Is James Bond Fashion Royalty?


Throughout history, fashions were primarily set by royalty and a few lucky members of high society. The royalty started fashion trends and their subjects followed their lead, grovelling to seek favour. Royalty were also more widely seen than anyone else before film created movie stars.

As far as menswear is concerned, former kings and princes set the trends. The last people to be majorly influential in menswear are the pre-Second-World-War British royalty. Our tailored clothing still follows the trends they set.

We have King Edward VII during his time as the Prince of Wales to thank for the the popularity of the check that still bears his title well over a century later. He also started the trend of leaving the bottom waistcoat button open because he was too large to fasten it, and now we wear it open as a custom. Many British tailors cut their waistcoats so the bottom button and buttonhole don’t line up, so like in the case of Edward VII we are not physically able to fasten that button without straining the garment.

After Edward VII died, a new Prince of Wales under the reign of George V—who later became Edward VIII and then the Duke of Windsor—popularised new fashions. For evening wear he replaced black tailcoats and dinner jackets with midnight blue. For black tie he introduced the soft shirt with a turn-down collar and a pleated front to replace stiff wing-collar shirt. He drew attention to the drape-cut suit.

These two royals are responsible for popularising many of the tailored looks that James Bond wears over the course of the series.

During the time that Edward VIII was the Prince of Wales, cinema took off and became the new place for people to observe fashions. The next major change in the way men wore clothes would not come until the 1960s, but with the rise of film movie stars had effectively replaced royalty and high society as the arbiters of menswear in the 1930s. They’ve held this position for almost a century, and this blog shows that their position as the primary menswear influencers holds strong almost a century later.

Since James Bond first appeared on the silver screen in 1962, he has been the most consistent place for men to look for style inspiration for six decades. Plenty of others stylishly influential characters and actors have come and gone during this time, but Bond still holds strong. Like a king or queen, he has thus far reigned over men’s fashion for the length a monarch would hold a throne. In fact, Ian Fleming started writing his first Bond story Casino Royale in February 1952, the same month Elizabeth II became Bond’s queen, but Bond’s reign over fashion would not have started until he first appeared on screen a decade later.

Bond is essentially the king of English fashion. He has upheld traditional English modes of style throughout his existence. The tailored suit, the necktie, the dinner jacket and many more styles that he is known for wearing have been kept alive through Bond. Apart from classic menswear enthusiasts, Bond has kept the excitement of these English garments alive for a more mainstream audience around the world who may not have as much of an interest in dressing up or dressing in the tailored tradition.

I’m not using the term ‘fashion royalty’ in the title of this article in the usual sense. Bond is a character, not a leader of the fashion industry, but his fashions have been copied by many individuals and many clothing brands in the same kind of way kings and princes used to influence menswear.

Today, the British monarchy does not hold the place in menswear that it once had. Prince Philip has always been well turned out, but few have paid attention to his clothes.

Prince Charles, like Princes of Wales before him, garners the most attention of the male royalty for his style. He’s always well-dressed, but he not particularly influential in terms of menswear today. His style is an extension of the previous Prince of Wales (the Duke of Windsor), just with an extra row of buttons on his double-breasted suit jackets and considerably smaller tie knots. He has not introduced anything to fashion.

Prince William lets his wife have all the fashion attention. Kate Middleton has the largest fashion influence of any member of the British royal family and is one of the most influential people in the world regarding fashion. Her sister Pippa and Prince Harry’s wife Megan are also inspiring in their fashions.

Men in the royal family don’t have this power, nor do they make much of an attempt to draw attention to their clothes. They’re not wearing anything remotely unusual. While their outfits are well put-together, there’s little that makes an impression to the average man. There’s not much that separates them from any other well-dressed man of the past century.

The men in the British royal family, or any other royal family for that matter, are not the most visible icons to the men of the world. Today it’s the celebrities on film who have the widest reach. We admire the people we watch on screen, whether its for their personalities, their glamourous lifestyles or their characters who we connect with. They’re the people we seek to emulate more than anyone else we don’t know. There’s no doubt that James Bond and the actors who have played him have been amongst the most significant of these cinematic influencers. With Bond being the world representative for traditional English style, he deserves the crown for leading the world of menswear.


