Ian Fleming: The Spy Who Loved Me (1962)

18

“James Bond glanced over his shoulder at them and then got down off his stool and took off his raincoat and hat and put them on top of his case and climbed back.” (Chapter 10)

“He wore a soft-looking white silk shirt with a thin black knitted tie that hung down loosely without a pin, and his single-breasted suit was made of some dark blue lightweight material that may have been alpaca.” (Chapter 10)

The Spy Who Loved Me is not written from Bond’s perspective, nor is Bond the main character in the novel. Here Fleming suggests that Bond may have worn a suit made of alpaca fibres, a material not commonly used for suits. Most often alpaca fibres are made into sweaters. Whilst it isn’t used much for suiting, alpaca makes up well in a sports coat.

18 COMMENTS

  1. Dear Matt,
    Being a kid growing up watching Brosnan´s incarnation of Bond it is his suit cut that to date that has made the strongest impression on me.A question: From what I´ve gathered through clothing fora etc…is that the Brioni suit cut has a.)a relatively large amount of shoulderpadding b.)an obsessively clean and structured chest on the natural shoulderline c.)quite a bit of waist supression resulting in the illusion of a very lean silhouette overall.
    I got the impression that this type of silhouette demanded a specific bodytype,low muscle tone ectomorphs of slimmer, frailer stature. Basically the Brosnanesque physique.
    I approximate that Bodytype pretty closely,with the one exception that I do my fair share of heavy resistance training yet since I am a broke college student I cannot nor do I care about eating to get so big that I spoil things sartorially.
    This got me thinking:How hard would you deem it to approximate a Brionitype of silhouette through lower level MTM (where shoulderpadding as opposed to the drape cut is the norm because it´s just easier). Yes,I know,a light and supple yet uniquely authoritatively structured jacket only Brioni can provide.I am just talking about the visual impact- "the f–k you attide" as a bunch of guys on forums describe it.My supplier of MTM is around the500 to 1000 Euro range (up to 1500 us dollars) range and being in college it is all that I can afford.
    Is this idea viable in practice?
    What about other details such as gorge etc…?
    How is a typical Brioni trouser cut(flantfront or pleats,cuffs)?
    I would appreciate a short answer.
    Mark

  2. Dear Mark,

    As for point C, while the traditional Italian suit has a lot of waist suppression, Brosnan's Brioni suits did not, especially not early on. Brioni suits can actually be very flattering on a variety of body type. Brioni suits sold in America are made with slightly overweight CEOs in mind. Whilst a Brioni suit has a lot of padding, it also isn't stiff. A key part of the look is a straight shoulder.

    Gorge and button stance change with the times. Brosnan typically wore a low 3-button suit with a medium gorge. I think that's a good look, and it never goes out.

    Brioni suits traditionally come with reverse-pleat trousers. These days you'll find more with a flat front. As most Italian trousers go these days, they have a shorter rise, a regular is maybe 10.5 to 11 inches. Brosnan's had a longer, more traditional rise, and a longer rise is more flattering and looks more put-together.

  3. I never understood Fleming's love of heavy silk shirts…they are referenced in more than one book. Silk to me would be extremely hot and wrinkle easily under a suit. Not to mention laundering it would be a pain. It does not fit the practical aspect of Bond's other clothing.

    Was this a 50s/60s thing? Have never heard of any one wearing silk dress shirts today.

  4. I've heard of silk shirts for black tie, but you're right that it is impractical for daily wear. I would assume that Fleming wore them himself.

  5. Dear Matt,
    thank you for answering my question so thoroughly. I do agree with the (lack of) waist supression on Brosnan´s suit. Even in the "The Thomas Crown affair" (the 1999 version) the suits were cut like this, albeit with a higher rise and slightly softer shoulders.
    Another question: What could an individual of average height (6foot or so) do when it comes to suits to "appear" taller and/or thinner or enhance those features when already there?
    Or is the term "elongating" mostly a fad?
    I have a feeling that when it comes down to it, the internet has spawned many myths in regards to clothing,a lot of blind faith in makes(Kiton, Brioni, Borrelli)leading to ridiculous prices catering to people who do not know any better.
    For a laugh I perused the published prices of Huntsman vs. Anderson & Sheppard and was dumbfounded. Why is a Huntsman (a twist on the classic military cut which I´ve heard isn´t so hard to do) so much more expensive than Sheppard (soft cut, holy grail of silhouettes as they say).
    My quest to educate myself on classic dress to date was an enjoyable one thanks to blogs like yours and books but it takes a long time to sift through useless, illogical information and mythologic glorification, doesn´t it?
    Thinking critically, I begin to question my former enthusiasm for the Brioni cut.
    In how far do you think that Bond contributes to the bandwagon phenomenon (buy Tom Ford suits because Bond wears them,but in reality your tailor will work something out for your needs at a fraction of the price!).
    I am reminded of when I got first in touch with Bodybuilding/strength training believing that I could get huge in a matter of months if I took that supplement etc…
    Kind regards,
    Mark

