James Bond: The Man in the Grey Flannel Suit

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Just as the book Bond has the dark blue tropical worsted suit, the film Bond has the grey flannel suit. The grey flannel suit is one of James Bond’s most defining looks due to its frequency in the film series. Throughout the series, James Bond wears 12 grey flannel suits in mid grey, dark grey and charcoal shades, mainly in solids with a couple in chalk stripes.

What is a flannel suit?

The flannel suit is a staple of classic menswear, particularly in the British tradition. Flannel cloths are ‘milled’, a process that breaks down the yarns to give them a soft and fuzzy finish. Flannel is most traditionally made from woollen yarns, which are carded to be airy and fluffy. Flannel may also be made from worsted yarns, which are combed to only include longer yarns, making it a less fuzzy and smoother cloth. Both woollen and worsted flannels have a fuzzy finish, but a woollen flannel is fuzzier and has more character. The weave is mostly obscured in a woollen flannel, while the weave of a worsted flannel can be seen through the nap.

A heavy woollen flannel suit in Diamonds Are Forever

The nap that defines flannel gives it its fuzzy look with little sheen and a soft feel. The nap also traps air, making it a warmer cloth. The fluffy, airy yarns of woollen flannel help trap even more air than the worsted flannel, making it the ideal winter suit.

Woollen flannels are more traditional than worsted flannels, but both now have long histories. Worsted flannels can more easily be made in lighter weights, which allows it to behave and feel more like other modern cloths. It’s smoother as well, so it looks more modern. A lightweight woollen flannel cloth will lack body and durability, while a lightweight worsted flannel made of longer fibres will be sturdier. Worsted flannel is going to be more durable than woollen flannel of the same weight. 11 oz is roughly the minimum weight for a woollen flannel, while 9 oz is about the minimum weight for a worsted flannel, and at those light weights there may be sacrifices in performance in exchange for a cooler-wearing suit that is more comfortable in heated buildings.

A lightweight charcoal worsted flannel suit in Tomorrow Never Dies

In the 1960s and 1970s, James Bond’s woollen flannels were likely around 14-16 oz, and the worsted flannels were around 12-13 oz, but a more traditional woollen flannel suit could be 18 oz or heavier, which is the same weight as a topcoat. By the 1980s, Bond’s flannels became a few ounces lighter.

A flannel suit is meant to be warm, so if it’s too lightweight it looses its purpose along with its integrity. A man traditionally wore a flannel suit to stay warm both inside and outside. In locales with a very cold winter, an overcoat would be worn on top of the flannel suit, but in London a traditional flannel suit alone could keep a man comfortable most of the year both inside and outside. The flannel suit was once a very practical suit before central heating became widespread. Today, it can be difficult to wear a traditional flannel suit indoors, particularly a three-piece woollen flannel suit.

Fox Brothers are the original makers of the flannel cloth and are still the industry leaders in classic wool flannel. Holland & Sherry, Harrisons, Huddersfield Fine Worsteds and Vitale Barberis Canonico also have good flannel ranges.

Why Grey?

Throughout the series, Bond wears flannel suits in navy, brown and black, but the majority of his flannel suits are grey. The grey flannel suit is a staple for Sean Connery’s James Bond, appearing in five out of his six EON-series Bond films.

From Russia With Love Flannel Suit

Grey flannel always has a mélange look, with many different shades of grey coming together to form the colour of the cloth. When these colours are mixed together in the nap, it accentuates the fuzzy look of the cloth to make the most of flannel’s visual properties. Navy, on the other hand, is usually made in a flat colour, with the only texture coming from the nap. Black is also always a flat colour, otherwise it wouldn’t be black. Flannel at least adds textural interest to flat colours, but in grey it has more interest.

Flannel suits come in all sorts of colours. Air force blue flannel, as well as other blue-grey shades of flannel, are woven with multiple shades like grey for a mélange look. Browns and tans frequently are woven the same way. Grey, however, is able to have the textural interest without drawing attention to itself. It’s sophisticated while still being subtle.

The Culture of the Grey Flannel Suit

While James Bond loves wearing grey flannel suits, he is not exactly the title character of The Man in the Gray Flannel Suit, a 1955 novel by Sloan Wilson that was made into a 1956 film starring Gregory Peck. In the story, the grey flannel suit represents the average and conformist American post-war middle-class working man. The grey flannel suit did not stand out in 1955; it was the uniform of the office worker who had no individual identity. The suit lacked pattern or colour.

