James Bond’s Suit Style is Generic

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Menswear is primarily made up of standard items in standard colours, and most men follow generic stylistic ideas when they dress. Men don’t have the fashion choices that women have, nor do their clothes change as much with fashion. Suits are particularly generic, with differences mainly in the fine details. Bond’s sartorial choices are a reflection of where he is from, what his job is and the times he lives in more than anything specific to the character.

The Standards

Most suits come in navy, charcoal and other shades of grey, and they come in a range of standard cloths like solids, pinstripes, chalk stripes, glen checks, birdseyes, sharkskins, herringbones, flannels and a few others. The jackets usually have two or three buttons, and the trousers may have pleats or a flat front with turn-ups or plain hems. Only variations from these customs stand out. There used to be regional variations, but in the past decade they’ve largely gone away.

Shirts come in white, light blue, mid blue or cream, with general variations in style based on the country they’re from. Most shirts today have a spread or semi-spread collar, and they may have double cuffs or button cuffs. American shirts often come in pinpoint or oxford and often have button-down collars. In Britain it’s common to find shirts in cotton poplin in solid, end-on-end and bengal stripe. Italian shirtings are often fancier.

There’s no limit to the colours and patterns that ties come in, but shades of blue and red tend to dominate.

Shoes with suits are usually black or brown, with tan being a popular choice in recent years. Popular styles include oxfords and derbys—from plain toes to stitched cap toes to quarter- and half-brouges to wingtip full brogues—monk shoes and loafers.

Bond’s suit style is made up of these standard choices. A man can wear any of the above-mentioned clothes in any combination and turn out dressing like James Bond, in theory. Or he may just look like the average businessman, banker or politician. If Bond stands out wearing these styles, it’s only because he’s wearing the most conservative, classic and tasteful choices when others are dressing in less tasteful ways.

Bond’s dinner jackets follow the traditional customs, in black, midnight blue or ivory, with one button on the fronts of the single-breasted jackets and various double-breasted configurations. They have double vents or no vents at the rear. He always wears a soft turn-down collar shirt with a pleated, pique or plain front. English postwar custom allows for buttons rather than studs on the front of the shirts, which is how Bond frequently wears his evening shirts. Bond is associated with black tie more than he is with any other outfit, and yet he simply follows the traditions. He may not have created black tie traditions, but he has done better than anyone else at maintaining them, and even popularising them.

His sports coats are usually traditional English staples, like navy blazers with metal buttons or brown and grey tweed jackets. They’re paired with classic trousers like grey flannels and beige or fawn worsted twills.

Some of these classic items are not as popular in the 21st century as they were in the 20th century. But when Bond was wearing them, so were most other British men who wear wearing tailored clothes.

Chasing Trends

Bond’s suits frequently follow fashions of the eras they’re from, so while such fashions would stand out today they usually fit in with what other people were wearing at the time. This could mean narrow lapels in the 1960s and 2010s and wide lapels in the 1970s; low-buttoning jackets in the 1980s and high-buttoning jackets in the 2000s; loose fitting suits in the late 1980s and 1990s or tight suits in the 2010s; trim trousers in the 1960s, flared trousers in the 1970s, wider trousers in the 1980s and 1990s, and tight trousers in the 2010s.

He wears a few mohair suits in the 1960s, a trendy suiting at the time. While Bond wears shades of brown in all eras, he wears more in the 1970s because they were popular at the time. His tailored safari jackets in the 1970s were also trendy items at the time.

British Customs and Styles

Bond is a British man with good taste, so his suits need to reflect this. He follows British customs when wearing his suits, so while his suits may sometimes stand out around the globe, he rarely wears clothes that would make him stand out amongst other suit-wearing men in London.

British suits have a unique look amongst suits around the world, and Bond’s suits mainly follow British tailoring customs, even his suits from Tom Ford. Bond’s Brioni suits only hint at English styles, and Roger Moore’s Angelo suits from the late 1970s a little less so. Even when he’s wearing Italian suits, they’re often made of English cloths, and his shirts are usually English. However, Bond’s suits and the ways he wears them follow English customs for most of the series.

English suits have a specific silhouette, or rather a range of silhouettes. The jackets are frequently tailored with lightly structured shoulders, roped sleeve heads, fullness in the chest, a suppressed waist and slightly bellied lapels. While details like double vents, slanted or ‘hacking’ pockets and ticket pockets are commonly associated with English jackets, they may have any style of vent or pocket.

The English suit trousers have a high rise with a pleated or darted front, and if they have pleats they are forward pleats that open inwards. The legs are usually trim and either tapered to the hem or straight from the knee down. They may have an extended waistband with a hook closure and side adjusters, or they may have belt loops that do not extend below the waistband. Waistcoats traditionally have six buttons, with the bottom button on the cutaway portion so it cannot fasten.

Goldfinger Felix Leiter
If James Bond was an American, he’d dress like this

These finer details set James Bond apart from non-English characters. Felix Leiter in Goldfinger dresses in the same general way that Bond does, with a grey suit, light blue shirt and navy tie, but he looks different from Bond because the details are an ocean apart.

