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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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 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 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.
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 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.
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.