There are many rules about how to dress classically and properly that the iGent follows. These rules are based on 1930s and 1940s mens fashions but are more limited than the ways that people dressed then. There’s much more room for individuality in dressing within the confines of classic style. As menswear fashions have constantly changed since the “Golden Age” of menswear, even those who aspire to dress classically should be aware of how menswear has changed in that time. A fashion from 60 years ago might now be as classic as one from 80 years ago. There are many rules that Bond breaks but does not flout because he’s only following the customs of how people were dressing in his location during his times. Here are the “rules” and how James Bond breaks them, along with a few common misconceptions.
iGent Rule: A dinner jacket should not have notched lapels. That is a recent invention.
James Bond: Dinner jackets have featured notched lapels since the Edwardian era and do not signify a cheaper dinner jacket, as is often stated. It is true that many suit manufacturers make their dinner jackets with notched lapels instead of peaked lapels or a shawl collar because it is easier, and thus cheaper, for them to use the same pattern that they use for a standard business suit.
But that isn’t the case for Bond’s bespoke tailors Anthony Sinclair and Douglas Hayward, who made dinner jackets with notched lapels for stylistic reasons. Notched-lapel dinner jacket have come in and gone out of fashion over the years and have never been completely accepted by the dandies amongst us, who don’t like the style because it makes the dinner jacket look more like a suit jacket than peaked lapels or a shawl collar does. That is perfectly valid opinion, and it is one Bond has shared since GoldenEye. The notched-lapel dinner jacket is a less formal variation than the other styles, and as dinner jacket have taken a more formal place in society than they originally held, the notched lapel style is less relevant than it used to be when Bond would simply put on a dinner jacket for dinner.
iGent Rule: A dinner jacket should not have vents.
James Bond: The best English tailors have been making dinner jackets with double vents since the 1960s, and many of Bond’s dinner jackets, starting with Dr. No in 1962, have featured double vents. Americans have been placing single vents on dinner jackets for about as long. Most jackets in the 1930s and 1940s had no vents, whether they were dinner jackets, suit jackets or sports coats. While vents originated on sports coats to help them drape better on a horse, they are commonplace now on suits. If they could make their way to suit jackets they are also appropriate on a dinner jacket. The English commonly use double vents on dinner jackets because they are less sporty than single vents are, which are purely designed for horseback. Then again, the morning coat, the current pinnacle of daytime dress, was designed for horseback.
iGent Rule: A dinner jacket should not have slanted pockets.
James Bond: This is one of the more legitimate rules that Bond breaks. Even more so than vents, slanted pockets are a very sporty detail that most traditionalists throughout the world consider inappropriate for dinner jackets. But if all the other details of the dinner jacket are classic it’s a fun way to make the dinner jacket something different. Bond wears dinner jackets with slanted pockets in the early 1970s, when slanted pockets or hacking pockets were fashionable. Roger Moore wore the style best in The Man with the Golden Gun, where his dinner jacket’s slanted pockets did not have pocket flaps. By eliminating the flaps typically found on hacking pockets, it eliminates one of the sporty elements and brings it closer to the ideal dinner jacket pocket.
iGent Rule: A shirt for black tie must have a pleated or bib front.
James Bond: While these shirts are most traditional, a shirt without a fancy front can also be acceptable for black tie. This is especially the case if the shirt is made of silk or is a formal white-on-white weave cotton, like what Bond wears in Thunderball and Casino Royale.
iGent Rule: A shirt for black tie must have studs, though a fly front is an acceptable modern alternative.
James Bond: While James Bond has worn both of these classic shirt styles in the evening, a soft-fronted shirt with nice mother-of-pearl buttons has been a classic shirt for black tie since the 1930s. This style came from England, though many well-dressed Americans have also worn it.
iGent Rule: With a single-breasted dinner jacket it is necessary to wear a waistcoat or cummerbund.
James Bond: James Bond has only occasionally worn a waist-covering under his dinner jackets, and it’s mostly in his last three films that he has done so in the form of a cummerbund. The English have considered a waist-covering to be unnecessary for black tie since the 1960s, and Bond never wore one during that decade. Bond might consider a cummerbund unnecessary and a waistcoat a bit dandy. The waist-covering has mostly survived in America since the time Bond initially discarded it, but as Bond is British he finds it perfectly acceptable to forego the waist-covering. A cummerbund can help mask a white triangle of shirt exposed by a jacket with a high button stance and trousers with a low rise, which might be the case with Daniel Craig’s clothing. But if the jacket has a medium or low button stance and the trousers have a high rise the cummerbund is not missed.
iGent Rule: Shoes for black tie must be patent leather.
James Bond: Daniel Craig’s Bond wears black calf leather shoes with his dinner jackets. Though patent leather shoes have always been considered most proper, many now consider plainer and more formal styles of well-polished black calf shoes to be more elegant than patent leather.
iGent Rule: Shoes for black tie must be plain-toe oxfords or pumps.
