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.
Really enjoyed this read! A lot of the ‘Bond lifestyle’ stuff out there borders on farce for me, but I find Felix to be the real deal and genuinely insightful on various aspects of culture, food, etc.
Thank you so much! It’s been a joy to share my experiences and connect with so many Bond fans. I’ve found it a very welcoming community, and will carry on sharing, listening and learning. ~ Felix
Gieves and Hawkes just happens to be having a major sale at the moment ;)
Connery’s Bond must have been AWOL the day the “no hands in pockets” rule was explained.
Chasing some pretty young girl, no doubt.
Haha, it does seem a Connery trait. I notice Army fellas don’t have this rule, but the Navy very much does. A ship is not a stable platform, so best to have your hands at the ready at all times. If Bond missed the lesson (I like your reason), he’d be reminded plenty. Perhaps working for MI6, he enjoys the freedom of being able to do it!
It certainly extends to Navy Mess Dress (No 2)- Black tie, as the trousers on issued rig only have the rear right hand pocket and not side pockets.
Matt, another great article. Felix, excellent to hear input from a fellow matelot (Lt, Logs) and Bond sartorial supporter! Some interesting points raised. My only additional point I’d make is. as covered in articles here and other texts, military tailoring is designed to make a man look at his best on the parade square; straight back, chest out thus displaying confidence and authority, Each actor has managed to convey that air, despite the various tailoring styles.
Dalton and Brosnan must have been with him as well. There is a legend about an argument between Glen and Dalton regarding Bond’s hands in pockets in LTK. For Connery, it is sloppy direction by Hamilton (but isn’t sloppiness a characteristic of Hamilton’s directing style?). In Young’s pictures, Connery spends much less time with hands in pockets, certainly not both which is clearly middle to working class in British upper-class eyes.
Great read, Matt. I was hoping for more information like this.
Someone please correct me if I am wrong, but I believe it’s in line with the upper(middle) class, and perhaps with the military as well, to have a “limited” wardrobe, at least for those working for the government. Maybe two great bespoke suits and a couple of odd jackets.
The film version of Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy also comes to mind. Those men are focused on their jobs. Most of them wear one or two suits in the entire film. I know it’s fiction, but I like the idea of wearing a limited variety of well made and durable bespoke suits on a daily basis. There’s work to be done, no need to waste your time choosing one of your twenty suits.
I believe Ian Fleming also had a similar philosophy, going back to his tailor after a year or so to make a similar suit (according to John Pearson, “fixing some new cloth to Mr. Fleming’s original buttons”).
I think that’s right, and I’ve even heard of aristocratic sons wearing their father’s old odd jackets and / or waistcoats from time to time. If it’s good quality, it lasts.
Didn’t the literary Bond only have two suits, a blue twill for the city and a black-and-cream houndstooth for the country?
Literary Bond certainly had a limited colour palette when it came to his suits but there’s nothing to suggest he only had two. In fact when packing for a mission (Goldfinger IIRC) Fleming states he packed ‘a companion to the dark blue tropical worsted suit he was wearing’ along with the yellowing back and white dogtooth, so that’s at least three!
My Dad was born in 1921 so very close to Bon’s age (and just slightly older than Don Draper with whom he had a resemblance!). He came from humble roots but wartime promotion elevated him to officer status. He too had a classic, limited wardrobe without gimmicks or fussiness. I wrote about him here :
He too must have missed the memo about hands in pockets!
I have no idea if it is British upper class or not, I do know even here in America it seems to be common among ex-military officers. I have worked with a number over the years, and most were very “uniformy.” I can’t say they are all the same though, my current boss (ex U.S. Navy) is a blazer, regimental tie, OCBD, and tan slacks guy. Another Marine officer is a grey suit and blue tie guy. Come to think of it I can’t remember ever seeing him in anything but a grey suit and they are all a similar medium dark grey. They tend to keep it simple, although these are just my personal observations.
I have not read the novels in years, but I thought that Bond was given rank in the navy, he did not actually serve. Am I wrong?
It’s been a while since I read it but John Pearson wrote the (fictional, obviously) ‘Authorised Biography of 007’ – it’s a good read and stays pretty close to the character of Bond as drawn in the Fleming books except he has Bond wearing blue jeans which find hard to imagine! Anyway in this portrayal fictional Fleming recruits Bond into the Navy then immediately pulls him over to Naval Intelligence in which I think he operated as a sort of commando in WW2 – something similar to the ‘Red Indians’ that real-life Fleming himself commanded from the safety of his desk at Whitehall!
Excellent read sir.
Great article and thanks for posting.
I think there is a distinction between the careers of the literary Bond and the film Bond. The literary Bond was an officer at a time when the RNR was for Merchant Navy officers and the RNVR was for people without professional maritime experience (like Fleming himself). As the witticism of the time said, the RNR were ‘officers trying to be gentlemen’ and the RNVR were ‘gentlemen trying to be officers’. This means that the literary Bond was not written as a career naval officer and a post-war audience of readers (at least in the UK) probably would have known this.
That’s not to say that many RNVR officer didn’t have distinguished careers or that they weren’t dedicated to the service, I just suspect on this basis that Bond’s social class and education may have influenced his dress perhaps more than wartime RNVR service.
By the way, if you look at the reproduction wartime officer’s handbooks currently out there, it is pretty obvious that RNVR officers from other less advantageous social backgrounds were anxious about dressing correctly and that the tailor’s adverts in these manuals were firmly aiming at this audience!
I also think it is worth mentioning that, unlike today, Royal Navy officers of the era would not have been to university before entering the service, as they would have started at Dartmouth as young teenagers (Britannia Royal Naval College – the Royal Military Academy Sandhurst is for the Army). They may have gone on to university later in their service, particularly if they were in technical specialisations. In addition, while the Royal Navy was the most influential service back then, the highest social cachet was obtained (and still is to some degree) by serving in the British Army’s Household Division (Guards and Household Cavalry) and line cavalry.
The film Bond on the other hand is quite obviously a regular officer (and in the later films one with special forces experience) and a graduate. The latter was still fairly unusual in the British Forces (outside of technical specialisations) until the 1970s and 80s and, although most officers today are graduates some still enter via the traditional route at 18 (as with Prince Harry). As social backgrounds have diversified (a bit), officer cadets are no longer expected to ‘know the form’ and receive guidance as what to wear and when to wear it i.e. ‘no jeans in the mess’ (jeans being known ironically by cadets as ‘the devils trousers’).
Not sure if this still happens, but tailors used to visit the various academies to sell their wares (and presumably snare customers for life). Gieves were always pricey and occasionally referred to as ‘Thieves and Hawkes’ for that very reason.