How James Bond Balances Versatility and Specificity in his Wardrobe

14

Versatility is a wonderful thing, especially for men just starting to build their wardrobe and men on a lower budget. Versatile clothes are useful, and useful clothes are less likely to sit untouched at the backs of our cupboards. We get more for less with a wardrobe of versatile clothes.

On the other hand, the more versatile a piece of clothing, the more generic and less special it is likely to be. While versatile clothing can be extremely stylish, there’s often more style to be found in more specific clothing. The perfect garment for a situation may not work well in many other situations.

Daniel Craig removes his linen suit jacket for a very casual look with just the trousers in Casino Royale.

Clothes that are designed for specific seasons are frequently more stylish than clothes that are designed to be worn for three or four seasons. There is both added style and added practicality to wearing clothes in seasonal fabrics like linen or woollen flannel compared to the typical medium-light weight wools and cottons. Seasonal cloths have more character.

Clothes for specific functions are often more stylish than clothing that can serve multiple purposes. A dinner suit, when the occasion calls for one, makes one more stylish than showing up in a lounge suit. An ivory dinner jacket in warm weather can look more stylish than a dark dinner suit that’s wearable year-round.

Roger Moore wears a stylish black roll neck in Live and Let Die.

When dressing down, a polo shirt may be useful for many occasions. However, it can become overused when seasonal and activity specific shirts like camp shirts, polo jumpers, roll necks and safari shirts can add more style to one’s look. Roll necks are particularly versatile because they can be dressed up or down fairly easily. Likewise, jeans and chinos are the go-to trousers for the average man, and while they are particularly versatile for casual trousers there are other options like corduroy, moleskin and linen that are season specific with more character.

Versatile clothes are particularly useful when travelling. There are benefits to packing lightly and being able to wear the same clothes for multiple occasions. Thankfully, we can usually pack a wardrobe of season-specific clothes for one holiday, but it can be useful to have a limited number of versatile shoes and jackets that can serve multiple purposes for one’s travels.

James Bond frequently wears clothes that are season, activity or formality specific. He has a new wardrobe in every film to perfectly suit his needs. He rarely needs versatile clothes, but some of his clothes are more versatile than he demonstrates, and Bond never sacrifices style for versatility.

Roger Moore wears dark grey flannel trousers with a sports coat in A View to a Kill, and he later dresses down the same or similar trousers.

Trousers are one area where Bond has demonstrated both highly versatile and highly stylish clothing. For example, he shows how grey flannel trousers can be dressed up or down. In A View to a Kill he dresses them up with a grey tweed jacket and tie and dresses them down with a leather jacket and sporty button-down shirt. In Thunderball Bond wears his fawn cavalry twill trousers in a similar manner, dressed smartly with a brown tweed hacking jacket and tie and dressed casually with a black wool polo. More than anything else, it is the fabric of these trousers that is versatile and stylish.

Sean Connery wears fawn cavalry twill trousers with a long-sleeve wool polo in Thunderball, after wearing these trousers with a hacking jacket and tie.

Related to these trousers, sporty suits demonstrate versatility in how the jacket and trousers can be used separately very effectively. Very sporty suits like linen, corduroy or tweed suits can easily be split up without sacrificing style in either the jacket or the trousers. In Casino Royale, Daniel Craig’s grey linen suit trousers make for an effective casual look as part of a spur-of-the-moment disguises as a parking attendant.

Sean Connery wears a grey flannel suit in Dr. No, and later proves its versatility by pairing the trousers with a navy blazer.

Flannel suits aren’t necessarily sporty, but they are more relaxed than a typical worsted wool suit, which means they can have some versatility in being able to wear the pieces separately. Bond has worn the trousers from his grey flannel suits separately and very stylishly, but this shouldn’t be done in real life because it will cause the trousers to wear out prematurely compared to the jacket. Grey flannel suits jackets are not as stylish on their own, but if the jacket wears out first then the trousers can be worn stylishly without the jacket. Unfortunately, the trousers are more likely to wear out first, which is why some people buy their suits with a second pair of trousers.

