James Bond Hints at Power Business Style in the 1980s

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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.

Timothy Dalton wearing an Italian-American styled power suit in Licence to Kill

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.

Pierce Brosnan wearing a double-breasted power suit and a power tie in Remington Steele

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.

Roger Moore hinting at the 1980s power suit style in Octopussy while also dressing like a conservative English businessman

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 wearing a power suit in Licence to Kill

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 wearing a ’90s version of the power suit in GoldenEye

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 wearing a striped white-collared shirt in For Your Eyes Only, recalling a traditional English look more than an ’80s power 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.

Roger Moore wearing a striped white-collared shirt and a power tie in A View to a Kill

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.

Pierce Brosnan wearing a power tie in The World Is Not Enough

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.

Accoutrements

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.

Pierce Brosnan wears many attention-grabbing Dunhill belts and cufflinks in his Bond films, as a way of power dressing in the 1990s

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.

54 COMMENTS

  1. Interesting article, a topic I was always curious to learn since I wasn’t born in the power suit’s prime time. Could one wear a strong-shouldered silhouette suit (say, a classic Roman suit) with a red tie and all the accouterments today and not give this “power suit” effect?

  2. The thing I disliked about the power suit the most back in the 1980s is that, as the decade wore on, they really took over the world of suiting. In the early part of the decade, power suits co-existed with traditional English, Italian, and American cuts, but good luck trying to find anything off the peg that didn’t have power suit elements by 1989. It’s no wonder so many people who didn’t have corporate jobs started wearing vintage suits from the 50s and 60s as a reaction.

  3. I wasn’t a fan of the TND belt, but I never really thought much of Brosnan’s belts in TWINE. Maybe I am too much of the 90s to notice. I always thought the Bilbao belt was just a plaque belt which I’ve seen before, and the other belt he wears in Azerbaijan is such a mainstay of dunhill they still sell it to this day. However living in NYC where some people certainly continue to wear ‘power suits’ and the like, maybe I’m biased.

    Our President wears Brioni suits and red power ties, but somehow the effect just isn’t the same….

    • I also live in NYC, and always have, so the current Prez was always in the gossip pages when I was growing up. He doesn’t look as good in the power suit today mainly because he’s so out of shape, the garments themselves look like they’ve seen better days, and the red tie is worn much too long. Not trying to make a political statement here at all, but if you look at photos from the 1980s, he looks better in the same outfit. But yeah, the previous 5 presidents all looked better in a suit once they took office than he does now. Even Clinton’s power suits, which were dated when compared to what Brosnan was wearing at the same time, were well put together.

  4. Michael Keaton as Bruce Wayne in 1989’s Batman wore power business suits, though they do look a little more subtle and better fitted then Tim Dalton’s baggy suits of the same year. Interestingly and a bit off topic Keaton at 5’9 and weighed 158 pounds at the time has been described slight in build where Pierce Brosnan who is 6’2 and was only 164 pounds at the time of Goldeneye in 1995 gets described as slight these days. I think Keaton had a slim and in proportion build to his height. A lot of action hero’s weren’t like Arnie and Sly in the 80’s and 90’s, Mel Gibson was fit during this period, but I wouldn’t say he was that muscular.

    • Another interesting tangent might be the suits Tim Robbins wears in “The Player”, he only wears 4×1 button, mostly peak lapel suits in a really light weight. Interesting colors too.

    • Good observation! I think Keaton isn’t “heroic looking” by comic book standards. (Which are impossible for most people.) I know that comic book fans weren’t terribly impressed with the casting choice at first. The Armani suits (and batsuits) do a pretty good job of building him up, but I’d also argue Keaton’s performance helped. (“Now you wanna get nuts? Come on! Let’s get nuts.”)

      • Keaton was the best Batman by far. Tim Burton stated that part of the rationale for not casting Arnold or someone similarly so well built was that it had to make sense for the character to need to wear the suit to project strength, while if someone like Arnold or Dwayne Johnson was Bruce Wayne they wouldn’t need to dress like a bat.

      • From personal experience: Exercise because you want better quality of life and to be fit in your own unique way, not because you’re trying for a mainstream idea of attractiveness. Once I took that attitude, I felt a lot better about myself. More confident.

      • In the words of the G’vnor stay fit and stay strong always. You could learn so much just by looking at the character rather than the whole cinematic appeal. Judo, jiujitsu and sambo are great things to learn when the combat hits the ground and you end up building endurance. As for the boxing, every man must learn to throw a jab and hook.
        Remember stomach exercises till you abdominals scream!

        keep firing comrades,
        Saul

    • His Goldeneye weight winds up being closest to Fleming’s description of Bond, though he probably looks the best in his suits in TWINE.