  1. Very interesting article. I remember Lindy Hemming’s approach to Bond styling, defining Bond as “not a trend setter, but a classic luxury dresser.” referring back to Connery, who continued to wear his usual double forward pleated trousers and full-cut jacket long after they were no longer fashionable.
    Whereas Lazenby, Moore and Dalton I’ve always seen them as “influenced” by their times and not really an “influencer” with fitting proportions for their times.
    Craig’s Bond I think is the true fashion royalty. One Bond before fans wanted his cufflinks, now they want to know the exact Sunspel underpants he wore!

    • I think a big part of people wanting to know the smallest details of Daniel Craig’s James Bond is that he came about with the widespread advent of social media. (There was social media in the form of Xanga and MySpace, but they weren’t nearly as ubiquitous.) Facebook launched to the public in 2006, Casino Royale released the same year. I don’t personally care for much of Craig’s personal wardrobe, but without him in the role of James Bond I doubt he’d have that much sway over men’s fashion for his followers.

    • That’s a good point. I agree. Only Connery and Craig set themselves in the role of “arbiter elegantiarum”. And that’s hard, that’s rare. Other Bonds are not relevant, or nearly, from this point of view.

    • I think some of that reflects the American Psycho-ization of our culture (not that the fans are psychos, mind you). What was once parody in terms of men obsessing over that level of detail for clothing, brands, etc has now become mainstream in the age of insta.

  2. Prince Charles often wore safari shirt/jackets on his warm weather duties during the 80s and 90s (possibly later too).

  3. Bond has adapted to all the contemporary cultural time periods. When the books and films started, it was still time when someone in the high-end British establishment like him would have had similar tastes as British royalty. But it was also the time when the whole society was quite formal. So Bond was aspirational – he could dress like royalty because he had money, good taste, and lived in London so he had access to the same shops as the Mountbatten. The fans could use Bondian cues in their own budget/locale just as they used to do for the royals themselves n the 1900s-30s. By the 1970s, the peacock revolution was in full swing and royal fashions didn’t mean much when men read Vogue to see the latest from St. Laurent and rock stars wore suits to go out. Moore’s tailors adapted these styles to traditional establishment bespoke, and it remained as aspirational as it had been in the 50s and 60s, to the same demographic of people, who could adapt it to their own wardrobe in the same way as they had been doing. It stayed the same in the 80s, and even the 90s, as that was a transition between the old formal styles and the complete casual world we live in today. What Craig’s version has done, is to fly the flag for the people who still care about looking like this by introducing a large cadre of very well curated casual clothes that are entirely appropriate for the character, but mostly unexplored in past series. It could also keep him in the modern world without turning him into a charactiture. Despite being cut too tight, the suits he does wear are entirely appropriate to the modern world, with the awareness that most people in the audience will see it Bond’s superhero costume (apparently the orchestra members in QOS all wear $3.5k Tom Ford dinner suits lol) but the people who are into it, like the iGents, are really, really into it. It is still aspirational, but it has gone from the mainstream culture to a kind of counter culture. The people who choose to dress nicely today are making the same cultural decision that their counterparts in the 50s and 60s made by putting on a leather biker jacket or army surplus parkas with RAF targets on them. It’s rebellion. They want to stand out and are absolutely convinced that they are doing the right thing. Without Craig’s Bond, I’m not entirely sure that interest in more formal looks for men or even iGent-style culture culture in general would be as big as it is today. It’s one of the things that EON did really well in their perpetual battle to keep the franchise culturally relevant.

    • To your later point, there’s a really good quote – I forget the originator – something along the lines of “In a world that’s becoming ever more casual, wearing a suit is an act of rebellion”. In the past suits had a negative connotation in some circles – “look out, here come the suits” meaning the boring bureaucratic drones and bean counters. Now that wearing a suit is more often than not by choice rather than to conform with some dull dress code, it often does feel like a subversive act!

      • I was accused of looking like a government drone in the mid-2000s, when I first got into menswear and didn’t know a lick of what I do now. Today I get compliments more often than not. I think a lot of that is not only changing attitudes, but having an eye for style, fit, and flattering your body. It’s the difference between Justin Trudeau, who clearly loves wearing tailored clothing and goes above and beyond what’s expected of him, or Bernie Sanders, whose ill-fitting suits are just being worn because he has to. The difference between being a Suit and being told, “You look great in that suit.”

