James Bond’s Alternatives to Wearing Black


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.

Daniel Craig’s black shawl-collar cardigan in Quantum of Solace looks harsh against his complexion, but the white shirt barrier against his skin helps.

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.

Sean Connery dresses in all-black for a sneaky night out in Goldfinger. It’s not the best camouflage, and it shows the dirt worse than charcoal would.

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

Daniel Craig wears a navy jacket with a charcoal polo neck and trousers in Spectre.

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

The Skyfall dinner suit looks black under warm light because it is a true midnight blue.

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.

Daniel Craig wears a midnight blue suit in Quantum of Solace.

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 a classic choice for Daniel Craig’s pea coat in Skyfall.

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.

Roger Moore wears a navy blazer in The Spy Who Loved Me.

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.

Roger Moore wears an oxford grey suit, likely in silk, in The Man with the Golden Gun for a fancy dinner.

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.

Pierce Brosnan wears a charcoal suit in The World Is Not Enough to look serious but not too somber.

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.

The charcoal jumper in Die Another Day provides more effective and more stylish camouflage than black would have.

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.

Sean Connery’s black silk grenadine tie in Thunderball is an appropriate choice for the funeral Bond attends, and it’s a stylish way to wear black without it overpowering.

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.

Sean Connery’s black two-eyelet derby shoes in Goldfinger provide an elegant complement to his glen check suit.

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.

Daniel Craig wear a black-and-white sharkskin suit in Skyfall, which looks more vibrant than a solid grey suit would. He pairs it with black boots and black socks for a formal look.


  1. I’m often asked for style advice by friends, family, and acquaintances, and I have to spend an awful lot of time trying to explain why black is rarely a good idea. It’s always worth it though, especially when you finally convince an Autumn, say, to forgo black and give shades of browns, teals, and oranges a chance even though they’re seemingly universally avoided in fashion. The look on their face when they see something they can’t explain but know they look good is always very satisfying.
    But that’s a little bit off topic. Well written article, as always, Matt!

    • That’s not off-topic at all! I almost included a bit about dark brown as an alternative to black, but for Bond it isn’t. He rarely wears dark brown. For an autumn complexion it certainly can be a fantastic alternative to black. Noel Coward famously wore a dark brown dinner suit, which is completely unconventional but still works.

      • Matt, Timothy, this heavily reminded me…

        It was Fall of 2019, and while everyone else was about town in black, I was about town in my Bondian tweed and cavalry twill brown. I looked most pleasantly. Matter of fact, even for a country outfit, I was best dressed.

        Never underestimate a good tan or brown outfit. Compare to the edgy black setup, a good brown outfit wins big.

      • I just looked up Noel Coward’s suit, and it really is beautiful! It’s an interesting way to stand out without the flashiness of jewel tones, which would be the obvious choice.
        Travers, I certainly have a soft spot for brown. Tans and fawn are my go to colour for odd trousers rather than grey, and I have at least one brown example of every article of clothing in my wardrobe. I’ve got a brown merino V neck jumper, a brown mohair suit, a camel coat, a white and brown striped shirt, plenty of brown ties etc.
        Just today, to stay warm in the Australian winter, I’m wearing fawn moleskins with a Harris tweed jacket not dissimilar to Moore’s suit in Moonraker. I think done well brown makes for a very sober outfit, softer than a full grey or certainly a black ensemble which can look harsh and cold. Done poorly and you get people crying about the worst excesses of the 70s. Sean Connery’s barleycorn jacket and Timothy Dalton’s gunclub check jacket are two perfect examples of it done well.

  2. Black can reflect a dull green tinge under electric lighting, which is why it never looks a s good as midnight blue for evening wear, or navy for other suits.

  3. It’s odd that black seems to always get a bad rap from style gurus yet Tom Ford has always championed it or something very close to black along with his many appearances. I always considered shades of pale or light grays as terribly boring and ‘school teacher’ drab or pallbearer like . I suppose that greys really do make you invisible and safe but how boring!? Unless of course you identify with the 1950s Man in the Grey Flannel Suit conformity ? Just my humble observations…..

    • You’re not wrong, black can certainly be a dramatic colour, and I think that’s why Tom Ford likes it. The funeral suit in Spectre is probably the most dramatic in the series, what with the wide peak lapels, the shiny black fabric, and the waistcoat. And that’s not even touching on the sharp accessories. I think for black to look good it needs a confident but careful hand. I remember attending a lot of school dances and graduation ceremonies back in the late 2000s and seeing an endless sea of black suits, black shirts, and fluorescent neckties. I’m guilty of it myself. It wasn’t a boring look, but it definitely wasn’t tasteful.

    • Discovering The Jam in 1977 and following their style as much as their music was the first directional decision about style I made as a callow youth trying to figure out the mystery of how to be ‘cool’, and I have never not had a black suit in my wardrobe since the last 45 plus years. Usually they were worn nightclubbing but those days are over for me. My most recent iteration was bought along with an identical navy / midnight blue version (new old stock via eBay) several years ago and I have to say that in keeping with Matt’s declaration, even though they are very close in shade and my eyes don’t do well to differentiate between the two colours, I reach for the navy a lot more frequently than the black. Similarly since acquiring a midnight blue dinner suit I prefer that over my black version. I recently wore the navy / midnight suit to my wife’s family reunion gathering and I dare say many people would have said “that fella in the black suit” but to me it still looks a step more classy than flat black!

  4. I agree with everything. But there’s also nothing wrong with black in any of those cases. Black is harsh, bold and unimaginative, but works particularly well on good looking people (there, I’ve said it). John Boorman said they tried to make Brosnan look poorly dressed in The Tailor of Panama, but they couldn’t; he looked great even with the wrong colours, so they gave up (source: audio commentary on DVD, somewhere).

    There’s an iGent obsession with hating anything black that I cannot understand. The same with the ordinary white dress shirt – “too formal” they say on StyleForum, Ask Andy and whatever, anywhere outside the realm of reality.

    • Spot on IMHO! Looks like we single handily saved the black suit from the firing squad! It’s probably because we’re incredibly good looking Bond/sartorial fans, LOL.

  5. Midnight blue is “the better black”. Charcoal fits that role well, too. As mentioned, black looks horrible under artificial light, often with sickly green undertones. If you’re trying to pull off the all-black look it works even worse in that light, as all those undertones from “different blacks” start to clash.

    Nobody is saying “get rid of all black in your wardrobe”, it’s just being said that it must be done right and not be the first thing you grab and certainly shouldn’t be all you’re wearing (unless you’re in a Johnny Cash tribute band or you’re a waiter).

    Black shoes/belt/watchband get a free pass, of course. Depending on the formality of the rest of the outfit, however, brown is often a better choice. A little black in a tie or pocket square works, too. Outside of that, tread lightly.


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