James Bond: Though one can not go wrong with the iGent recommendations, there are a number of other acceptable choices for black tie footwear. Cap toe oxfords in patent leather are a very traditional choice for black tie, and they are an option that Bond’s shoemaker John Lobb St. James’s has promoted. The plain-toe two-tie or three-tie derby on a trim last is an elegant shoe and one that Sean Connery and Daniel Craig have appropriately worn for black tie. This shoe should not be confused with the chunky American blucher, which is not an appropriate shoe for evening wear. George Lazenby, Roger Moore and Timothy Dalton have worn slipper-style plain-toe shoes with a plain toe in their Bond films, another acceptable choice for black tie, even if done in a more modern fashion.
Popular Misconception: Braces and a cummerbund should not be worn together.
James Bond: Some people say that braces and a cummerbund should not be worn together. The actual rule is that braces and a belt should not be worn together because they accomplish the same task and thus make a man look overly concerned that his trousers will fall down. However, a cummerbund does not hold up one’s trousers and is not a belt. A cummerbund is a waist-covering like a waistcoat and thus does not interfere with braces. James Bond wears both braces and a cummerbund in films like Licence to Kill and Skyfall. This is something that iGents and Bond agree on, but it comes up frequently and I thought this would be a good place to address it.
Suits and Jackets
iGent Rule: A single-breasted jacket must be unbuttoned when seated.
James Bond: A single-breasted jacket may be unbuttoned when seated, but with a good fit and good button stance this is not necessary to do.
iGent Rule: The jacket of a three-piece suit should not be buttoned.
James Bond: A waistcoat makes a suit look more presentable with the jacket worn open, but that doesn’t mean that the jacket of a three-piece suit mustn’t be buttoned. As Bonds from Sean Connery to Roger Moore to Daniel Craig have shown, a three-piece suit may be worn with either the jacket buttoned or left open.
iGent Rule: A sports coat or blazer should have a looser fit than a suit jacket.
James Bond: Many people prefer a sports coat or blazer to have a looser fit than a suit jacket, either because they think these less formal jackets should look more relaxed than a suit jacket or so they can comfortably wear a sleeveless jumper or cardigan underneath. But James Bond does not wear knitwear under his sports coats. He prefers for them to be tailored to the same standards as his suits jackets, and there’s no reason why they can’t be.
iGent Rule: Pleated trousers should have turn-ups and non-pleated trousers should have plain hems.
James Bond: This is a modern convention, most likely invented to help people answer the question of whether or not to get turn-ups (cuffs) on their trousers. Some people prefer plain hems to match the simplicity of a plain front or the visual weight of turn-ups to balance the busyness of pleats. That makes sense, but it is not a rule, and other preferences are perfectly acceptable. Most of James Bond’s trousers since The World Is Not Enough have either a darted front or a plain front, but Bond wears them with turn-ups. This is a style that is part of the American Ivy League style. Turn-ups help weigh down the trousers so they drape better, which is especially helpful if the trousers don’t have pleats to assist with drape.
Pleated trousers can benefit from turn-ups, but they’re not always necessary there either. Some people think that dinner suit trousers should not have pleats because they should not have turn-ups, but pleated trousers are perfectly acceptable for evening wear, as long as they are finished without turn-ups. James Bond has worn many pairs of pleated evening trousers, properly finished without turn-ups. The English have often finished their pleated trousers without turn-ups, especially so narrow hems can be slanted. James Bond wears pleated suit trousers with plain, slanted hems in Goldfinger.
iGent Rule: A double cuff (French cuff) shirt is too formal to be worn with a sports coat.
James Bond: While double cuffs may be more formal than button cuffs and are not appropriate for sporting activities, they can appropriately dress up a sports coat. As long as one is wearing a jacket, double cuffs may be worn. James Bond wears double cuffs with his tweed hacking jacket in Goldfinger, though this does not come up again since James Bond has not worn many sports coats since he started wearing double-cuff shirts regularly in the Brosnan era.
He even stretches this by wearing a double-cuff shirt under a cardigan in Quantum of Solace. Because his cardigan sleeves can fit the double cuffs, the double cuff does not seem out of place and elegantly dresses up the outfit. That may be breaking a genuine rule, but he does it well.
iGent Rule: Rear darts are inappropriate on a man’s shirt.
James Bond: Some iGents don’t believe that a shirt should fit that closely. Others say that the side seams should be able to give a shirt all the shape it needs and that darts are cheating. However, the side seams alone cannot shape a shirt to follow a 6-inch drop, let alone Sean Connery’s much larger drop. One pair of darts cannot even shape a shirt all that much, but the rear darts and side seams can do all that should be neeed. Rear darts help shape the shirt in the small of the back, which the side seams cannot do. A trim-fitting shirt can look better than a full-fitting shirt under a jacket, though a tight-fitting shirt will not move well with the body. Shirt darts are not just part of the current slim-fit trend. James Bond has worn many shirts with a pair of darts in the back from the 1960s to the present.
iGent Rule: No brown in town.
