Most people develop their taste in clothes fairly early on in life. They may spend years refining their taste, but by the time a person is in their 20s, the foundation for how they dress has been established. It is said that a person’s brain matures at the age of 25. In the years before Bond turned 25, he attended the best schools and was a naval officer, both which would have influenced the way he dressed.
As a young man, James Bond attended Eton briefly before attending Fettes, his father’s school. Both are considered public schools—premiere fee-charging private schools, not state schools. After he joined the secret service, he was commissioned as a Lieutenant in the Royal Navy Volunteer Reserve and rose to the rank of Commander. These experiences partly shaped the person Bond grew into, and they would certainly have influenced how he likes to dress.
I contacted Thomas Felix Creighton, @flemingneverdies on Instagram, who is a former Royal Navy Reserve Midshipman to get some inside background about how the Royal Navy culture may have influenced James Bond’s sartorial taste. Creighton is a Bond fan and more than anyone else I know has led the most similar life to James Bond’s. While every person has individual experiences that lead to individual tastes, being a member of the Royal Navy is a powerful influence.
Like Bond, Creighton attended public schools. There he dressed in the uniform of a blazer, tie, white shirt and polished black shoes. He explained the expectations a public would have in the boys’ attire:
I wouldn’t necessarily say we were taught to dress well, but there was a strong expectation. If you were poorly dressed, then a Grammar school would simply punish. The Public school I went to would mentor more, perhaps finding a senior boy to help you.
While Creighton also learned how to dress or take care of his clothes from his parents and in Scouts, he believes that an orphan like ‘Bond should still have found plenty of boys able and willing to help teach him care for his clothes, to help him avoid trouble with the masters.’
Later on, Bond’s tailored style would have likely been influenced by role models in the Royal Navy. Creighton said:
A career officer naturally looks to (and imitates) higher ranks as role models, and this tends not to be limited strictly to ‘work’. So, yes there is an influence. In the military, there really isn’t a ‘work’ and ‘non-work’ – it’s the whole package—so a trip to a tailor with a mentor is highly plausible. My first trip to a tailor was with my father (an Army officer) when I was a child. It was an interesting outing for a little boy, as much as to a museum or a gallery. So, I easily see Bond being taken to a tailor by an older officer.
He continued, explaining how intertwined the British military is with schooling and class:
Public schools are still strongly represented at Cambridge, Oxford and in military officer ranks. There has been a huge push on behalf of all three institutions to be more inclusive, but the class influence is still present generally in British public life. A look at our post-war Prime Ministers’ schooling shows how persistent this influence still is. The British class system can be a minefield of a topic, although less acrimonious now than it was in Fleming’s day, and certainly than in generations before. There are five types of school in the UK. I went to all five, and I have never met anyone else who has.
I have met a Naval Officer who didn’t go to university, but this is unusual. I also know an officer who was asked to defer his time at Dartmouth (Royal Military Academy) so he could go to university. This was to help him mature, and have a more well-rounded experience before he started his command. As a young Naval Officer, you will command people from a diverse range of backgrounds, and command professional men older than yourself. A university background can help a young man gain the life experience to better deal with this.
This could explain how Bond turned out to be such a cultured man. However, Bond is not as mature as his fellow officers. This may be because he was an orphan and was not quite as privileged as his peers.
The Royal Navy’s culture is unique amongst Britain’s armed forces. Creighton said of the type of people who joined the Royal Navy, ‘The Royal Navy is the Senior Service (it’s over 1,000 years old, having been founded before the Norman Conquest), so older sons in aristocratic families would often serve.’ Bond is descended from the landed gentry, and whilst the family money could possibly have run dry by the middle of the 20th century, Bond’s family was still of a certain class level.
Bond would have had a taste for bespoke clothes early in his life, and if not during his school years he would have discovered bespoke during his time as a naval officer. Bespoke suits have long been a tradition for naval officers, and it’s still the case today. Creighton told:
Going back to WWII, officers were given a list of recommended tailors. This is partly due to the type of people who joined though. […] It is still the case that an officer, perhaps at a Captain level would have a tailored suit for personal use, but especially when leaving the Navy for a civilian job interview.
Britain also has a history of tailors who specialise in military uniforms but also make civilian clothes. Savile Row’s Gieves & Hawkes is one of the world’s most famous military tailors who not only make civilian bespoke but have a large ready-to-wear collection. Whether Bond would have had his uniform made by a bespoke tailor depends on the era, according to Creighton:
Fleming’s Bond would definitely have had his uniform tailored. He would also have gone to a school where teachers (and most likely the headmaster) would have served as officers.
Craig’s Bond wouldn’t have the uniform necessarily tailored, and there is more distance now between the military and most civilians. However, I’d say there’s a lot of public schoolboys who would have tailored clothes, and Bond would rub shoulders with them a lot.
Vesper says to Bond in the 2006 Casino Royale film that because of his education, he feels that he has to dress a certain way. His desire to wear a stiff suit and tie, like he wears during their first meeting, is a remnant of his background from both his schooling and his military experience.
Creighton doesn’t see much of a cultural difference between the two. He said ‘It’s hard to separate the background of Naval Officer from old public schoolboy (private school in the US), since the two are heavily intertwined. The two influenced each other.’ With being both a public schoolboy and a naval officer, it’s no wonder Bond still finds himself in a suit and tie for most occasions, even today.
Bond’s stylistic preferences also fit with what men in the Royal Navy wear when not in uniform but on base, called ‘Dog Robbers’. ‘This is essentially a sports jacket, neat trousers, shirt and tie. Even off base, officers can tend to wear this’, explained Creighton. He named the Goldfinger hacking jacket as such an example of this. While blue blazers with metal buttons have a resemblance to naval uniforms, they are not currently popular with off-duty officers. About what officers wear off base, Creighton continued, ‘There are officers who, if not wearing dog robbers, would still wear what the Navy consider to be ‘neat’ clothing in their civilian lives. Jeans for instance, aren’t allowed on base. […] Some officers might then wear the RN [Royal Navy] service tie with a suit (the striped one Roger Moore wore in Live and Let Die). It doesn’t go with a uniform.’
But there are officers who don’t always dress so well in their personal lives. Creighton told:
A lot of military people I know, Army and Navy, tend to be either ‘on’ or ‘off’. As in, either perfectly turned out, or dressed for action. When I saw Daniel Craig in that torn grey t-shirt in Jamaica [in No Time to Die], I instantly thought of half a dozen guys who’d happily wear that for gardening, then in ten minutes would suddenly be clean, scrubbed, suited and booted.
A quick turnaround for these things is a part of training. You need to be ready for whatever comes quickly, and the armed forces tends to demand either parade or action. So, two extremes, I guess.
While any sort of sloppiness would not normally apply to James Bond, this is the type of military man that Daniel Craig’s Bond is. Before Craig, we saw Bond make an incredible Superman-like transformation from an unkempt prisoner into a look befitting a naval officer at his Hong Kong hotel room in Die Another Day.
There are certain manners of wearing clothes that come from being a naval officer, such as ‘not putting hands in pockets. Pockets are for things, not for hands’, said Creighton. As Bond frequently shows, how one wears their clothes can be more important then the clothes themselves.