      • Yeah good examples. What baffles me is that so often those of us who make an effort report getting frequent compliments, but it so rarely seems like the complimenters have any ambition to step up their own style. I was. stuck in a waiting room recently while ‘90 Day Fiancé’ was playing on the TV (I know – kill me now!). In this episode there were several weddings with each groom appearing to outdo the previous one in sartorial cluelessness. Even when they attempt to ‘look good’ (“gotta wear a suit/tux for my big day”) they fail so badly. Black shirts abound, cheap shiny ties, scarlet red tux jackets, pitiful shirt collars, all jacket buttons fastened etc). As I wrote this I recall that I didn’t notice (m)any fathers of the grooms. There’s a theory that so many people these days grow up either without a father, without a father in the house, or without a father who had an old school sense of how to dress, so they never learn the basics. Maybe 007 is providing a useful s to some in that regard, which I think is the point mentioned by Saul below.

  4. People have to follow someone who they think is better than them. For example, Mr.Spaiser pointed out that wearing the tie clip at the level of the pocket square makes it look as if they are competing with one another. I agree and despite this error In style I see men doing it all over the place. As for me, i actually dont.

  5. I’m not sure how your first sentence connects to what follows.
    I agree about tie clips competing at the height of pocket squares.
    I never wear a tie without a tie clip. I also never wear a tie clip that’s visible with my jacket buttoned!

    • You look toward someone who has some sort of an idea what to wear. As for me, everytime i have somewhere to go albeit a somewhat special occasion or place i refer to 007.

      I tried to decide on my own a few times and i ended up looking like a waiter or a magician. Now im not saying you can’t come up with your own style but there is a foundation there you can always rely on.

    • His first sentence is referring to the idea of Bond as “fashion royalty.” He’s royalty in the sense that he is, as Agent00Soul put it, an aspirational figure. Since James Bond is known to be A Man Who Wears A Suit, people look up to him for inspiration on how to wear a suit. If someone like Bond bends or breaks a rule, or does something that may be stylistically questionable, it can move from being unusual to being mainstream.

      In the case of pocket square vs. tie clip, it’s a matter of something stylistically questionable (in this case a going against a guideline intended to prevent clashing or distracting styles) becoming mainstream because someone influential did it.

  6. I wear a tie clip on the inner part of the tie blade below the back guide. This way the tie remains in place from the clip but not visible with jacket opened or closed.

  7. Initially, Bond was, in all the observable intents and purposes, an icon of individuality, someone who dressed for himself and not for the crowd. The cloth and the cut presented the image, but the face and the voice are the prima donna. The coolness of Bond not giving in to trends was what made him, well, cool.

    But then, later Bonds began to flex themselves between being trend setters and trend followers, with Craig being a victim of trend followers. It was simply heartbreaking.

    The appeal was that Bond did not care or cater to the mass, when it comes to dressing. Bond was supposed to be timeless. But then, they tried to forged Bond with the eras, and that was where it went wrong and, dare I say, vile.

    Bond was supposed to be an individual. Of course, individuals will receive and display influences throughout the course of their lifetime, but at least, when Bond was neither trend setter or follower, and remained timeless, he was truly Bond.

    Then again, just my two cents.

    • I agree but extend the connection from not only clothes to themes.
      When the Bond franchise started it was groundbreaking. Maybe the old Saint films with George Sanders were a distant precursor but after a couple of films Bond was established as its own trend.
      Whenever they tried to follow rather than lead it didn’t go well.
      DAF tried to get in on the prevailing space race which had been done successfully with YOLT.
      LALD tried to get in on blaxploitation / Shaft
      TMWTGG tried to get in on martial arts / Bruce Lee
      Moonraker tried to get in on Star Wars
      LTK tried to get in on Miami Vice (even though I like this one!)
      A case could be made that CR tried to get in on the Bournes
      And in a reversal, the last several Mission Impossible films have successfully and shamelessly ripped off Bond in countless ways both discreet and obvious.
      Anyway – the point being that Bond is usually better (and better dressed!) when he’s leading or carving his own path rather than following current trends.

      • Agreed, but the same time, you can’t have Bond be the total man out of time either. Many of the scenes where Craig dresses casually* were scenes that Moore would be in a suit for because that was the norm 40 years ago, but would really look strange/wrong nowadays. Bond’s wardrobe was never was supposed to transcend time in the way that, for example, John Steed’s is.

