apropos of nothing, can I also point out how smart the gentleman looks in the background of the photo from A View to a Kill? Unbuttoned jacket and wing collar aside, it’s a lovely, simple dinner suit which fits him very nicely.


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.