The classic James Bond suit is single-breasted, and the standard suit for almost all men in the world apart from Prince Charles is single-breasted. Since the post-war era, the standard question posed to a man is whether he wants two buttons or three buttons on his suit jacket, forgetting about the double-breasted option. James Bond has long forgotten about this option as well.
Double-breasted suits go in and out of fashion, but they’re always an option. The double-breasted suit was last in mainstream fashion in a period spanning the mid-1980s through the mid-1990s and has since been mainly the domain of those who have their clothes made for them.
Today, double-breasted suits are seen as flashier than single-breasted suits, simply because they are not the norm. This has probably been the case in most places since World War II, when double-breasted suits last were social equals to single-breasted suits.
Is the Double-Breasted Suit Right for Bond?
As a naval commander, Bond is at home in the double-breasted suit. It is a natural progression from the high-buttoning double-breasted naval blue dress uniform. On the other hand, Bond may want to get away from the military look in his civilian dress.
There’s a practical reason why Bond doesn’t wear double-breasted suits all that often: it’s difficult for him to draw from a shoulder holster while wearing them. With the lower-fastening styles it’s not so much a problem, but it’s not easy to reach inside the traditional six-button style. They look too sloppy when worn unbuttoned, and because of the jigger button it takes longer to unfasten a double-breasted coat if Bond needs to quickly take it off.
The double-breasted suit is unique to Roger Moore’s Bond. Moore as well as other Bonds have worn double-breasted blazers, double-breasted dinner jackets, double-breasted naval uniforms and double-breasted overcoats, but only Moore’s Bond has worn double-breasted suits.
Double-breasted overcoats are warmer than single-breasted, and this practical advantage has kept them more prevalent in fashion than other double-breasted garments. The pea coat is as popular a piece of outerwear as it ever has been. The double-breasted blazer as a classic garment all of its own. The extra decoration of a double-breasted jacket is somehow easier to wear in a dinner jacket, and standing out a little at a black tie occasion is rarely a bad thing. But the double-breasted suit stands out in a unique way, and this may be why Bond has worn so few of them.
Bond’s Double-Breasted Suits
Moore introduces the double-breasted suit to Bond at the end of Live and Let Die as he boards the train with Solitaire. This suit, made by Cyril Castle in the classic button two show three configuration, is one of the many ways Moore separates his Bond from his predecessors, who never wore double-breasted suits. This suit has limited screen time, and it makes only a small impression so it does not shock the audience.
Roger Moore looks hip in his double-breasted Cyril Castle suits. A modern cut and atypical fabrics prevent Bond from looking stodgy in his double-breasted suits. Bond’s first double-breasted suit in Live and Let Die is made of dark grey silk dupioni, giving it a flashy edge. The cut is dramatic and the narrow wrap makes it look more modern than most double-breasted suits. Slanted pockets also help in this regard, and many traditionalists shy away from slanted pockets on double-breasted jackets because the double-breasted jacket does not come from an equestrian tradition like slanted pockets do. Flared link cuffs and flared trousers bring the suit into the 1970s and away from the double-breasted suit’s 1940s image.
Moore returns in The Man with the Golden Gun wearing two double-breasted suits from Cyril Castle, both with the same cut and style that he wears in Live and Let Die, albeit with slightly wider lapels. The era’s wide lapels don’t look as dated on the double-breasted suit as they do on the single-breasted suits. The proportions of a double-breasted suit lends the style to having wider lapels since they don’t overwhelm the jacket as much.
The first of the two double-breasted suits in The Man with the Golden Gun is a rather traditional grey flannel chalk stripe. Being in mid-grey rather than a more conservative charcoal grey or navy gives a more modern edge to this suit. See the edited image below for comparison.
Bond looks like he belongs in a boardroom in the darker colours, while the lighter grey that he wears in the film makes him look more relaxed, younger and more fashionable. In Moore’s later Bond films, he has more of the boardroom look in his dark three-piece suits that he wears to the office.
Later in the film, Moore wears an olive multi-stripe suit with tan and red stripes. Apart from matching the set, this suit’s unordthodox cloth takes it completely away from the conservative double-breasted suit. Being single-breasted or double-breasted no longer matters—it’s all about the cloth.
After taking a break from it for almost a decade, Moore revives the double-breasted suit for Bond in Octopussy. For Bond’s fourth and final double-breasted suit, Douglas Hayward made a basic navy example. In this suit, Bond is posing as furniture manufacturing representative Charles Morton, so he looks the part in this more business-like suit. Moore also looks noticeably older than he did before, so this serious and conservative suit does not look out of place on him.
Following both Hayward’s preference and 1980s fashion trends, this jacket fastens in the button one show two ‘keystone’ configuration. This breaks from the classic British style with six buttons that Bond previously wore, but it ultimately has no effect on how formal or conservative the suit looks.
The Double-Breasted Suit Today
Today in the Bond universe we associate the double-breasted suit with Ralph Fiennes’ M. While he also wears single-breasted suits, his double-breasted suits sets him apart as a more mature, traditional and conservative man than Bond is. This is just as much attributable to the classic city chalk stripes, traditional British cut and braces as it is to how many breasts his suit has (is that the proper way to word it?).
For Bond to wear a double-breasted suit again, it would likely need to return to the popularity it last saw 35 years ago. Today, Bond frequently stands out enough in his suit simply because he is wearing a suit. A double-breasted suit right now would make Bond look either too dandy or too old-fashioned, neither of which Bond should be.
For stylish men, the double-breasted suit is still a valid choice, and it is a suit that sets a man apart in a good way. For a spy like Bond, a double-breasted suit would make him stand out in too obvious a way. It’s a bit too ‘Kingsman’ at the moment for Bond to try.