The average suit is too formal for each piece to look stylish when worn separately. For solid grey worsted suits, the trousers can usually be worn separately in a fairly stylish manner, this should only be done if the jacket meets an untimely demise. Suits are inherently less versatile than odd jackets and trousers because to be worn most stylishly they are mainly limited to wearing with each other and not mixing and matching.

There are exceptions. If the trousers from a solid navy flannel suit wear out, the jacket can effectively be turned into a very stylish blazer with contrasting buttons. Most flannel suitings, however, are not the most stylish worn as odd jackets, though they might make do. Cloths are far more important than cut or details at determining whether or not the jacket and trousers can be worn separately.

Pierce Brosnan wears a highly versatile charcoal worsted wool suit in The World Is Not Enough.

As far as whole suits go, the generally accepted most versatile suits are plain grey and navy worsted wool suits because they’re appropriate for the majority of suit-wearing occasions, from weddings to funerals to job interviews. Bond wears very few of these basic suits in the film series because they aren’t the most interesting choices. He more frequently opts for worsted wool suits in semi-solids, checks and stripes, or plains in flannel, mohair or linen. In the books, Ian Fleming frequently dressed Bond in a plain navy worsted wool suit because it is versatile, but the original literary Bond was not a particularly stylish character. For an all-purpose suit, a dark grey or navy semi-solid like birdseye, herringbone or sharkskin can provide a stylish film Bond look without sacrificing versatility.

Outercoats are often very specific. A long, velvet-collared chesterfield is highly formal and best over a suit or dinner jacket while a casual pea coat is too short to be worn over a suit or jacket. Some versatile styles, however, can bridge the gap practically and stylishly. The most versatile coat length is mid-thigh to knee length, with longer lengths being more formal but also more stylish.

Sean Connery’s herringbone coat in Thunderball works well over a blazer, as pictured here, but he also brings it along when he wears a suit.

Sean Connery’s three-quarter-length taupe herringbone coat in Thunderball is stylish and versatile. He demonstrates its versatility by pairing it (draped over his arm) with a dark grey flannel three-piece suit and a bit less formally over a navy blazer. The coat’s style comes from its attractive herringbone cloth and fly front. It’s colour and style makes it neither particularly formal nor casual, so by sitting in the middle it can be worn for smarter and more casual occasions.

George Lazenby’s coat in On Her Majesty’s Secret Service is one of the most stylish and versatile coats of the series.

George Lazenby’s navy double-breasted bridge coat in On Her Majesty’s Secret Service is likewise in the middle because of its three-quarter length and practical Ulster-collar style, but it is more even versatile than Connery’s coat because can be further stretched up and down in formality. Lazenby shows a bit of this versatility by wearing his coat dressed up over a navy chalk stripe three-piece suit and slightly less formally over a navy blazer. The coat dresses up very well because it’s navy and has a dramatic style. However, it could be dressed down over a jumper just as effectively and just as stylishly because the Ulster collar’s practicality lends itself to any cold-weather situation. It’s effectively a long pea coat, which means it can be dressed down like a pea coat but it has the added beneit of warmth from the longer length.

James Bond has frequently proven the solid navy tie to be the most versatile tie. Compared to the almost-as-versatile solid black tie that the literary Bond favoured, navy looks less sombre and more lively while still retaining a dark, subtle character. It pairs elegantly with almost any suit or jacket except for a black suit. A dark, solid tie can be boring, but when the tie has some texture, it quickly goes from dull to stylish. Any solid navy woven tie is versatile, but silks with textural interest are far more stylish than ties in a flat repp weave or an overly shiny satin weave.

Sean Connery’s navy grenadine tie in Dr. No blends style with versatility. He wears it more than any other tie in five of his Bond films.