        *as much as such expensive garments can ever be called “casual”

      • Yeah that’s a fair point. As much as Craig comes under the cosh in these discussions he’s done well – better than most Bonds – with his casual clothes (junior agent in Madagascar aside!). Remember as a secret agent he has to blend in, and poncing about in a navy suit and sandals in the tropics – which seemed out of place to me when I read that in the seventies – sure wouldn’t have him blend in during the new millennium.

      • And that’s sort of the point. I mean, call me being obsessed with Connery’s golden era or whatever, but when it first began, Bond rarely care for what the crowd was on about. Bond was being Bond, and that was, in the words of the kids these days, “kewl”. Bond was also very flexible between being a very elegant spy and a man of necessary violent, unlike the recent entries where it was all about running and gunning like those cheap shaky cam action movies.

        So were his outfits. In the 60s, when the Mods were running amok with drainpipes and button threes, Connery was so elegant and individualistic with his draped chest and tapered trousers. For a while, Moore looked modern in just Castle’s boot cut, but when they went full bell bottoms, it was just stupid. Then Moore revert to the old classics when he was with Dougie Hayward, but by then, he was about to retire.

        Bond, again, is better on his own, rather than being trend setter or follower. Bond was supposed to be timeless, not with or against time.

  8. The irony here is that Ian Fleming would never have intended for his character James Bond to be regarded as ‘the king of English fashion.’ Perhaps one of his flamboyant villains, yes. But Bond himself? Never. Indeed, in a 1962 interview in The NEW YORKER, Fleming himself said “I wanted Bond to be an extremely dull, uninteresting man to whom things happened.”

    Thankfully, Cubby Broccoli and Harry Saltzman saw things differently. Rather than envisaging Bond as ‘an extremely dull, uninteresting man’, they made him in many respects ‘a cut above the rest’, someone we would look up to and admire – for his capabilities, his charisma, his heroism, his man-of-the-world sophistication, and his dress sense and wardrobe. They made him extremely exciting. And one of the ways they did that was by paying a great deal of attention to his appearance. They dressed up their version of James Bond in a distinguished manner – with great taste and with classic, timeless style.

    Contrast Bond’s dress, for example, with two other fictional spy characters created in the 1960s: Harry Palmer, and George Smiley. These truly were ‘extremely dull, uninteresting’ men – both in the novels and the movies (the Harry Palmer films were actually produced by Saltzman). But that was the whole idea! Amusingly, Palmer and Smiley were supposed to be intentional foils to James Bond. That’s exactly why they were so dull! Which means, by definition, that Bond wasn’t dull at all. In fact, he was quite the opposite.

    Broccoli and Saltzman knew exactly why James Bond would have such appeal as a character. Despite Fleming’s claim that Bond was supposed to be extremely dull and uninteresting, here we have a man who dresses himself in silk and Sea Island cotton shirts, eats like a gourmet, drinks the finest champagnes, stipulates precisely how his eggs should be cooked and his martinis mixed, owns a 4½ Litre Bentley (and feels at home cruising around in an Aston Martin DB III), wears a Rolex Oyster Perpetual on his wrist, has a flat in Chelsea with a full-time housekeeper, jets around the world, stays in luxury hotels, knows how to behave (and play) in elegant casinos, is an experienced golfer, scuba diver, and skier, shops in Mayfair for his Blue Mountain coffee (that he brews in a Chemex), as well as his cigarettes that are specially made for him, and so on.

    Let’s face it, even by today’s standards, almost seventy years after the first novel Casino Royale, we’d have to say that Fleming’s Bond lived a glamourous, very expensive and fastidious lifestyle that would be out of reach for most mere mortals. But, wow, back in the fifties, a lifestyle like this must have been stratospheric. No wonder Fleming’s readers found it so exciting to escape into Bond’s world. There was nothing dull or uninteresting about the man!