When James Bond wore the grey flannel suit in the 1960s, it similarly marked him as an average man. The legendary menswear writer Alan Flusser described Sean Connery’s Bond style as ‘middle class’, and despite him wearing beautifully tailored English suits, the grey flannel in Anthony Sinclair’s unassuming cut made James Bond look like London’s version of the man in the grey flannel suit. It was Sean Connery who stood out rather than his suits.

James Bond was never the same as the title character in Wilson’s novel, but his grey flannel suits gave him the look of that average middle class man to help him blend in, just as a spy should. James Bond’s cover is that of a man who worked for a company called ‘Universal Exports’, and his grey flannel suits fit the cover of such a businessman. When James Bond wanted a suit for cool weather in the 1960s, it was almost always a flannel.

Flannel suits had fallen out of favour in the 1970s. James Bond wears two grey woollen flannel suits in the first half of the 1970s—as well as two worsted flannel suits in black and navy stripe in Diamonds Are Forever—but flannel suits are nowhere to be seen in three of the 1970s Bond films. Worsteds are more versatile, and perhaps customers started to notice that; they could be worn for more months out of the year and they also looked more modern. Polyester blends had also become popular, which can’t be made into flannel cloths as easily.

Traditional suits were once again in fashion in the 1980s. While worsted wool suits had become the standard uniform of the office worker, flannel suits had also returned. In the 1980s they were once again a staple of James Bond’s wardrobe, albeit in lighter weights than before. The flannel suit presented Bond as a man with a traditional but sophisticated sense of style. For Bond the flannel suit not only signified a return to tradition in fashion but also in the style of the films.

When Pierce Brosnan wore the flannel suit in Tomorrow Never Dies for its final appearance, it continued to portray Bond as sophisticated. Today it still makes a man look sophisticated, and it’s the kind of suit that people who know suits will appreciate. However, its fuzzy nap means that it’s going to look a little old fashioned, compared with smooth and shiny things that tend to look more modern. It’s likely why Bond has not worn a flannel suit in over two decades. Worsted flannels in light weights—like Bond’s suit in Tomorrow Never Dies—look more modern than the heavier woollen flannel, but they’re still a callback to another era.

Goldfinger Charcoal Flannel

The flannel suit is traditionally a daytime suit rather than an evening suit. It’s a suit for both the traditional office and for daytime social events. While there is nothing wrong with wearing it for winter evening events, it isn’t a very formal suit or a special occasion suit. At least it traditionally wasn’t. It’s a warm and fuzzy suit, so it’s meant to be one for comfort rather than for show, though it’s a proper business suit and it’s appropriate for cold-weather funerals. Bond only wears a grey flannel suit in the evening in From Russia with Love, for a casual dinner at a gypsy camp.

While flannel suits are mainly worn by menswear aficionados today, grey flannel is still an essential odd trouser for the well-dressed man. It’s easier to wear flannel today in this context compared to an entire suit. Woollen flannel’s extra texture over worsted flannel makes it a superior odd trouser.

James Bond pairs his charcoal flannel suit trousers with a light grey tweed jacket

On a few occasions, Bond wears his grey flannel suit trousers with his blue blazers and other sports coats. The trousers can effectively serve double-duty, but in reality it is best to have separate trousers from suit trousers to wear with other jackets. This is because trousers tend to wear out sooner than jackets and one would end up with an orphaned suit jacket sooner than later. Flannel trousers will usually wear out faster than worsted trousers, so the problem is exacerbated with flannel.

James Bond’s Grey Flannel Suits

The solid dark grey suit is a staple of Bond’s wardrobe throughout the series, and in most instances it is a flannel suit. James Bond’s first suit in the series in Dr. No, after his black tie introduction, is a dark grey flannel suit. The colour is somewhere between a mid grey and a very dark charcoal grey, but it’s such a shade that depending on the lighting it can look like it is anywhere in that range of colours. By showing it as his first suit, it makes the statement that it is a suit the audience should identify as part of Bond’s essential look. Though Bond wears his dinner suit to the office, it’s possible this grey flannel suit was originally intended for Bond’s office visit, where it would have been in its natural environment. Bond’s boss M wears a mid grey flannel suit there.