Sean Connery frequently wears the navy grenadine tie in his Bond films, which is the perfect choice for adding interest to a solid tie. It works equally well dressed up with a fancy three-piece suit or dressed down with a blazer or tweed jacket. Connery and Lazenby also wear solid navy silk knitted ties, which has a much chunkier texture. The knitted tie is less smart than the grenadine tie and as a result is less versatile, but as Bond shows on numerous occasions, it can dress up nicely too. Other textures like silk shantung, fancy ribbed weaves or other fancy weaves can make the solid navy tie a stylishly versatile accessory.

Roger Moore wears the same stylish loafers with suits and casual attire in Octopussy.

The right pair of shoes can elegantly go from casual to smart. Roger Moore’s James Bond sometimes wore the same loafers dressed down that he wore with his suits. Loafers are also known as ‘casuals’ because they’re an inherently casual style, but with a trim last, a leather sole and an apron toe rather than a moccasin toe, the shoe can be dressed up. There are more stylish choices than loafers for wearing with a dressy suit, but an elegant loafer is versatile enough to take one from a polo to a relaxed suit in style. The literary Bond is known for dressing up the loafer with a suit.

Daniel Craig wears a grey sharkskin suit with black chukka boots in Skyfall. He later wears the same boots casually with a jumper.

Chukka boots are almost the opposite of loafers in style, but they’re at least as versatile. A chukka boot on a trim last and on a leather or elegant rubber sole like a Dainite sole can pair just as well with a polo and jeans as it does with a suit. An elegant chukka boot with a plain toe it looks no different than a fine shoe when trousers of the proper length cover it. Daniel Craig’s Bond has worn chukka boots both ways in his Bond films, proving them to be the most stylishly versatile shoe of the modern era.

Sean Connery dresses down his demi-boots in Goldfinger with his black casual look. He wears the same boots with his suits,

Sean Connery’s black elastic demi-boots from Goldfinger and Thunderball fall into the same category as Craig’s chukka boots. The Goldfinger boots are similar to Chelsea boots but shorter. These boots were fairly common in 1960s England but are rare today. The smart last, plain toe and leather sole allows them to be dressed up, but being boots with elastic at the sides helps dress them down.

14 COMMENTS

  1. Great article Matt, and so true ! Too much versatility in a wardrobe is so boring. I was checking my suits and trousers and realized that. Well I realized I have too many checked sports coat but that’s another story. Besides, I think one should favor specificity at all costs regarding these two kind of tailored pieces. If one has to wear suits every day for work, he’s got to have around 3-4 suits minimum, so better go for specificity (2-3 mainly seasonal suits, and one versatile in serge or plain weave). If it’s just for pleasure and there’s no professional obligation, 2 seasonal suits or two pair of seasonal trousers will look more interesting than the typical boring serge or plain weave (especially in grey. In navy, such cloth still has a little more interest, but I realized in grey they look extremely dull. Better wear a fun tie/shirt with them). Of course, the ideal is something both versatile and specific. Most of your examples are excellent, however, the cavalry twill trousers I think aren’t as versatile as you think. The top garment needs to be a minimum thick. I don’t think a fine merino wool or cashmere polo jumper works with such heavy pants (see the picture you choose from Thunderball). A chunky jumper like the Goldeneye one would work better.
    Regarding the twine charcoal suit, only the trousers can be separated and look good-but dull-alone. I think the navy Birdseye suit can be easily separated. The jacket, while not ideal, can work as a backup blazer with grey or brown trousers, and the trousers alone can work well with any dark or light jumpers, polos, even a tshirt plus a cardigan or a casual light colored sports shirt, as Craig showed us these interesting possibilities of pairing suit trousers in Casino Royale. Good call on the -very- versatile demi boots, I wish I could find some in RTW indeed.
    Gotta go now, I am picking up my seasonal grey herringbone tweed sports coat and taupe calvalry twill trousers :) Have a nice week everyone.

    • Checked sports coats are wonderful!

      I have found cavalry twill trousers to be quite versatile for the cooler half of the year. I dress them up with various sports coats and blazers and dress them down with all sorts of knitwear. It doesn’t have to be chunky knitwear, and I think the Thunderball polo works perfectly with them. It’s no different than flannel trousers in this regard.