  6. Re silk shirts; I think after the war silk was quite a luxury material, even ties in 1950s GB were often instead made of rayon.
    So Ian Fleming uses it as yet another sign of Bond's high life.

    S.

  7. I've actually warmed to the Brioni cut a little more since reading this blog. They cut one of the best modern three buttons I've seen. Still a bit inappropriate on Bond, but not as bad as I used to think.

    I've actually read from some bespoke aficionados that it's better to go with one of the Anderson & Sheppard trained tailors/cutters who struck out on their own (like Thomas Mahon of English Cut) than A&S themselves these days. For one, it's less expensive. Secondly, I've seen some pictures of modern suits from A&S that are quite less than stellar. Inferior construction methods, low armholes, etc. To say the least, it was quite a turn off from the same firm who used to clothe Edward VIII and Fred Astaire.

    Re: silk shirts, yes, I agree that Fleming made quite a gaffe there. It's not in line with a man of action who frequently wears slip on shoes and forgoes a lot of flash in favour of less fussiness. Then again, Fleming is not infallible. This is the same man who liked short sleeve shirts with coat and tie!

  8. At 6 feet tall you don't need to worry much about looking short. But to lengthen your appearance, a few things that help are:
    • A high gorge (where the lapel meets the collar)
    • A button stance at the waist, not too high nor too low
    • A shorter jacket lengthens the legs, but the jacket length should cover the rear.
    • A high trouser rise really elongates the legs, and that's one of the most important parts of looking taller
    • Plain bottoms, as opposed to turn up, give the leg a longer, unbroken line.
    • Trouser legs should be trim, but not too narrow and to give a top-heavy effect.

    Elongating is not a trend. Men always want to look taller and this is one goal that a tailor has when cutting a suit.

    The price of bespoke tailors comes down to what people are willing to pay. Many tailors can only handle a certain number of clients, so if they can get their ideal number of clients at a certain price, then that's why they charge it. Huntsman does fine at their price range.

  9. Thanks Matt!
    I guess peak lapels,flat front pants as opposed to pleated, besom pockets, shorter cut vests and a single button coat stance can also be helpful in conveying elongation.
    How many buttons should a vest traditionally have (I ask because my MTM tailor gives me the option of 6 vs. 5)?
    If looking for maximum elongation should one choose one vs two button-stance on a suit or is the difference minor?
    Should one keep lapels on the narrower side without venturing into "skinny" territory?
    Kind regards,
    Mark

  10. Pleats can be elongating too, if not more than flat front trousers because they create a vertical line. Forward pleats, as Connery wore, are more slimming at the waist than the more typical reverse pleats.

    The more traditional waistcoats have 6 buttons. The buttons on a 6-button waistcoat will be spaced closer than on a 5-button so the cut it the same.

    2-button vs. 1-button makes no difference. The button will be in the same place. On a 1-button suit the front skirt will often be cutaway more. The lapels should ideally be just a hair less than halfway across.