    • I think that was part of the appeal of Bruce Willis, that he was the size and look of an in-shape normal human being and not a steroid monster like Arnold, but was tough as nails. Brosnan, despite being more of a dandy, especially as Bond, had a similar air about him.

    • You raise several interesting points: (1) Brosnan was the closest of all the actors to 007 as described in the books: tall, slim, with straight black hair and blue eyes. (2) There has been an escalation in the physical appearance of action stars which corresponds to the rise and dominance of the superhero movie. Michael Keaton as Batman wast 5’9″ and weighed 158 pounds; Christian Bale was 5’11” and weighed 190 lbs; Ben Affleck (the most recent Batman) was 6’3″, 235 lbs with a 17″ bicep AND he still had a layer of fake muscles built into the Batsuit for an even more imposing presence. (3) Ironically, both Stallone and Gibson are more muscular now (thanks to growth hormone) than they were in their heyday in the 80’s.

      • I think weights can be misleading. Some people can have a lot of additional muscle mass without looking ‘blocky’ or it being especially noticeable. A young Brosnan or Connery could probably have tripled their muscle mass and still looked lithe and athletic. Growth hormone is always a bad idea though and seems to lead to builds that look silly rather than action heroesque.

    • Even though i said that Brosnan was the closest of all the actors to 007 as described in the books, especially in his slim physique, there is no doubt that the next Bond, whoever he is, will be buffed up to near superheroic proportions. Let’s hope he doesn’t look ridiculous in his suits (assuming people are still wearing suits by the time the next Bond comes out).

      • Bond’s suits are his superhero costume to a lot of the audience these days most likely.

    • I will say, though, that even though Fleming originally thought Connery looked like “an overgrown truck driver”, Connery’s imposing physical presence (especially by the standards of the early 60’s) helped establish 007’s larger-than-life persona.

  5. I think the fit and double-breasted style helped give Keaton more physical presence in a similar way to how they did for Brosnan. He is also dressed like someone who doesn’t want to draw attention to themselves, with the various other characters in 1989 and Batman Returns wearing outrageous and highly stylized suits (e.g. Jack Nicholson’s and Christopher Walken’s characters). For example, I quite like the charcoal with subtle windowpane suit Bruce Wayne wears in the scene where he is in the library with Alfred and the Navy dbl breasted suit he wears on his date with Vickie Vale. What I don’t understand is why Keaton virtually never wears the double-breasted jackets buttoned. Maybe it is because he likes it flapping like a cape. Or maybe, given Dalton also didn’t wear his double breasted blazer closed in Goldeneye, it is to reflect a kind of sprezzatura in the early 90’s or that goes with doube breasted? I was only a few years old at the time so have no idea.

    • I missed Dalton in Goldeneye – was it any good?

      I actually liked that Brosnan-on-the-yacht outfit. A French blue shirt with a DB blazer may date it, but IMO not in a bad way. I agree leaving the jacket unbuttoned was a nod to making it casual as it may have seemed a bit uptight for the Riviera to be all buttoned up. It’s too bad that DB jackets almost never look good unbuttoned. As stated above, just too much cloth flapping around.

  6. I just noticed that in our family portraits my dad is basically wearing the same thing in 1980 as he is in 1989, a grey pinstripe suit with a red tie. The look is more Brooks Brothers, or like Roger Moore; Traditional, but grey pinstripe and red tie is kind of the power look. It just goes to show how common the look really was.

    On examination it is actually two different suits, and ties, i’ve ended up with the suit from 1989, its a 3 piece Polo/Nordstrom, have not had occasion to wear that one yet!

      • I think it’s just him liking his trouser waist to fit that way. He sticks things in there every now and then, and even before he had lots of pleats for a generous fit. He doesn’t want the belt suctioning onto his bellybutton.

      • That’s a somewhat unfair assessment about belts. Trousers are not going to have a 100% perfect fit at all times in the waist, especially if they’re belted versus having side adjusters or braces (where the waist can be a little looser). Even the most chiseled physiques, like Daniel Craig’s, fluctuate a bit in the waist throughout the day depending on what they eat, how much, and what their exercise routine is like.

    • Brosnan’s tie game in TWINE was actually exceedingly and consistently on point, particularly the knots. They were never quite as good before or since, which I never quite understood (I assume he ties them himself and not the costume person).

      • It depends on the costume department. Some control everything down to the underwear the actor wears, even when it’s unseen. (A costume assistant told me an actor wanted them to put on her brassiere… which is just a bit weird even if it was provided by the costume department.)