      I don’t think birdseye works well outside of a suit because it looks too formal. Brosnan’s modern birdseye is especially too shiny. I have a heavy vintage birdseye suit that’s a bit less shiny, but I still don’t think either the jacket or the trousers of it work well on their own.

  2. Excellent post and important point to make. A highly versatile wardrobe in the greige and navy ranges might be versatile and appropriate, but not extremely stylish. Some of my earliest commissions were not versatile at all (and definitely showy!), which at the time was a mistake. But as my wardrobe grew I’ve come to love these pieces the most, even if they’re highly specific in their use.

  3. There is a convenient 6 letter word in Italian : ‘cafone’.
    And the short socks are clearly a proper illustration.

    Am I alone in the universe to stick to this opinion ?

    Versatility is a very interesting approach, and most useful when travelling a lot, having to make strategic sartorial decisions. Thanks, Matt.

  4. Interesting and some very good observation regarding versatility vs. style. But the illustrating pics are beginning to be slightly repetitious? I’m just watching Triple Cross, directed by Terence Young in 1966. The film features some very stylish and excellent suits. It also includes Bond actors Gert Fröbe and Anthony Dawson.

  5. What about the light blue shirt? Or is it beyond versatility as it can go, even with cocktail cuffs, with just about everything?

    • The light blue shirt is versatile, but it depends what it’s made of. Royal oxford is one of the most versatile shirtings, as it can be dressed down more than poplin but also dressed up with a suit.

  6. Good article. Thanks for explaining exactly why the jackets of my suits where the trousers have worn out never look right with anything else! It reminds me of a trend in the early 2000s to wear the jacket of a business suit with jeans. That solved the problem but is no longer on-trend. Buying two pairs of trousers is of course another option but then I find the trousers outlast the jacket!

    • Ah memories! I was lucky enough to grow up in the early 2000s so buying some cheap suit jackets from the opportunity shop and pairing them with both blue and brown jeans was a very convenient (and economic) way to enter the tailored clothing world. I wouldn’t vote to bring the style back, by any means, but I’m glad I had it so easy.

  7. I don’t know how you manage to keep coming up with new aspects from which to look at Bond’s long established wardrobe. Just one caveat and I don’t want this to seem pedantic but I know you like to get things 100% right, Matt.

    The dark grey flannel trousers worn with the grey tweed sports coat in AVTAK are definitely a different trouser to those worn with the leather jacket later in the movie. I’d have had the trousers worn with the leather jacket down as dark charcoal if I hadn’t seen a still from the movie taken in bright light which shows these trousers to be this cool dark brown charcoal melange(is that the correct word?). I have a flannel trouser in this exact color myself and it looks dark charcoal until it’s seen in particular light or places beside a pure dark charcoal flannel and then the brown in the fabric shows through.

    • I have looked closely at the charcoal trousers with the leather jacket in every photo I could find, and I can’t see a difference with the trousers worn with the tweed jacket. Even if they are different, they’re conceptually the same.

  8. I love that photo of Connery in his Dr No blazer, the fit along with Sean’s physical build is just… what can I say but perfect? I’ve always kind of glossed over that film in my mind but what a strong start for the sartorial identity of the series.

  9. Definitely agree for the most part on whole suits. Not a fan of striped and checked suits (I found neither would look good on me) but semi solids are a great choice, (birdseye, herringbone and sharkskin for me) assuming the weather’s not too hot. Flannels are nice, warm and cozy but since I live in the Southern US where it’s not usually cold I have no need for them. A controversial take but I am not a fan of pure linen clothes (shirts, pants and suits) at all. They have terrible drape and wrinkling even in heavier weights and don’t do a good job at keeping me cool. The only considerations I would make would be linen blends (wool/linen for sport coats, cotton/linen plain weave for shirts and pants).

  10. I had *just* managed to get that picture of Big Tam dressing to the right in Thunderball out of my head, thanks. That’s it seared into my brain for another six months.

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.