The tan suit was a staple of James Bond’s wardrobe in the 1980s. The tan suit itself was popular from the 1950s through the 1980s, but it has not been particularly fashionable again since until recently. Whether or not it is trendy, it remains a stylish choice for moderate to warm weather.
Tan suits are more versatile than they’re given credit for. They are not as easily wearable as grey and blue suits, and they’re a distant fourth place after the brown suit. Tan is usually a warm-weather suit (unless it’s made of a heavy cloth like tweed, corduroy or whipcord), but unlike cream and other off-white suits it isn’t strictly a summer or tropical suit. Tan suits in seasonably appropriate cloths can be worn through the warmer half the year in temperate climates and for most of or all of the year in warm locales.
Tan suits are less formal than grey and blue suits, but they are still a traditional business suit. In big cities and in jobs with more formal dress codes, they might not be appropriate, but in many places they can function just as well for work. They are also appropriate for daytime social occasions during the warmer half of the year. Unlike more formal suits, the tan suit can be easily dressed down without a tie.
While tan itself encompasses a few different shades, from a pale yellow-brown to a deeper golden brown known as ‘British tan’, for all intents and purposes the tan suit family includes similar light, warm-toned colours such as beige, sand, camel, khaki and fawn. Light taupe is more muted than tan but also functions similarly in a suit. Anything lighter than beige is in the off-white family, while fawn is on the border of tan and brown. All suits within the tan family can be worn the same way. Read more about shades of beige.
Tan suits have traditionally been made of a variety of different cloths. While they can be made of any kind of material, they are usually made of sportier or lightweight cloths such as tropical wool, wool gabardine, cotton gabardine, cotton drill, cotton poplin, linen, and blends of linen and wool or linen and cotton. Not all tan suits are equally formal or casual. A wool suit will be dressier than a cotton suit, which is dressier than linen suit. A tan wool suit is the most businesslike of the bunch and will not dress down as easily as cotton or linen.
Bond sometimes wears tan suits and cream suits interchangeably. Cream, and other similar off-white colours like ivory and ecru, are a similar but different category than the tan suit. Both are light and warm colours, but tan is more versatile, makes less of a statement and is a little easier to wear. Tan is for warm weather, including spring, summer and warm autumn weather, while cream is exclusively for summer or the tropics. Tan is more businesslike while cream is purely for leisure. Tan won’t show stains nearly as easily as cream, so it doesn’t have to be worn as delicately.
For Sean Connery’s Bond, the light grey suit in plain-weave worsted wool or a wool-and-mohair cloth was his standard suit for warm weather, but Moore introduced to Bond the option of the tan suit. During Sean Connery’s era, the tan suit was for other characters, like for Jack Lord’s Felix Leiter in Dr. No, who wore his tan suit alongside Connery’s light grey wool-and-mohair suit. The tan suit is again relegated to Felix in Quantum of Solace.
James Bond, played by Roger Moore, first wears a suit as Bond from the tan family—in beige—in Live and Let Die. This suit is likely made of a linen-and-wool blend in a plain weave, and Bond wears it in the Caribbean for dropping in on Solitaire for an evening social call. Though tan suit are more daytime than evening, this suit works effectively for a less formal evening function in warm weather. Bond wears only the trousers for the suit the next day.
The tan suit returns on Bond next in For Your Eyes Only in a fawn wool gabardine. Bond wears this suit briefly in Corfu during the day for a visit to church, where the colour blends in perfectly with the sunny Mediterranean surroundings. The tan suit family is an appropriate choice for church in spring and summer, particularly for Easter. Bond wears a similar tan wool gabardine suit in A View to a Kill in San Francisco when he’s undercover as journalist James Stock. The suit makes him look professional but not like someone who works a formal office job. Both places where Roger Moore wears his tan wool gabardine suits have moderate weather, for which such a suit is comfortable.
In between the two wool gabardine suits, Bond wears a lightweight tan cotton suit in Octopussy that is likely made of poplin. Cotton has a cool hand and cotton poplin is especially cool-wearing without wrinkling like linen does. Bond wears this suit when arriving in India, and he’s wearing the suit as a man travelling on business. However, in this context the tan suit has a colonial look to it, particularly considering England’s history with India.
Roger Moore’s warm complexion meant that he looked great in warm colours like tan as well as cream and brown. While there is a flattering shade of tan for every skin tone, Moore’s complexion meant that any shade of tan looked good on him.
In The Living Daylights, the tan wool gabardine suit returns in a sandier shade in Tangier on Timothy Dalton’s Bond. As in the previous two examples, Bond is dressing to look professional. Wool gabardine, while usually very lightweight, has a tight weave that makes the suit not particularly comfortable in hot weather.
Pierce Brosnan wears a tan cotton suit as Bond in GoldenEye in Cuba. Bond has little reason to be wearing a suit here, but it looks as good as a suit can look in the hot setting. He again wears a tan suit in Die Another Day in Cuba, for a professional look that gives him the look of someone important who is less likely to be stopped and questioned when sneaking around. This is a casual linen suit that again has the perfect look for the hot setting.
The tan suit returned in No Time to Die on Daniel Craig’s Bond after a long absence in the series. In lightweight cotton needlecord, this is a much different suit for Bond, but it’s a return to the tan suit for a warm location. Here the suit matches the sandy-coloured stone of his surroundings, helping Bond once again use the color tan to blend in perfectly.