Blue is James Bond’s colour. He frequently wears blue suits, blue blazers, blue shirts, blue ties, blue coats, blue jackets and blue trousers. However, when Bond wears blue trousers, he wears them in a very specific way because of how the colour presents more challenges in trousers than it does on other parts of the body.
The Issue with Blue Trousers
Blue trousers can be difficult to wear because they have colour. This problem isn’t exclusive to blue and can occur with trousers of any non-neutral colour. Simon Crompton of Permanent Style makes a good argument that because navy is a rich colour, it is more difficult to combine with colours others than weaker colours, like neutrals.
This difficulty when wearing navy trousers presents itself when pairing them with an odd jacket (such as a sports coat) because the jacket wants to be the stronger element. The jacket carries a larger visual mass than the trousers do by covering the wider top half of the body, so it’s naturally a stronger element. But if the trousers are a strong colour like navy, the boldness of the trousers competes with the larger visual mass of the jacket if it isn’t a stronger colour. This is why a navy jacket pairs better with grey trousers than a grey jacket pairs with navy trousers, even though neither combination clashes.
If the trousers are stronger in colour, the jacket needs to be stronger in other ways, such as with a large pattern or an attention-grabbing texture. Crompton achieves this in photos in his blog post by pairing navy trousers with a boldly flecked grey tweed jacket since the flecks make the jacket stand out more than the coloured trousers.
A jacket in a colour that is even stronger than navy can work with navy trousers, like a jacket in burgundy. This brings in the bold and flashy technique of colour blocking, where large elements of bold colours make up an outfit. James Bond does not usually dress using colour blocking. This technique, however, looks less elegant and is better suited to casual wear, which is one reason why navy odd trousers dress down better than they dress up.
There is one more exception that can make it easier to wear odd trousers, and that is on people with a dark, deep skin tone. Such a skin tone may be able to balance the strength of navy odd trousers compared to someone with lighter skin. But the outfit overall should still be working to bring attention to the face, no matter one’s skin tone.
Simon Crompton also argues that navy often doesn’t work well for odd trousers because navy is associated with suits, and men who dress up in navy trousers often wear them in fine worsteds that are better for suits and are too smart for dressing down. But this argument doesn’t has less to do with the colour but much more to do with fine worsted suitings.
Fine worsteds in charcoal grey make for equally formal suits, but there’s no problem with charcoal grey odd trousers in cloths that aren’t formal suitings. If the trousers are made of something more relaxed than a fine worsted suiting, like flannel, cavalry twill, corduroy or linen, they’re much less formal and much more versatile. This is just as true for navy as it is for charcoal. While worsted suits in navy and charcoal grey are equal in formality, charcoal is much easier to wear as as odd trousers because it is neutral.
Ultimately, it’s important to use your own judgement if attempting to pair blue trousers with an odd jacket in an elegant manner. It’s an advanced technique that is more difficult than one would expect from such a pedestrian colour in menswear.
Bond Prefers Neutral Trousers
Pattern and colour are most frequently worn in the top half of one’s outfit. Ties are the most extreme example of this where a man can easily add a pop of colour and a busy pattern because it’s in a small accessory and it’s close to the face. Colour and pattern draw attention, and thus it is best to wear it close to the face so the person wearing the clothes becomes the focus instead of the clothes stealing all the attention. For this reason, trousers are most traditionally worn in neutral, solid colours.
With odd jackets, neutrals are the easiest trousers to wear because they don’t provide competition. Neutrals can be cool, like black and shades of grey, or warm, like cream, beige, tan, khaki, taupe, fawn and brown. Olive is a warm colour that isn’t entirely neutral, but it can behave like one. James Bond always pairs his odd jackets with trousers in solid neutrals, never in blue.
Casual trousers aren’t traditionally limited to neutrals like smarter trousers are. Corduroy trousers from traditional brands can often be found in every colour under the sun. But even when it comes to casual trousers, neutral colours like khaki and grey are the most popular because they go with the widest variety of jackets, shirts and knitwear.
Blue denim does not have the same problems that other blue trousers do because it reads as a neutral. Because denim is typically a mixture of blue and white, it doesn’t have a richness that distracts. It’s usually a blue-grey colour. We’re also conditioned to see denim as a neutral, and many people today believe that there’s nothing it doesn’t pair well with.