Instead, Bond wears his grey flannel suit when he arrives in Jamaica. With his green felt trilby, he looks entirely like he was dressed in his London uniform. Considering Bond needed a heavy chesterfield coat over his dinner suit in London, it must have been cold there, so Bond had dressed for the weather where he came from rather than where he was going. He sweats through the business he has to take care of in Jamaica before he has the opportunity to change into a more suitable lightweight suit for the tropical climate.

Bond continued to wear similar dark grey flannel suits in From Russia with Love, Goldfinger and Thunderball. In the latter two films he wears them as three-piece suits. The flannel suit is commonly made as a three-piece suit, not because it’s a formal suit but because it adds to the warmth. When one traditionally wore the flannel suit for warmth, it was even more practical as a three-piece suit. The waistcoat adds a little formality to the flannel suit, but it is always a somewhat relaxed, but not sporty, suit.

Flannel suit trousers serving double duty

In Dr. No and Thunderball, Bond also wears the trousers from the dark grey flannel suits with his blue blazers.

In From Russia with Love, Bond also wears a charcoal flannel chalk stripe suit. When a flannel suit features a stripe, in most cases it is a chalk stripe. It is known as a chalk stripe because the stripe a somewhat thick line with soft edges and looks as if it was drawn with a piece of chalk. Compared to the sharper pinstripe, the chalk stripe is not as formal yet it is still sophisticated. In a few other films, Bond wears navy flannel chalk stripe suits.

Bond wears three flannel suits in Diamonds Are Forever, but only one is grey. This time he opts for a mid grey woollen flannel rather than he previous darker grey suits. The lighter colour with significant variegation shows off the fuzzy qualities of the flannel.

Roger Moore continues with the grey flannel suit tradition in The Man with the Golden Gun with a double-breasted mid grey chalk stripe suit. Chalk stripe suits are more often in dark shades of grey and blue, but this one in mid-grey looks slightly less formal than the usual chalk stripe suit and helps make James Bond look a little more modern in this still very traditional London office suit.

For Your Eyes Only Charcoal Suit

Grey flannel suits once again become a staple of James Bond’s wardrobe in the 1980s, when James Bond’s wardrobe returned to traditionalism after some fashionably 1970s deviations. In For Your Eyes Only, the opening gun barrel sequence ends on James Bond in a dark grey flannel three-piece suit that’s not so different from what Sean Connery wears in his first four Bond films. It demonstrated that For Your Eyes Only was a break from the absurdist Bond of the 1970s and was bringing the character back to his classic roots. The biggest difference from Connery’s suits is that this one has three buttons and appears to be in a modern lighter weight.

Later in the film when at the Minister of Defence’s office, Bond wears a mid grey flannel suit. This suit is less formal than the dark grey suit, more because of the lighter colour than its lack of waistcoat. The suit was made with a waistcoat, but it probably wasn’t used in the film because Bond had already worn two three-piece suits, the second being a navy flannel chalk stripe.

The flannel suit returns for another office visit in A View to a Kill, this time in a charcoal three-piece. This dark shade was likely chosen so the suit’s trousers could also be worn with the grey tweed jacket in later scenes.

Timothy Dalton Grey Flannel Suit

In another return to the traditional, down-to-earth Bond film with The Living Daylights, Timothy Dalton wears a lightweight mid-grey flannel suit. He wears this suit for a daytime concert, where he’s dressing to look more relaxed than he dressed in London. Little of this suit can be seen, as he mainly wears it under a navy overcoat.

Bond’s final grey flannel suit is on Pierce Brosnan in Tomorrow Never Dies. The cloth is a lightweight charcoal grey worsted flannel made by Loro Piana. Compared to Bond’s other flannel suits, this is likely the only flannel cloth not made in England. It is the lightest weight of all of Bond’s flannels, following trends in the 1990s for achieving the lightest and finest wool suitings. It is the least characteristically ‘flannel’ of all of Bond’s flannel suits, but it maintained the tradition of Bond wearing the grey flannel suit one last time.

