As of late, the notion of ‘timeless style’ is increasingly being questioned. Styles have always changed throughout history, in men’s fashions from decade to decade and in women’s fashions from season to season, so nothing is ever entirely timeless. All fashions come and go, and then they usually return in the future in an evolved form.
The most we can hope for with timeless fashions are ones we can look at decades later and think still look good, even if they do look very much of their time. Fashions ebb and flow between trimmer and fuller cuts and fits, and larger proportions and smaller proportions. Not going too far in one direction or another can prevent clothes from looking bad years later.
Exaggerated details can look very dated very quickly: very wide or very skinny lapels, flared or drainpipe trousers, overly tight or excessively baggy clothes. The extreme fashions can be very unflattering, which draws more attention to the clothes than the person wearing them. Clothes that draw less attention to themselves and more to the person wearing them are going to be more timeless.
The following James Bond films feature some of the most timeless suit cuts and styles. These occur in transitional fashion periods, where one extreme was on the way out and another was on the way in. These suits are all fairly representative of the proportions of the era, though the specific silhouettes of each tailor and maker are more refined than the ordinary ready-to-wear suit of the time. These examples focus only on the suits and jackets themselves, not on the accessories.
Dr. No (1962)
Anthony Sinclair’s tailoring for Sean Connery in Dr. No had at this point been the standard look for London’s West End tailors for about 30 years, with only a little variation. By 1962, the baggy cuts that came into fashion over a decade earlier in response to war rationing had fallen out of favour, but trim cuts had not yet found their way into mainstream fashion.
The lapels are slightly narrow, which was a trend that started in the late 1950s, but into the 1960s they would get much narrower. The cut is well-balanced; the jacket is full by today’s standards but by no means is it baggy. The jacket has a medium button stance. The trousers are pleated and taper to a trim hem, but they aren’t overly narrow. The suit in Dr. No only draws attention from its good cut.
Only in the 1970s, when very wide lapels and flared trousers were in fashion, would the Dr. No cut have looked outdated, at least to those who preferred the contemporary fashions.
On Her Majesty’s Secret Service (1969)
In 1969 the narrow proportions of the decade were no longer cutting edge, and the newly fashionable airplane-wing lapels and bell-bottom trousers were for the young counterculture—George Lazenby’s generation—and not yet a part of mainstream fashion. Bond would adopt wide lapels two years later and flared trousers four years later.
In On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, Dimi Major cut a trimmer suit for George Lazenby, but nothing is excessive. The lapels are a medium width and the trousers no longer have pleats. The trousers have a slightly narrow straight leg to identify them as English trousers of the late 1960s, but they don’t draw attention. The most notable fashionable is detail steeply slanted hacking pockets, which became fashionable in the 1960s but are now considered a timeless English detail.
Bond wears both button-two and button-three suits, styles that shared the shop racks and men’s wardrobes for a century until a few years ago when the button-three style fell out of favour. It’s bound to return.
Octopussy takes place during the next fashion transition period, when the 1970s’ wide lapels and flared trousers were completely out of fashion, and the full-cut, linebacker-shouldered, low-gorge (where the collar meets the lapels) power suit with pleated trousers that was on the rise had not fully taken hold. Douglas Hayward’s soft-shouldered suits for Roger Moore are aware of the exaggerated 1970s fashions and intentionally try to avoid the the pitfalls of the previous decade.
The overall style from Hayward’s former partner Dimi Major returned, with medium-width lapels and no trouser pleats, but the trouser legs have a more moderate width. The only clear mark of the 1980s is the low button stance on the jackets, which was fashionable at the time. However, it was also a trademark of Doug Hayward and not necessarily a mark of the times in Hayward’s mind.
1985’s A View to a Kill features the same suit cuts, but at this time the power suit had come into mainstream fashion, and baggy cuts would soon start to take hold.
Die Another Day (2002)
By 2002, the 1990s’ baggy look had waned and balanced proportions were in. The interest in ‘timeless style’ was popular at this time, as tailored fashions recalled the 1930s and 1940s more than they ever had since. The 1930s and 1940s is often held as the gold standard of modern tailored menswear and considered to be the most timeless because of the balanced proportions.
Brioni made Pierce Brosnan’s suits in The World Is Not Enough to classic proportions recalling this past era, and Die Another Day continues with the same overall style. The latter film earns a spot on this list because it features both button-two suits along with Brosnan’s quintessential button-three suits, showing how both styles can fit into a wardrobe like the previous two films on this list do. The film has a fairly unremarkable wardrobe, but that is why it doesn’t look outdated almost two decades later.
Casino Royale continues with a similar aesthetic, but with a higher button stance, higher gorge and wide-legged trousers that will more obviously date it to the era.
Dinner jackets from this era have no vents, also following the convention from the 1930s and 1940s that many people still strictly adhere to. Though Bond had worn non-vented dinner jackets before, in all the other films mentioned on this list his dinner jackets follow the modern English convention for double vents.
Quantum of Solace (2008)
The ’00s was a transitional fashion period for menswear. By 2008, full cuts were out but the skinny cuts that would become mainstream a few years later were practically exclusive to the runway. Daniel Craig’s Tom Ford suits in Quantum of Solace have a trimmer cut, but they’re not too tight. The suit jackets now feature the ‘three-roll-two’ style that is essentially a button-two suit with third top button in the lapel, a style that was popular in mid-20th century America as well as with Neapolitan tailors.
Despite this film being over a decade old now, the fashions hold up exceptionally well.