In a recent conversation I had with Chuck Pollard, Founder and Creative Director of Sarto magazine, he said that he likes his suits to feel like armour. Then I thought, ‘James Bond also likes his suits to feel like armour.’ In a literal sense, suits can be like armour when they are firmly structured, even more so when the shoulders are built up. A structured suit has an impenetrable look to it, and it can visually strengthen the person wearing it.
Bond is a military man, and a structured suit gives him the look of a tough soldier. The classic English Savile Row military-style suit is constructed with a firm canvas and straight shoulders with a good amount of padding to create an imposing silhouette. Savile Row military tailors like Gieves & Hawkes and Dege & Skinner defined the British military officer look, which found its way throughout militaries around the world. Bond’s naval uniforms are Bond’s only suits that strictly follow this English military cut.
Bond’s English-tailored suits in reality had shoulders with little to no padding, but the shoulder expression, frequently with roped sleeve heads, always had a strong presence. Bond’s English tailors like Anthony Sinclair, Dimi Major and Cyril Castle tailored their suits with a firm and stiff canvas and a good amount of structure in the chest to enhance Bond’s shape and to make him look as strong as he could. Bond’s Tom Ford suits are made in the same structured way. This firm shaping came out of the military tailoring tradition, and it can not only make a lounge suit—usually just called a ‘suit’ these days—look like a suit of armour but it can make a suit feel like armour as well.
Bond’s Italian suits, such as Roger Moore’s suits by Angelo Roma and Pierce Brosnan’s and Daniel Craig’s suits by Brioni, have the built-up shoulders that recall the English military shoulder. The Italian suits don’t feel like a stiff suit of armour, but the shoulders can give an armour-like impression with its strong silhouette.
A well-tailored suit traditionally replaces a man’s body with an idealised figure. Like a suit of armour, it conceals what is underneath. Even when Daniel Craig’s Tom Ford suits are very tight, they do not reveal what a muscular figure is beneath the suit because of the layers of canvas in the front of the jacket. For Bond, a suit can not only make him look stronger, but in the case of Connery’s and Craig’s Bonds it can also deceive the enemy into not knowing how strong he is underneath.
As far as we know, Bond’s suits do not double as bulletproof armour. In Skyfall, he is shot by Moneypenny through the heavily-structured chest of his Tom Ford suit. In Octopussy, his Hayward dinner jacket doesn’t protect him from a knife, but a wad of ‘hard currency’ in his pocket does.
A suit is also Bond’s armour in an emotional sense. Putting on a suit can prepare Bond emotionally for a difficult mission. There are many occasions throughout the series when Bond puts on a suit or a dinner jacket for when he’s about to do something dangerous, like for scaling the Whyte House in Diamonds Are Forever, for meeting Janus in GoldenEye, or for his Mexico City mission in Spectre.
By hiding his body, it represents how Bond stays closed off in his emotions as well. The metaphor of Bond’s armour is used in the 2006 film Casino Royale, but it’s not used in reference to a suit. However, Bond tells Vesper that she stripped him of his armour, and it was she who had previously provided him with his superior dinner-jacket armour. While nothing in the film directly says this his dinner jacket is his armour, his principal battle in the film is at the poker table, while his dinner jacket acts as armour for the battle.
The suit can make a man feel more confident, and as such it can serve as armour for a man’s personality. While Bond may not need clothes to feel at his most confident, many people use the suit to boost their confidence. We should work on ourselves to feel confident in anything we wear, but the suit is nevertheless an effective tool but it can feel like armour. A man doesn’t need to have Daniel Craig’s body too look and feel like James Bond in a suit.