  11. I agree that the comments on the silk shirts, however let me make a few comments that would shed some light on this.

    Fleming wore short sleeve silk shirts because he had a dislike of dirty shirt cuffs which were common to see in the newspaper business – the print used at that time tended to rub off easy onto anything placed on in it. He decided to get around the whole thing by having his shirts cuffless. It also was guided by his taste for ease of dressing. He preferred clothing that slipped on and off with little fuss – hence his dislike of buttons, cufflinks, shoelaces – anything that would slow down the effort of dressing and undressing. Having to unbutton cuffs and insert or remove cufflinks was just too much trouble, as was tieing shoes. His one exception was his bowtie, but anyone used to tieing one would not consider it a huge bother. His preference for silk shirts was due to the fact that he liked the feel of them and that like the rest of his wardrobe it made it easier to remove his jackets. Silk wrinkles to a more or less degree depending the type used and how heavy the is. In the cooler climate of England (which was more common back then) professional men rarely removed their jackets during work and in fact wore waistcoats a lot for extra warmth, so one would rarely see a wrinkled shirt. I think the problem the average person of today has in understanding Fleming’s (and therefore Bond’s) method of dressing is due to their unfamiliarity with the way the climate was back then and also how different tailored clothing fits and feels as opposed to anything “off the rack”.

  12. In reference to Bond’s alpaca suit, it’s true it was not a normal suiting material, but a suit could be made from it and they were due to their ability to make the wearer warmer in very cold weather to the point that one could wear it outside for a short time without having to wear an overcoat.

  13. Alpaca is a wool but that doesn’t mean it would necessarily be worn only for warmth, would it? Fleming’s usage implies the opposite. There is a really interesting exchange in the movie of ‘The Tailor of Panama’ about alpaca between Pierce Brosnan and Geoffrey Rush.

    GF: Well, take a look at these, sir and see what takes your fancy?
    PB: They’re all the right weight for this diabolical climate.
    GF: Seven or eight ounces of nicely breathing, finest worsted. About all a man could or should put up with.
    PB: How about this one? Alpaca, am I right?
    GF: Very good, sir. Perfect. Exactly what I should’ve picked for you myself.
    PB: Given that money’s no object, yeah?

  14. Regarding the silk shirts , the gangster AL- Capone was noted for wearing his ( Also silk ) three piece suits with silk dress shirts.
    I personally own one Bespoke French Blue Turnbull and Asser silk Dress shirt with a point collar , French cuffs , Front placket and a mitred breast pocket. I do wear it with my Navy blue Serge wool suit , but l never wear it with a tie. My personal observations are such :
    – It is much , much more shiny than a cotton dress shirt.
    – It is less breathable than a sea island cotton dress shirt , but not uncomfortably so.
    – It has a sheen which may not be desirable when wearing a conservative suit

  15. Does any tailor in Savile row ( or ANYWHERE for that matter ) even use Alpaca as a suiting fabric at all ? I can’t seem to find any , Matt

  16. I’ve seen alpaca jacketings but not suitings. The related fibre vicuna is sometimes used for suits by bespoke tailors for people who want the ultimate in luxury. Alpaca may be similar to cashmere in that it is not going to hold its shape well in trousers, which means it’s not good for a suit.

  17. Recently (2017) , Wyvern Tailors in the United Kingdom , has started making Suits from Alpaca Tweed. I had the good fortune to have a bespoke single breasted two piece Alpaca Tweed suit made from their firm. While talking to the owner , a gentleman named Ed , he told me that they (Wyvern Tailoring ) are the first people to make an entire suit out of pure Alpaca fiber.
    This would seem to indicate that in this novel , Ian Flemming deliberately had the bondgirl mistake the material of 007’s suit. The suit was most likely 007’s usual Navy Blue Tropical Lightweight worsted suit which he liked to wear in the novels.
    Since this novel is being told from the Bondgirl’s perspective , Flemming probably thought that a female of that era would not know much about Men’s suiting Fabrics. So he deliberately has her misidentify worsted wool ( or Serge ) as Alpaca , ( a fabric commonly used in sweaters at that time , which women were more familiar with ) . He also has her mistakenly identity a Colt revolver as a Smith and Wesson , which further implies that Ian Flemming wanted to show the Bondgirl ( l forgot her name ) as ignorant about men’s clothing and firearms.
    About the silk shirts , they may not have been pure silk. One of my hobbies is to read antique clothing catalogs , and l noticed that from the 1910s to the 1960s , there used to be a very popular shirting called ” Tub silk “. This was cotton crepe fabric mixed with silk. It was supposed to be far more breathable than silk and far more elegant than cotton.
    It was also an EXTREMELY popular fabric for short sleeve shirts of the era , which Bond was known to wear in the novels.

    • Good point on the girl’s perspective.

      Many of the best bespoke shirtmakers use pure silk. What you see in catalogues never covered what only bespoke clothiers could do.

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