James Bond’s Black-and-White Suits

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Sean Connery wears a black-and-white glen check suit in Dr. No.

The combination of black and white is an essential part of James Bond’s look. The dinner jacket is Bond’s signature look, and that’s black and white. Sometimes the black is midnight blue and the white is off white, but it’s the same effect. The dramatic contrast between black and white contributes of the elegance of James Bond’s style, and that contrast can often be found within the weave of a single garment.

Sean Connery wears a black-and-white Glen Urquhart check suit in From Russia With Love. Pedro Armendáriz is wearing a grey prinstripe suit, which has a cooler look compared to the black-and-white suit.

There are numerous suits throughout the Bond series that we think of as grey but in reality are a pattern of black and white that gives the impression of medium-light grey. The black-and-white suit wears similarly to a medium-light grey suit, but it has different qualities. A grey suit, by comparison, is usually a mottled cloth made up of fibres in various shades of grey, and it may include black or white fibres for a more marled look or a more complex look. The black-and-white suit is woven with black yarns and white yarns and not grey, so it isn’t accurate to call it a grey suit, even if it appears grey. It has a pointillist effect.

The white yarns are usually a creamy off-white or ecru rather than a stark, pure white, so black-and-white cloths have a warm look. The combination and contrast of black yarns with white yarns gives the suit depth and vibrancy. The white yarns brighten the suit compared to grey yarns, which looks more dull in comparison. This is not to say that the dullness of a grey suit is lesser than a black-and-white suit, it’s just different. The black-and-white suit subtly makes more of a statement.

Sean Connery wears a black-and-white glen check suit in Diamonds Are Forever.

A suiting in a weave of black and white that doesn’t have a noticeable pattern may be called a ‘contrast’ cloth, and it often looks sportier or flashier than a pattern with lower contrast. In fine semi-solid patterns like basketweave, sharkskin/pick-and-pick, birdseye, nailhead or herringbone, separate black and white yarns comes together to produce a cloth that reads as grey because the individual shades don’t stand out like they would in a black cloth with white pinstripes, a large black-and-white shepherd’s check or a Breton shirt.

Sean Connery wears a black-and-white mohair suit in Thunderball.

The suit from the Junkanoo scene in Thunderball is in a fine pattern that looks like a tiny black and white checkerboard up close. This is the dressiest kind of black-and-white suit because the pattern is fine. The contrast in the weave gives this suit a sheen, in addition to the suit’s mohair content, that makes it flashier. This suit also look slightly smarter than a plain light grey suit because of the depth in its appearance. Other semi-solid suitings have the same effect.

James Bond wears a number of glen check suits in black and white, and these are sportier suits compared to semi-solids, with larger checks being sportier than the fine checks because the pattern is more visible. The finer checks behave more like semi-solids, but are a touch sportier. A check with the high contrast of black and white is also sportier than a check in the same scale with a lower contrast colour pairing. The fine plain-weave glen check suit in Dr. No, the larger Glen Urquhart check suit in From Russia with Love, the hopsack-weave glen check suits in Goldfinger and Diamonds Are Forever and the Glen Urquhart check suit with a blue overcheck in On Her Majesty’s Secret Service are examples of Bond’s black-and-white checked suits. The Goldfinger suit may have grey in it, but it’s still a high-contrast suit.

Daniel Craig wearing a contrast sharkskin suit in Skyfall.

Black-and-grey suitings are common as well, but these lack the warmth of the black-and-white suit and fall more into the grey family. The lack of warmth makes these suits slightly smarter. The grey in these suitings may be any shade of grey, from a light silver grey to a dark charcoal grey. A cloth in black and silver grey can give a similarly vibrant and shimmery effect to the black-and-white cloth look but with a more neutral tone. The difference between black-and-white and black-and-silver cloths is a subtle one that’s mainly noticeable when the suits are up against cooler colours. On screen, the colour grading can make these two suits difficult to distinguish from one another.

Pierce Brosnan wearing a black-and-grey sharkskin suit in The World Is Not Enough.

The sharkskin suits in From Russia with Love, The World Is Not Enough and Skyfall, the herringbone suits in You Only Live Twice and The Living Daylights, the glen check suits in Skyfall and No Time to Die as well as the finer glen check suit in From Russia with Love, the checked sports coat in The Man with the Golden Gun and the herringbone sports coat in Never Say Never Again are patterns in black and grey.

GoldenEye Plaid Suit
Pierce Brosnan wears a navy-and-sand glen check suit in GoldenEye.

There’s one other similar colour pairing that needs mentioning, but it’s moving further away from the black-and-white suit. In the M’s office scene in GoldenEye, Bond wears a glen check suit in navy and sand. The sand takes a cue from the warmth of the black-and-white suit but replaces the black with navy to balance the warmth with a cool colour. These two colours combine to form a richer combination than black-and-white, but because the colours are less neutral the suit is slightly sportier as a result. Unlike how lower contrast in a grey check makes the cloth smarter, here the lower contrast has no effect on dressiness because of the additional colour. The colour gives this suit more of a country touch that looks a little out of place in a London meeting with M, but it was likely chosen for this scene to complement the warm-toned surroundings in M’s office.

9 COMMENTS

  1. Me personally I prefer Black and Grey as opposed to Black and White weaves as I prefer the lower contrast with my Bond film favorites being the herringbone suits in YOLT and Living Daylights, and the sharkskin suits in From Russia with Love and The World is Not Enough. Do these lower contrast suits work better with someone with a low contrast Summer complexion or does it not really matter?

  2. Just re-stating my view that the Junkanoo sharkskin suit in Thunderball is the best suit in the entire canon for me. I also like the pairing with the more saturated blue shirt. I don’t get caught up too deeply with the whole Flusser theory of complexion I think it’s largely a load of bollocks but I do agree with the general concept that pale skinned Nordic blondies like me should avoid being washed out with pale blue shirts, pastel pinks etc which is why I like the look of more saturated shirts which are slightly unconventional is strictly formal business-wear traditions. Connery is dark haired and tanned in Thunderball yet still looks good with the suit / shirt combo. In fact I’m hard pressed to see where he / they (costuming) put a foot wrong in the whole film but that suit takes centre stage. You could make the case that the royal blue walking suit and straw hat was a bit of a stretch but even that’s an improvement on the novel’s sandals-with-a-suit moment!

  3. I’m still searching for a cloth to match the beautiful fine plain-weave glen check suit in Dr. No. Any ideas on where to get it please?

  4. I think most pointillists would argue that if you put points of color A and color B next to each other over and over again until the object they form appears to be color C, then that object is color C.

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