James Bond has worn many black outfits on screen, from black dinner suits to black suits for mourning to black casual looks for sneaking around at night. Black is a colour that many people reach for because it’s simple, neutral and powerful. But it’s also dull and overdone. For times when the average person chooses to wear black, James Bond frequently wears other dark colours because black is ultimately a boring colour.
Why Not Black?
Black is not the versatile, easy-to-wear colour that many people make it out to be. Being neutral doesn’t mean it goes with everything. It is harsh against most other colours and looks best with white, grey and muted colours. It can emphasise brighter colours and make them look garish. It can also clash with other blacks, which vary in their undertones. Black is absolute in concept but not in practice.
More importantly, black looks harsh against many complexions. Black washes out pale or muted skin tones. One needs a strong, high-contrast complexion to look good in black, particularly during the daytime. Other colours without the severity of black look better on softer complexions.
Black needs texture or sheen to look good. Flat black clothes look boring—black cotton or plain worsteds frequently look dull. Cheaper black fabrics look more dull, and they often don’t look perfectly black. Cheaper blacks may have brown or green undertones, or they fade when laundered and no longer have the strength that black needs.
While Bond frequently wears black for camouflage at night, it isn’t actually good for that purpose because it’s too dark. When these black clothes become soiled, the dirt shows more. However, we can see Bond better on screen when he wears black. In Spectre‘s climax, Bond wears navy and charcoal instead, which makes for better nighttime camouflage.
Alternatives to Black
Instead of black, Bond frequently chooses dark colours like midnight blue, navy or charcoal grey for his dark clothes. Compared to black, these alternatives are livelier and more interesting, play better with other colours, complement more skin tones and show more detail on screen. While black is often cited as a slimming colour, other dark colours are equally slimming.
Midnight blue is a very dark shade of blue that borders on black. It’s essentially black with a hint of blue. It’s almost as dark as black, but because it has the strength of blue it’s tends to look richer and deeper than black. This depth can make it look darker than black. It has the benefit of looking blacker than black under warm artificial light.
Midnight blue is most commonly used for dinner suits and evening tailcoats where it can look better than black under artificial light. The Duke of Windsor chose midnight blue because it he thought it photograph better than black in black and white. Even in the full-colour Bond films, midnight blue can look richer than black on screen, even when it appears to be black.
Midnight blue isn’t just for evening wear. Bond wears a midnight blue suit in Quantum of Solace that takes him from night to day. It looks as dark as black but looks attractive at all times of day and still looks luxurious when soiled. Midnight blue can almost always be a suitable replacement for black.
Navy is another blue alternative, which is conventionally a shade lighter than midnight blue, but it can encompass a variety of dark blue shades. Some shades of navy look almost black. Navy is a deep, powerful colour but looks a little softer than black or midnight blue, so it’s less harsh against lighter skin tones and against other colours in an outfit. It’s a highly versatile colour that plays well.
Navy is Bond’s go-to colour when other men may first reach for black. He wears navy because of his history in the Royal Navy. It’s a colour that defines the character.
Navy an appropriate colour for daytime and evening suits. It’s also the classic colour for a brass-buttoned blazer. The navy tie is a quintessential Bond choice, in silk grenadine, knit or repp. It’s perfect for all sorts of casual clothes too, from polos to knitwear to blousons to pea coats.
Charcoal grey is a more neutral alternative to black when compared to midnight blue and navy. It’s a very dark shade of grey than contains many black fibres mixed with grey and/or white. Compared to flat black it has more depth and interest while looking softer against the skin and against other clothes.
Oxford grey is a very dark shade of charcoal that can be mistaken for black and is a classic alternative to black for morning coats. The shade may be also used for suits, where it has the seriousness of black without the severity. Oxford grey is also a good alternative to any black casual clothes, but it’s not an easy colour to find.
The most common shades of charcoal grey are very dark but light enough to not mistake for black. For daytime clothing it’s a sophisticated choice that looks gentler than black. Bond occasionally wears suits and trousers in charcoal, particularly in wool flannel. He also wears charcoal knitwear for a few sneaky looks.
Where Black Shines
Many well-dressed men limit the amount of black in their wardrobe, but black can still be beautiful and worn well. Black silk has interest because of its sheen, which is why Bond wears numerous silk ties in the books and films. A pop of black in a tie is a wonderful way to use its power without it being overwhelming like a black suit or shirt.
Bond frequently wears black shoes because of their formality and elegance. Though many men prefer to wear brown and burgundy shoes instead of black, nothing can take the place of well-shined black leather shoes. A good pair of black shoes has a unique kind of sophistication like a shiny black piano.
Black is better for combining in a weave with other colours then as a solid. Depending on how it’s used it can both give strength to other colours and make them more muted. Bond wears semi-solid suitings in sharkskin, glen checks and mohair, where black provides more depth than grey would in the same circumstances.