James Bond: This is a true rule, and it applies only to those who do business in the City of London. But this rule regards shoes, not suits. Those who are expected to follow this rule are expected to wear only black shoes. Because Bond works in the City of Westminster rather than in the City of London, Bond is not required to follow this rule. However, Bond follows the common practice and always wears black shoes for business in London.
As for brown suits in town, most brown suits are country suits, which would not be appropriate in London. His brown houndstooth check suit in Goldfinger is such a brown country suit, yet he breaks the rule and wears it to the office. But city suits can be brown too. The dark brown mohair suit in Thunderball is an example of an appropriate brown city suit, and he wears it with appropriate town shoes in black.
iGent Rule: Brown suits must be worn with brown shoes.
James Bond: This is good advice, but black shoes can be paired well with certain brown suits. A very dark brown suit, and one with a cool tone, like the brown suits that James Bond wears in Thunderball and Quantum of Solace, look good with black shoes. Bond would not wear brown shoes to the office, even if he is wearing a brown suit. James Bond follows the school of wearing black shoes when a serious or formal look is desired, and that is perfectly acceptable.
Common misconception: Boots should not be worn with suits.
James Bond: Though iGents acknowledge the history of formal boots and love wearing old-fashioned balmoral boots with suits, many others don’t realise that boots are perfectly acceptable with suits. After all, the phrase is “suited and booted”, and it’s not just because it rhymes. Work boots, snow boots or combat boots do not belong with suits, but aside from balmoral boots it is acceptable to wear Bond’s preferred elastic-gusseted boots, chukka boots or monk boots with a suit, as long as the boots are made on a trim last and have a trim sole. When the right boots are worn with a suit they are indistinguishable from formal shoes with the trousers covering the top.
iGent Rule: A suit is not complete without a pocket square.
James Bond: Sometimes Bond wears pocket squares and sometimes he does not. This is sometimes related to trends, but even now when the pocket square is very fashionable it is not a compulsory accessory. Bond is never better dressed because he is wearing a pocket square or poorly dressed because he isn’t wearing one. A pocket square is a dandy touch and tells others that the wearer cares about his clothes, but not wearing a pocket square does not convey the opposite.
iGent Rule: The tie knot should fill up the width of the shirt collar.
James Bond: It’s okay to wear a small tie knot with a wide collar. Bond wears wide spread collars in the 1960s but usually ties a small four-in-hand knot. Though his collars are wide, they aren’t particularly tall and because of that a small tie knot still nicely takes up the space of the short collar band.
iGent Rule: A tie needs a dimple.
James Bond: A dimple exists to neatly fit a wide tie blade into the space of a narrow knot. It is practical and should be considered if necessary. But narrower ties and heftier ties may not dimple well or at all, and if that’s the case there is no need to dimple the tie.
iGent Rule: The tie should not match the suit.
James Bond: Bond is a big fan of matching his tie to his suit, whether it’s a blue tie with a blue suit or a grey tie with a grey suit. In doing so the tie does not need to be a perfect match with the suit, but it should be close. A perfect match will help. With a blue tie and a blue suit the tie needs to match the hue of the suit, as a green-blue tie with clash with a indigo-blue suit. Matching the tie with the suit can create an elegantly simple look, as long as it is done well.
iGent Rule: A dress watch is only kind of watch that should be worn with a suit.
James Bond: While James Bond started out in the 1960s wearing dress watches with his suits, he soon started wearing sports or professional watches with suits. The professional watch, such as a diving watch like a Rolex Submariner or the Omega Seamaster, has been acceptable to wear with a suit for decades now. It may not be as elegant as a dress watch, but it is okay as long as the professional watch looks elegant and isn’t too large. This was more tasteful with older professional watches before they became ridiculously large. A high price tag does not mean the watch is fancier; it only means better professional features, better materials, better workmanship or an inflated price tag. A professional watch is less acceptable with a dinner jacket than with a suit, and some say that any watch is inappropriate with formal wear, but Bond has certain needs and can warrant wearing a professional watch with anything.
iGent Rule: Match your socks to your trousers.
James Bond: This is great advice, but it’s not necessary to follow it. Bond often wears the “forbidden” black socks with his suits, which lack imagination. Sometimes it’s okay to go basic, and especially if you’re travelling and it’s easier to bring all black socks to match your black shoes.
Bond isn’t breaking rules doing most of the items listed above. He isn’t trying to upset the balance of the universe, or even the balance of classic menswear. He’s doing things the way that many of the world’s best-dressed men have done them them throughout the decades. If I missed a rule that you think James Bond breaks well, please mention it in the comments below.