Horn Buttons on James Bond’s Suits and Jackets

10
Horn buttons on Sean Connery's hacking jacket in Goldfinger
Polished horn buttons on Sean Connery’s hacking jacket in Goldfinger

Real horn buttons are often a mark of a quality suit. They’re currently the standard at most Savile Row tailors and can be found on many of James Bond’s suits over the years. There are quality alternatives to horn buttons, such as corozo nut buttons—often preferred by the Italians—and mother of pearl buttons. Some of the best suits may have inferior alternatives for buttons, thus buttons have no bearing on the overall make of a suit. Quality buttons like horn have the power to improve the look of any well-fitting suit. Horn buttons typically come from ox or buffalo horn, and the buttons are cut out of the hollow part of the horn, whilst toggles—like on a duffle coat—are made from the solid tip.

Goldfinger Charcoal Flannel

Anthony Sinclair presumably found horn buttons to be too countrified for most city suits and ordinarily used polyester buttons on his worsteds. But on some of his more rustic suits, like Sean Connery’s three-piece grey flannel suits in Goldfinger and Thunderball, he used dark grey horn buttons. Sinclair used light brown horn buttons on the hacking jacket in Goldfinger that match both the jacket’s rustic look and its colour. As standard practices amongst tailors changed, Sinclair put horn buttons on most of Sean Connery’s suits in Diamonds Are Forever. The buttons in that film usually match the colours of the suits as close as possible, and the buttons are polished horn for a less rustic appearance.

Lazenby-Tweed-Jacket-Horn-Buttons

George Lazenby’s suits in On Her Majesty’s Secret Service all have unpolished horn buttons. The navy suits have black horn, the cream linen suit has beige horn, the glen check suit has dark grey horn, and the tweed three-piece suit and the houndstooth sports coat have medium brown horn. The black lounge coat Lazenby wears in the wedding scene has black horn buttons whilst the light grey waistcoat has dark grey buttons. Suit buttons ordinarily match the colour of the suit as closely as possibly, or at least aim to have little contrast. More contrast in buttons results in a less dressy look.

These buttons are in the classic English style, which have a recessed dome in the centre to keep the stitching safe from being handled so it is less likely to wear out.

Like Sean Connery’s suits, most of the Cyril Castle suits that Roger Moore wears in Live and Let Die and The Man with the Golden Gun have polyester buttons. His beige sports coat in Live and Let Die, however, has matching beige horn buttons. The Angelo Roma suits in The Spy Who Loved Me and Moonraker mostly have non-horn buttons, but the brown tweed suit in Moonraker has medium brown horn buttons, which are a natural fit for the country suit.

Horn buttons on the dinner jacket in For Your Eyes Only
Horn buttons on the dinner jacket in For Your Eyes Only

Douglas Hayward, who made Roger Moore’s suits for For Your Eyes Only, Octopussy and A View to a Kill, uses unpolished horn buttons on almost all jackets. These also have the recessed centre. They are dark grey horn buttons on charcoal suits and on the morning suit in A View to a Kill, navy horn buttons on navy suits, and beige horn buttons on his tan and light brown suits. The brown tweed sports coats have medium brown horn buttons. On his medium grey suits and sports coats, Hayward’s buttons are likely imitation horn since they have a rather flat appearance. Horn can be dyed rather difficultly, but dying is limited to dark colours like navy.

Surprisingly, Hayward even puts unpolished horn buttons on his dinner jackets. The black dinner jackets in For Your Eyes Only and Octopussy and the midnight blue dinner jacket in A View to a Kill have black horn buttons. Horn buttons are paradoxically more refined and more rustic than the black polyester buttons that English tailors often used to use on dinner suits as a simpler alternative to covered buttons. Polyester button today on any item of clothing are seen as undesirable in favour of natural materials, but if horn buttons are to be worn on a dinner jacket they should ideally be the polished type. The dull horn buttons that Hayward chose for his dinner jackets, as beautiful as they are, look out of place. Hayward also uses beige horn buttons on the white linen dinner jacket in A View to a Kill, which could allow it to double as a sports coat. But again, the horn buttons are too rustic for even a white dinner jacket.

Tom-Ford-Horn-Buttons

Tom Ford often mimics English styles in his suits, and the English practice of using horn buttons is present on his suits. Consequently, Daniel Craig’s Tom Ford suits in Quantum of Solace and Skyfall have mostly dark brown or black horn buttons, though the grey pick-and-pick suit in Skyfall has grey horn buttons.

10 COMMENTS

  1. Huh. I had not noticed that the Skyfall pick-and-pick suit has light brown buttons.

    Really, on a light suit that wouldn’t do well with mother-of-pearl buttons, I’d rather go for plastic buttons in a matching color, like light gray. Having dark buttons on a light suit annoys me.

  2. Matt I would love to see some suits/outfits from Pierce Brosnan’s new movie The November Man on the site. I am a huge bond fan and love your site. It is my go to for dressing guidelines and ideas. If you haven’t made it to see The November Man yet I recommend it. Most Bond fans will enjoy it and it’s as close to a new Bond Film as we are going to get this year. Keep up the good work. Regards, Michael from New Jersey

  3. I’m curious, Matt. How are you able to distinguish between horn and plastic buttons from sight? Would it be that horn buttons have a more polished look whereas those made from plastic look duller?

    It is, however, rather surprising that, in the case of the beautiful suits Cyril Castle produced, many of fine silks, linens and mohairs, that he diminished them with plastic buttons. That said I never really noticed so perhaps the point is moot.

    • If the plastic looks like horn it is more difficult to tell. Plain plastic buttons, which is what Sinclair and Castle often used, are shinier, have no surface variation and are thinner.

  4. In defense of plastic buttons:
    In past decades, I don’t think plastic buttons would have looked tacky in the way that they do today. Plastic does have some functional advantages–the buttons are very smooth and come in any color or width or thickness you want. I’m not saying horn/shell/wood buttons lack functionality. You just have to think about the promise and novelty that technologies like plastic held when they were newer. The “old-fashioned” look wasn’t always as fashionable as it is today. Full disclosure: I own and wear cufflinks that are made out of vintage typewriter keys, so I am not one to judge.

  5. Just goes to show that quality standards are different from one decade to the next. Horn versus plastic buttons are but one example. It used to be that working sleeve buttonholes were only put on if you asked your tailor very, very nicely. Otherwise the buttonholes were all fake as a vestige of tailoring from previous centuries. Now everyone does them standard since they have to compete with every other bespoke house who does. (But Savile Row tailors usually leave the inner two as “sham” so the sleeves can be let out later for weight gain or inheritance from another wearer.)

    Plastic does offer the advantage of being easier to make, more uniform in appearance, and easier to obtain in the colours you wish. However, a lot of polished horn buttons look as nice. Not perfect, but many would say that’s the appeal. They can also be dyed to the colours the tailor wishes as well. I personally prefer the look of buttons that coordinate with the suit fabric. Not an exact match or anything, but a shade or two darker.

  6. Matt-

    Just the other day I was thinking of writing you about just this topic. I have a made-to-measure suit very close to the pick-and-pick in Skyfall, and I hate the black plastic buttons it came with. Can you recommend a place to find matching horn buttons as used by TF on that suit?

    • I know of places to buy them in New York City. For online, try eBay. Make sure the listing says genuine horn and not “horn effect”. If all the buttons look identical, they aren’t genuine horn. You’ll need 30L or 32L for the front and 24L for the sleeve if buying separately, but you can probably find a set for the jacket and leave the black on the trousers.

LEAVE A REPLY

Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here

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