    So, clearly, when Broccoli and Saltzman sat down to start planning Dr. No, they wanted to capture the essence of all this glamour. That’s one reason why the first scene with Bond introduces him in a casino. But what were they supposed to do about Bond’s clothes? As we all know, Fleming didn’t give us many clues here. Apart from the silk and Sea Island cotton shirts (some with short sleeves!), all we get is a dark blue tropical worsted suit, a ‘battered and slightly yellowing, houndstooth check suit’, a black knitted silk tie, ‘no handkerchief in the breast pocket’, black casual shoes, moccasins and even sandals! All of which was, to be frank, ‘extremely dull and unexciting’, Not exactly ‘the king of English fashion,’ a phrase that probably would have made Fleming’s hair stand on end. Again, it’s usually the larger-then-life villains in Fleming’s novels who might more appropriately deserve such a title. Their perhaps ostentatious way of dressing immediately signals to Bond (and especially Fleming) that despite all their money they don’t really have any class.

    This is where Terence Young – director of Dr. No, From Russia With Love, and Thunderball – comes in. By all accounts, Young was the dapper dresser – he was the man who truly understood glamour and sophistication, fancy restaurants, casinos, London tailoring, and everything else that goes along with the high life. In many ways, he was the real template for James Bond’s on-screen appearance. Whenever I put on one of my ‘Conduit Cut’ suits today, or dress down in a camp collar shirt, short swim shorts and espadrilles (which is most days actually, because I live in Costa Rica), I often say a silent thank you to Terence Young. Because he’s the man we’re really dressing like, not Fleming’s fictional Bond.

    Terence Young seems to have understood something Fleming didn’t. And that was the art, as Alan Flusser would put it, of ‘dressing the man’. Fleming’s views on men’s clothing were typical of the upper class he was born into and represented. For Fleming, Bond was – just like himself – ‘an upper-crust Etonian type’ (Leah Wilson, James Bond in the 21st Century). And how did such people dress? According to Douglas Sutherland, writing in ‘The English Gentleman’, “A gentleman generally has two suits” which he wears till they are “threadbare”, after which they are “handed down to the gardener”. Further, “he patches his jackets with leather when they become frayed at the cuffs or out at the elbow.”

    Hence, in his novels, Fleming often describes Bond’s suits as “old” and “well-worn”, and even gives Bond a “battered and slightly yellowing, houndstooth check suit” that was evidently based on one of his own. Fleming’s friends apparently used to joke that when his suits wore out, he could simply take the buttons back to his tailor and have a new suit stitched onto them. Something tells me that, in private, Prince Philip and Prince Charles aren’t much different today.

    In Fleming’s upper class view, this ‘dull, unexciting’ way of dressing would actually make Bond more of a ‘gentleman’. It wouldn’t be by looking super-suave and sophisticated like we know James Bond from the movies. Interestingly, Douglas Sutherland writes, tongue-in-cheek, that “people who have a suit for every day of the week and even more expansive wardrobes, are parvenus of the worst sort”. Yet that was how Terence Young decided Bond should be dressed (think about how many suits James Bond takes with him on his missions in Young’s three films). In doing so, I believe Terence Young helped to culturally redefine what it means to dress as a gentleman. And let’s not forget that Young was no ‘parvenu’ himself, having been public-school educated and having studied at Cambridge. He simply believed that a modern gentleman should dress with refinement – whether in formal or casual wear. He should always look his best. Terence Young would never dress Bond in anything that was “old”, “well-worn”, “battered” or “slightly yellowing”. He would always want him looking immaculate and impeccable, whatever the occasion.

    Almost everything we know about Bond’s dress code over the last almost sixty years is a direct extension of Terence Young’s original template, which took Fleming’s basic description of Bond’s clothes and significantly enhanced it with his own good taste and high standards. If James Bond has become to some extent ‘the king of English fashion’, then Terence Young certainly deserves a large share of the credit. If Fleming had been allowed to make the Bond movies the way he wanted to, James Bond would have ended up being dressed in an ‘extremely dull, uninteresting’ way – picture David Niven sitting on a balcony in Jamaica in a white sleeveless shirt, navy blue trousers and sandals, or Hoagy Carmichael turning up at the prestigious Moonraker launch site in Dover wearing an old houndstooth check suit.

    This illustrates one of the many ways in which the EON movies actually improved upon Ian Fleming’s vision, in this case adding an enriching new dimension to his fictional character that continues to inspire us all today – Bond’s distinguished, tasteful and refined clothing. Long live the king!

  9. This post inspired quite the scintillating discussion section! Now I want to read up on Terence Young and find out how much of his real life he put into Bond and how much was his wish-fulfillment at work.


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