In the 1980s and carrying over into the 1990s, the predominant look for big business was the power suit, often accompanied by a contrasting-collar shirt and a power tie. James Bond never went full-on with the power look, but he was undoubtedly influenced by it.
The power suit is a way men overcompensated for what they might have lacked, whether the lacked confidence, power or success. It was a sort of peacock look to attract business rather than romance. Bond never felt the need to wear a full-on power outfit, as his confidence was always enough to put him in whatever position of power he needed to be in.
The power suit was also an American style trend above all else, though it found its way across the world and influenced, but never consumed, Bond’s style. For the ultimate 1980s power suit style on film, Michael Douglas in Wall Street dressed in a more sophisticated version of it, while other actors such as Charlie Sheen copied the look without the same aplomb, executing the mainstream idea of the power suit.
The Power Suit
Derived from styles and details that were trendy from the mid 1930s to the mid 1950s, the power suit exaggerated the proportions with the intent to give a man an Adonis-like physique. Power suits came from Italian fashion brands like Armani and Valentino and Italian tailoring brands like Canali, though many American brands like Hickey Freeman embraced the style as well. Hugo Boss was another popular power suit brand. Countless low-end suit brands chased this trend as well.
The power suit was characterised by large, padded shoulders and a full cut, both to add breadth to the body. To give presence to the chest, the power suit had a low button stance with a low gorge (the seam where the collar meets the lapels) and often had wider lapels. Two buttons were most common, but the button-three jacket was also fashionable. Jetted pockets and vent-less skirts were popular to minimise bulk at the hips, further emphasising the chest.
Double-breasted suits returned to fashion during the power suit era, particularly in low-fastening button-one form, either with a total of four or six buttons. The deep ‘V’ of this style provided an elongated silhouette and exaggerated masculine shape.
Three-piece suits were the power suits for those who earned their power. While two-piece power suits were worn by those striving for power, those people did not commonly touch the three-piece suit. It was for those on top, not the pretenders, and those below knew it had to be earned.
Power suits were most commonly in navy and charcoal grey worsted wool, classic business suitings, for a serious look. Power suits for men were not usually black, which would have been considered too dramatic for the power suit.
Stripes were common for power suits, from fine pinstripes to thicker chalk stripes to fancier multi-stripes. Stripes were commonly grey or white, but they could also introduce a pop of colour in red, yellow or light blue. The ground of the suit had to be dark to be serious, but stripes were used to draw attention.
James Bond’s suits in the 1980s and 1990s often drew from the power suit. Roger Moore’s Douglas Hayward suits used the low button stance to emphasise the chest, but that’s all his suits had in common with the power suit. Moore wore conservative navy and dark grey solid and striped suits in the London scenes, but only to follow custom rather than give himself a power look. With soft shoulders and an unassuming silhouette, his suits in the 1980s were almost the opposite of the power suit. His three-piece suits were to show tradition rather than power.
Timothy Dalton’s large-shouldered suits in his two Bond films in the late 1980s brought more of the power suit look to Bond. His dark fine worsted suits in Licence to Kill are the ultimate power suits, with linebacker shoulders, oversized cuts and low-gorge lapels.
Pierce Brosnan’s Brioni suits in the 1990s also fall under the power suit category, though with the proportions more balanced. They gave his slight build a great deal of presence to make him look more powerful. Brosnan was no stranger to the power suit, wearing all of the quintessential variations of it throughout Remington Steele in the 1980s.
White Collar Shirt Style
There was an elitist ‘white collar’ attitude amongst those who donned the power suit, wanting to feel above ‘blue collar’ workers. While white shirts were popular, coloured and striped shirts with a white collar were also popular and perhaps more pretentious.
Contrasting-collar shirts, sometimes known by the more modern term ‘Winchester shirts’, have a white collar and either self or white cuffs. It’s a classic style that was became popular during the era of detachable collars. The body of the shirt would be something like a blue end-on-end for a more sophisticated look or bold multi-stripes for a flashier look.
Roger Moore wears two striped shirts with white collars and cuffs as Bond in For Your Eyes Only and A View to a Kill, which are just as much classic English day shirts as they are power shirts. They’re part of Bond’s return to classic English style rather than adopting power style, but it demonstrates where the power style came from and was a nod to the popular fashions of the time.
Shirts to accompany power suits often were detailed with point collars and double cuffs. Cufflinks were a way men could show off, along with the Cartier watches that were very popular at the time.
During the 1980s, Bond saved cufflinks for black tie or morning dress, preferring unpretentious button cuffs with his suits and sports coats. By the 1990s Bond started wearing double-cuff shirts with all of his business suits.
The Power Tie
Accompanying the power suit was the power tie, which was just a brightly coloured tie used to draw attention and intimidate. Bright red ties are the quintessential power tie, always making a bold statement. Other bright colours such as orange and yellow also fit into the power tie aesthetic.
Power ties could be solid or have neat patterns. The Hermes tie, in any colour palate, was another type of power tie that those in the know could recognise as a symbol of success.
James Bond wears a few power ties in the 1980s and 1990s. Roger Moore wears solid red ties in Octopussy and A View to a Kill, borrowing from the power look. Pierce Brosnan wears a couple red patterned ties in his Bond films, though some of his bold geometric ties might also be considered power ties based on how they draw attention.
Braces were the ultimate power accessory, and like the power tie they were popularly in red. Braces would be shown off around the office.
Timothy Dalton’s Bond adopted white braces for his evening wear, but Bond never wore braces with his business suits.
For those who preferred belts, a designer belt could make up for it. By the 1990s, designer belts with prominent buckles were almost an essential power suit accessory. Pierce Brosnan’s belts in his Bond films were showpieces.
Bond never dressed in a full-on power outfit, but he dresses in ways that were influenced by the power suit or influenced the power suit. The closest Bond has come to wearing a complete 1980s power suit outfit is during Licence to Kill‘s climax, when he puts on a navy power suit and white shirt. All he needed to complete the look was a red tie. Kwang of Hong Kong Police Narcotics in the film, in fact, completes this look himself.