        You can tell when Connery knotted his own ties, because he personally uses the Windsor knot. I find a lot of people who do only ever learned that knot and nothing else.

      • I think covid delayed things…. won’t be ready this year (for sure), but we might see something in 2021…

      • As for me its the Bilbao! Did you look at the magnoli version of the red die another day tie? If so, what was your take on it?

    • I do have one of the Magnoli ties, Saul, he did two versions. One was more ruby coloured with a pink caste, one more like garnet which is a bit darker and more brown in colour.

      I have the pinkish one and it’s beautiful, Though I wish I had the darker. Not that mine’s bad, just that I prefer the other. I think an accurate colour is somewhere between the two in a true rich red.

      When it comes to quality, I’m pretty happy with his ties. But I actually got my hands on a proper T&A version of the copper one Brosnan wears at the start of TND, and when compared with the replica the difference is night and day. That’s not a slight, and Magnoli himself would be the first to admit it. You get what you pay for, and he’s offering cheaper alternatives.

      I’ve just got to the point where I want really good quality ties and I love the way T&A feels. I trawl eBay for good deals and I haven’t been let down, even second hand.

      • I have the “Craig” tie from Magnoli, which was a limited run where he basically made lemons into lemonade with an incorrectly-coloured batch of fabric. It was the Casino Royale blue tie colours but in the Quantum of Solace pattern. It’s not bad and knots decently, but definitely nowhere near the luxury ties I have. I do not have personally own any ties from T&A, Tom Ford, or Brioni yet though.

        It should be mentioned there is something of a moral grey area in regards to these replicas, being pieces “inspired by” our fandom. Some may feel more or less strongly about “counterfeit” tie designs, especially in regards to ties that are no longer made by the original designers.

  7. Speaking of Christian Bale, I think he has worn some of the best-executed examples of the “power suit” look on screen, both as Patrick Bateman and as Bruce Wayne, the latter character dressed in Armani by Lindy Hemming, so there is a bit of a Bond connection there!

  8. Two things:
    Bob Ringwood who dressed Michael Keaton as Batman and Bruce Wayne (or vice versa) was to dress LTK but dropped out to be replaced by Ms Tillen. We would have had power suits anyhow…but I prefer Keaton’s over the Stefano Ricci suits for Dalton. It is a shame Tillen did such a poor job on Bond as the rest is wonderful (the girl’s wardrobe and the villains are spot on, the Teba was brilliant in concept).
    As for Dunhill cufflinks, they are not Dunhill in TWINE’s PTS sequence in Bilbao but Georg Jensen. Still showy though…

  9. The two pics above of Moore are a nice ‘before and after’ demo of his blepharoplasty.
    On the former his eyes look slitted giving him a cold, calculating demeanour. Post surgery he looks like a frightened cat!

  10. Matt,

    Have you re-evaluated the clothes in License to Kill lately? I get the impression that your articles are a bit softer now than before. Some examples from before: “terribly outdated style”, “sartorial failure”, “the cut of the suit is unforgivable”, “looks like a rental” and “the sloppy back on Dalton’s suit is unacceptable.” Is Dalton’s clothing actually better than its reputation you think?

    • I have re-evaluated some of the clothes, though I still think they are too much of their time and not one of the better examples of that time. My personal opinions of the clothes have not changed, but I’m trying to take a less judgemental approach to looking at the clothes now.

  11. Every blue moon I break out my Dad’s power suit from the late 80’s I inherited (meaning when he cleaned out his closet. He is very much alive). Navy blue with probably the oddest pinstripe (light blue and red). Although one has to look rather close to notice the colors. Low gorge, low buttoning stance, two buttons. The padding isn’t too obnoxious thankfully. I’m certain they were toned down as my Dad and I both posess wide shoulders. Regardless, it is a 100% wool suit with an 80 weight, tailored in my hometown, basically an impossible item to find these days. I joked about wearing it to my daughter’s baptism, as my Dad wore it for mine.

  12. I actually like the old Brioni suits with the padded shoulders that Brosnan wore. It’s too bad that Brioni’s current suits don’t have those shoulders anymore (the new ones also have too high of a button stance IMO). Hard to find that look anymore. I prefer it for myself, just with a less boxy waist.

    My father had a thing for 80s/90s Armani. Their cuts have since changed as well. Now they have less to no padding, high stance, high gorge.

    • I agree with you on all points. I can tell you by experience you can still find this look on Ebay. There are some numerous good deals out there regarding Brioni suits, often in brand new condition, and often styled in this particular look.

    • I agree ! This one had a rather subtle look for a power tie. A much better blue, white and red combination than what Trump wore, even if the suitmaker was the same ahah

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