45 COMMENTS

  1. I’m just in a dire need for a flannel suit. This serves as a good reminder.

    I was caught up with the heavyweight worsted trend, and I’m pretty much stuck with it since. Hell, I even have a tweed sportscoat before I have a flannel suit.

    Even then, flannel seems to be about as close to a luxury as it could be. I always struggle between a beefy thornproof tweed and flannel, though honestly, one should have one of each, logically.

    Stay toasty, all of you. It’s about to be a cold fall and early winter.

    • Do you have flannel trousers? They’re one of the best things to pair with tweed jackets.

      I will admit that I don’t own a flannel suit. I once had one but it was damaged. Flannel is somewhat delicate, particularly in light weights. As much as I love the idea of a flannel suit, I’m not sure if it’s for me.

      • I have several lengths of flannels, bought off of a known redistributing merchant, waiting to be turned into suits. They’re 14-15 oz each. I always thought if I would have anything flannel, it would be a full three piece suit. Never had any flannel odd trousers, in shameful admission.

        Besides, the tweed coat is a clone correct version of the Goldfinger/Thunderball tweed coat. Of course, there are light brown flannels, but they just don’t do it like the good old cavalry twill.

        Honestly, some of the people who wrote about it were right – always go for heavier flannel, if it’s the woollen type, because the heavier it is, the less likely it will be affected by wear or elements. Flannel is for anybody, but not for everybody, and certainly takes a certain understanding of the cloth to be worn well.

  2. Bond’s uniform indeed! I was inspired to buy a charcoal three-piece from the Oliver Wicks Bond collection advertised here a few years back and the fabric really is nice, and since it’s so rare nowadays that most people I meet are totally fascinated by it, proclaiming their love for how soft it feels. I think it really could explode back into fashion based on that novelty, but time will tell. I’d love to see Bond in flannel again. It’s a pity Craig never wore it, but I’m not surprised either. It’s not his style, and I couldn’t imagine him wearing something quite so soft and heavy looking, he liked his tight, sleek fabrics.

    • Actually, Craig would have benefitted most from a well tailored heavy flannel suit. If only he looked like how Matt edited him a few years back, then the revised shape of that suit, in a hearty, good flannel would have been nice. The sleek fabrics really annoyed me. Took away everything that makes for a proper outfit, and the poor fit further made him looked thug-like.

      • I completely agree with every word. If Craig had kept the QoS Regency cut and fit and added some flannels or serges or even tweeds to his repertoire then I guarantee we’d all be lauding his tenure as one of the most stylish in Bond history. It’s not his style, but I wish it was.

      • I would, too, if he had retained the Regency. In QoS, he looked super tense, and the way the suit was fitted to him made the situation as intense as ever. All we needed then and there was some very dull, light-attracting cloth to further intensify his volatility. The light-reflecting cloth that was far too often used later on made him looked silly, and the poor fit made it looked tiresome, not intense.

        It could have been his style, if only he sat down and analyze what Bond is all about, and if only he read Matt’s writings. But I guess he reflects the loud minority of this generation.

  3. I definitely love the look of a flannel suit and can attest to flannels amazing qualities. But I agree in that I have no use for a full suit as I live in the Southern US where it’s unbearably hot and humid most of the year and the few times it is cold we just use air conditioning.

  4. Not sure about Bond’s reason for preferring gray for flannel, but personally I don’t like navy for flannel because anything navy with nap like flannel attracts gray fuzz which can easily be seen.

    Also I’m not sure I’d get a flannel suit either because of it being delicate as well. I know Chris Despos has said he always brings customers back in after a certain time period (I forget how long) to readjust flannel suits (he may have said just the trousers i forget) because I guess they lose some shape. They seem to require a little more care which is not something I’m interested in. I may consider a pair of trousers in the future but in general I like low maintenance menswear.

    • Do yourself a favour – never wear any flannel less than 14 oz in weight. People just love wearing anything lightweight these days, and unless it’s a very good worsted, all lightweight fabrics will lose shapes very soon after their first wear.

      I don’t quite get it, possibly because I live in the Northwest and I commute and walk daily, but I never have that affection towards lightweight fabrics, or anything less than 9-10 oz.

      • That certainly sounds nice in theory, but in reality I will roast in anything 14oz at work between fluctuating temperatures outside and overuse of heating indoors during fall and winter.