Illustrating Navy Trousers with a Sports Coat
To experiment with different jacket and trouser combinations using navy, I’ve edited an example of Roger Moore’s jacket and trousers from A View to a Kill with two altered colour varitations. Moore’s jacket and trousers in the film are both neutral; his jacket is light grey tweed and the trousers are dark grey flannel, and he wears them with a light blue shirt and a navy tie.
In the middle image above, Moore’s trousers were changed to navy. Since there is navy in the tie, one might think that navy trousers would be a good choice instead of charcoal to inject more colour into the outfit. Navy trousers work with the light grey jacket in the sense that the colours pair harmoniously, and they also match the navy tie. However, this demonstrates that the strength of the blue trousers distracts from the rest of the outfit and from the face, and the navy tie doesn’t provide enough strength to balance the trousers. The outfit also looks less elegant. The original neutral dark grey trousers do not distract or compete with the top half of the outfit, and they put the focus on the top half of the outfit and lead it towards the face.
The second variation on the above right reverses the navy and grey into the classic combination of a navy jacket with grey trousers. This combination may be overdone, but there’s no doubt that it works. The strength of the navy works better on top than on the bottom because it draws the eye up towards the face rather than away from it.
Wearing Blue Trousers Casually
Blue trousers are easier to wear casually than dressed up with an odd jacket. A contrasting casual element on top, like a shirt, a sweater or a short jacket, does not have the visual mass of a separate lounge coat so it doesn’t create much competition for the blue trousers.
In the books, Ian Fleming dressed Bond in dark blue trousers with a white shirt for casual wear, such as for dinner in Casino Royale. This outfit may have been the same short-sleeve Sea Island cotton shirt and tropical wool trousers that are part of his usual suit. In fact, he occasionally dressed this way in the books before completing his outfit by putting on his suit jacket and black knitted tie. But by wearing the shirt without any jacket, the trousers can be the focal point of the outfit without any other competition. The white shirt has a brightness that highlights the face despite the strong colour of the trousers.
In the films when James Bond wears blue trousers that aren’t part of a lounge suit, always wears them casually, never with a sports coat. In almost every case, they’re balanced with blue on top. Frequently Bond’s blue trousers are part of a casual suit or makeshift suit, with a matching jacket or shirt in the same colour.
In Dr. No he wears light blue trousers with a light blue piqué polo in almost the same shade. In Thunderball he wears a matching mid blue suit of camp shirt and trousers. In On Her Majesty’s Secret Service he wears a matching baby blue ski suit of jacket and torusers and later a matching mid-blue snow suit of anorak and trousers. In For Your Eyes Only he wears a bomber, a polo neck and trousers all in similar shades of dark blue. In Octopussy he wears a navy blouson and navy trousers. In Licence to Kill he wears a navy teba jacket with navy trousers. He dresses similarly on other occasions too.
Sometimes he balances blue trousers on the bottom with a different shade of blue on top, like when he combines a mid blue floral shirt with navy trousers in Die Another Day or a mid blue rugby shirt with navy trousers in Casino Royale.
There are few occasions when Bond wears blue on the bottom without blue on top. In Octopussy he discards the double-breasted jacket of his navy flannel suit to put on a tan Octopussy Circus jacket, and he later replaces it with a red shirt that belonged to knife-thrower Mischka. In both of these outfits, the colours on top are a nice complement to the navy trousers, but neither are colour combinations that Bond purposefully put together. They’re both disguises that Bond donned in the moment during a mission.
Costume designer Emma Porteous likely found herself in a situation of needing to put Bond in a business suit and then replacing the suit jacket with these other two items. Having to choose between a blue suit or a grey suit, she probably chose blue because it pairs better with the tan jacket than grey does. The shade of navy she chose is also dark and muted, so it doesn’t look distracting.
The other occasions Bond wears blue on the bottom without blue on top are with swim trunks, shorts or jeans. In Thunderball, Bond wears light blue swim trunks with a vivid pink shirt. The pink shirt has a richer colour than the blue swim trunks, so the outfit still brings the focus up to the face.
Bond’s navy athletic shorts in No Time to Die are paired with a light grey t-shirt on top. Unlike with trousers, the short shorts only add a small pop of blue. Also, anything goes in such a casual context.
Bond rarely wears blue jeans, but when he does there’s usually blue on top, like with the blue Harrington jacket in Quantum of Solace. In No Time to Die, however, he wears the tan Rogue Territory jacket with blue jeans. But as written above, blue jeans read as neutral and do not compete with the tan jacket. That said, navy chinos would look just as good with this casual jacket.