      • I hear ya, Giselle, but hell, everywhere I go to, they’re very, very stingy with heat. I remember working and volunteering at my local college, and it was January, but barely any heat in there at all. Times like that, I was just super thankful for my heavier suits, but really, people over here are very stingy with heat for some reason.

        That, or I’m very poor at thermal retention.

      • It often depends on the kind of heat used. In old New York City buildings where I live and work, the steam heat makes it very hot. This problem must go back at least 100 years here, hence the popularity of lighter suits worn with overcoats in winter.

      • No reason to eschew it because of the aforementioned inconveniences, but like any other winter fabrics, once you go, go big, not go home.

      • Thanks Matt. Do you know which mills/merchants provide it these days? Seems hard to find. Nothing at Merchant Fox for example.

        S

      • Holland & Sherry have a beautiful wool doeskin that I just saw yesterday, though it’s not on their website. It is still available. You can also look into Hainsworth, who have a large collection of doeskin. It wouldn’t surprise me if Holland & Sherry source theirs from them, but that’s just a guess.

  5. In From Russia With Love, Bond’s codename was Mr. Somerset.

    Somerset is the home of flannel, being the location of Fox Brothers & Co, since 1772.

    So perhaps his codename could be interpreted as the man with the flannel suit?

    • Hmm… Unless I’m missing out on anything – and please correct me – isn’t Yorkshire the home of woollen flannel?

      • Hardy Minnis do some rather nice and hard wearing flannels in Huddersfield (I have a couple of odd trousers from them) but is better with fresco and in my opinion Fox Bros are far superior and luxurious to wear (I have two DB suits and some flannel trousers from Fox).

  6. Great article, Matt. Flannel is indeed a rare beast nowadays (just like so much else) and yes, with air conditioning etc it just fell out of favour. Most people wouldn’t recognise what the fabric even is today. Indeed, when I picked up a light grey flannel suit from some Italian brand, in the late 1990s, I must confess that I didn’t either. I did like wearing it though. I hadn’t another for some time after that. Through your blog and knowledge I’m a lot more aware of this fabric and its properties.

    Interesting that the mid grey suit from FYEO as made with a waistcoat. Have you seen images of the full suit? I can see the logic behind why it would have been and I can see, as you’ve said, the logic behind why they decided that two three pieces were enough in one movie! I think Connery’s DAF three piece office suit is a beauty and the very unusual colour grenadine tie really makes it memorable.

    I’ve had replicas of the TMWTGG suit and the Hayward charcoal three pieces made and I have to say, I love them all (though neither have been worn for some time now!). I also had a heavy Hayward DB flannel suit in charcoal which I no longer have as well as a light to mid grey DB from him dating from the early 80s which has been hanging in my wardrobe for many years, never worn!

    The solitary occasion where Bond seems to have worn navy flannel is, under his overcoat, in New York in LALD. It’s a shame we don’t see more of this suit. One of the most interesting flannels is the dark cool brown flannel which Moore wears with his leather blouson in AVTAK. I bought 3 metres of what I believe must be the same flannel from a mill in the UK a few years back and had two pairs of trousers made in this fabric. It’s very versatile, easy to wear and under a lot of light looks like charcoal and under certain other light the brown shows through. I think it was described by the seller as a “melange”. It work great in this part of the world. In San Francisco were Bond wears it? I suppose in autumnal San Francisco it might just work.

    • Thanks for your thoughts, David. There are photos of Moore in the grey flannel waistcoat in Hayward’s shop with Hayward in a book of Terry O’Neill photos.

      I believe the navy Live and Let Die suit is a worsted, not a flannel. But Bond wears solid navy flannel in From Russia with Love and Octopussy. There are navy flannel chalk stripes in On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, Diamonds Are Forever and For Your Eyes Only.

      • Thanks Matt. I’ll have to have a look at that the next time I’m in London!

        I should’ve said plain navy in my comment and as I’ve never seen the LALD suit closely enough or in sufficient detail I’d leave the exact fabric to your expert eye. With Octopussy I hadn’t considered this in terms of flannel because of the environment in which it was worn (Summer in Berlin) and I’d completely forgotten about the FRWL suit (without checking; this is the suit worn to the gypsy encampment?). The flannel chalk stripe was a slightly unusual choice for an oil rig off the coast of Southern California. I’d always thought that to be worsted and still very City of London for the context in which it was worn. The OHMSS and FYEO chalk stripes were, on the other hand, ideal for where they were worn.

      • I’m sure the navy flannel suit in Octopussy is a worsted flannel, not unlike your suit that I featured here: https://www.bondsuits.com/breaking-down-a-douglas-hayward-suit/. Berlin is never all that hot, so the flannel suit was probably bearable, and it fits Bond’s cover as an English furniture manufacturing representative. The Diamonds Are Forever chalk stripe suit is worsted flannel from its matte look and slight fuzziness. The navy flannel suit in From Russia with Love is the one in M’s office. English tailors love their flannels!

  7. When I was working in a tailors we always used to encourage that if someone was coming in to buy a solid grey suit, that it should be in flannel. For the reason like you stated, it pops. It becomes palpable. These were women that I worked with, and they couldn’t understand why men would wear flat featureless grey suits. The only thing less attractive in their eyes were men fully sheathed in corduroy. Which kind of explains why I remained single for nearly 35 years.

    • Peter, you’re just single because you aren’t surrounded by the right women. My girlfriend despise any flat or shiny grey fabric, as do I. The only other grey fabric either of us would take is grey fresco, or else an interesting grey like that of the Goldfinger suit. Grey is naturally boring, so it needs a lot of help, and that help is either a very subtle plaid pattern, or the fuzzy texture of flannel. Flannel especially stands out because it denotes warmness and reliability. Hell, even thornproof tweed in grey looks and feels better than some lousy, flat grey worsted. We feast with our eyes before we immerse or enjoy anything.

      You’re doing a lot of things right, hence your loneliness. But remember, that loneliness will be temporary, and doing it right means you’ll end up right, so don’t worry if you have to stand alone. I used to be lonely, too, before my girl comes into my life.

  8. I understand flannel was originally invented as clothing for Welsh miners, keeping them warm when working underground, so in that context wearing a flannel suit on an oil rig may actually not be inappropriate…

  9. As you comment, flannel is a delicate material. I totally agree with you.

    Three years ago, I made a suit 14 oz fabric of ゛famous〝 classic Flannel.

    I live in Tokyo and wear it for four months a week from December to March.
    I wore it only once a week. I did that for 3 years.

    What do you think then?

    The fabric in the crotch area has become so thin that it is almost transparent.
    There is no problem with a normal suit made at the same time.

    The flannel is the problem.

    Even in Japan, men’s fashion magazines talk about flannel’s splendor like a myth, and at the same time say that it is durable.

    But magazines never tell the fragility of flannel, which is an inconvenient truth for them. The fashion leaders who work for apparel companies in magazines have an unusual amount of suits.

    That’s why they say flannel is durable.

    I think it’s cowardly.

    Such excessive hoaxes have been rampant in the apparel industry until now.

    However, in this modern age where the information network has developed so much, such things will no longer work.

    I earnestly wish that.

    I’m sure there are people who are looking at this blog who want to make a flannel suit as a result of admiring 007.

    As a senior to them, I would advise them to only make flannel suits if they have money they can afford to lose.

    Let me be clear again.

    Flannel is expensive, but there is nothing about the durability that matches the price!

    • I’m sorry your flannel proved to be so delicate. Do your trousers have a crotch lining? That can help with the wear.

      I recommend sticking with flannel only for trousers, since when it wears out you don’t have to worry about a suit wearing out. Worsted flannel is better for suits, but it should also be in a heavy weight.

      • Thank you for your reply. There was no lining in the crotch area.

        My tailor suggested that when I make suits in the future, I should add a crotch lining as you said.

        But I don’t know if this will solve the problem.

        I wrote a strong opinion, but I think my opinion is a little unfair this time unless I have experience wearing flannel pants with lining.

        But this is just my hunch…
        I think maybe lining works, but in the case of flannel it doesn’t work as expected.

        I’ve been talking about flannel with a focus on practical and financial aspects.

        I think that is also unfair, so I would like to add a word at the end.

        As Bond showed in the film, a flannel suit gives a man a classic, timeless style.

        So no matter how expensive it is, no matter how durable it is.

        If it’s cool, it’s worth making a suit.

        James Bond, what a sinful man not only to women but to men as well!

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