Bond’s Unique Details

While Bond’s tailored clothing overall follows general British traditions, there are some details that are rather unique to him. If we notice how generic so much of what Bond wears is, we can then pick out what makes Bond’s style unique. The grey glen check suit from Goldfinger is unique due to the notched lapels on the waistcoat. It sets the suit apart from the average three-piece suit. The straight-bottom waistcoats in Thunderball were somewhat trendy in the 1960s, but it’s still a special feature on those suits. Roger Moore’s Cyril Castle suits in Live and Let Die and The Man with the Golden Gun have a special kissing-button-style flared cuff.

His cocktail cuff shirts are perhaps the most unique style to James Bond. The cocktail cuff is a cuff that fastens with buttons but folds back like a double cuff. It has a curved, cutaway shape that shows off the buttons. While the cuff wasn’t invented for Bond, he popularised it in the 1960s, and it’s still one of the few items of clothing other than the dinner suit that is always associated with James Bond. Some shirtmakers even call it the “James Bond Cuff”. Sean Connery, Roger Moore and Daniel Craig have worn this cuff.

Solid-coloured neckties are by no means special to James Bond, but they are something of a trademark for him. All of the Bond actors other than Pierce Brosnan have worn a large number of solid-colour ties, including grenadine ties, knitted ties, repp and satin ties. Repp and satin ties are the most typical solids, so they look more generic than they look Bondian. The silk knitted tie is also fairly common, but its association with James Bond going back to the original Ian Fleming novels has made it the most Bondian piece of neckwear.

Sean Connery usually wore a silk grenadine tie as James Bond. Grenadine ties have long been sold at the best shirtmakers and tailors throughout London as well as all over Italy, but the frequency that Connery’s Bond wore them has helped them be associated with the character. However, when Roger Moore wore one with his grey suit in For Your Eyes Only, the choice may have been just as much a coincidence as it could have been inspiration considering how commonplace they are in London shops and how little else Moore took from Connery stylistically.

Bond wears many blue blazers in the series, which is a very common item. They are popular both as single breasted and double breasted, and Bond’s usual come in the typical single-breasted model with two buttons or double-breasted model with two fastening and three show buttons. But in On Her Majesty’s Secret Service and The Man with the Golden Gun, Bond wears blazers with three fastening buttons like on a naval reefer jacket or pea coat. This unusual style comes directly from the navy, and Bond being a naval commander makes this style all the more meaningful for him.

There are a number one-off pieces in throughout the series that are unique in many regards. These pieces not only stand out from the crowd but they also stand out from what Bond usually wears. The brown mohair suit in Thunderball, the green striped double-breasted suit in The Man with the Golden Gun, the silk suits in all of Roger Moore’s 1970s films, the charcoal damier check suit in Spectre, and the tan corduroy suit in No Time to Die are such suits. They aren’t generic in the least, but they’re also not particularly Bondian if they don’t reoccur frequently through multiple eras and are so different from what we expect Bond to wear. These suits would not make a man look like James Bond, except for the corduroy suit since that is fresh in the public’s memory from the recent film.

Beyond Suits

Classic sportswear has its own staples, which James Bond likes to wear. Sweaters come in crew neck, V-neck and polo neck varieties in shades of blue, grey, black and red, and polos and t-shirts are most often found in the same colours. Jeans come in shades of blue or in black, chinos come in shades of khaki and beige, and cords come in almost any colour. No matter how he combines these clothes, he won’t be wearing anything unique.

However, he wears these items better than the average man. He pays close attention to fit and quality as well as unusual details. The polo in Spectre, for example, has an open placket without buttons and a ribbed hem like a sweater has. But it’s still a navy polo, which is a staple for any well-dressed man.

Generic Means Accessible

There is almost no costume that is specific to James Bond. It’s why we can learn to dress from him and become well-dressed people with a mature sense of style rather than James Bond cosplayers. And because he mostly wears generic styles, it makes his style accessible. How understated his style is also makes it accessible. It doesn’t take a certain personality to pull of James Bond’s style like it would to look good in Auric Goldfinger’s golden clothes or Dr Kananga’s flashy suits. Conceptually, Bond’s style looks familiar to anyone in the Western world, so we don’t see it as a big leap to adjust the way we dress to look more like him. He dresses elegantly and usually places a priority on good fit, but he also dresses to fit in.

We gravitate towards James Bond’s style because we like to imagine ourselves as the character and because we understand he appreciates the best of everything more than because his style stands out. This makes him the perfect style role model for the average man.

27 COMMENTS

  1. Matt,

    When talking about suits at the beginning of the article you say there used to be regional variations but they have gone away in the last decade. I was wondering if you could expand on that a little. Do you mean the various styles, English, Italian, American have converged and more resemble each other than they used to? Or don’t really exist anymore? I ask because there still seems to me to be the American sack suit as J. Press produces, lightly structured Italian suits, and then more structured English suits. Perhaps I’m not understanding what you mean.

    • A few different things have happened. The regional variations still exist, but they’re no longer regional. You can find them around the world. People are now influenced by fashions from all over and don’t stick with their local styles and customs.

      On the other hand, tailoring trends have become more universal at the expense of regional styles. The lightly structured southern Italian style has become fashionable worldwide and brands all over the world are trying to copy the style. While J.Press still sells the American sack suit (along with a few other specialty brands), the style is a rarity today. Many brands have jettisoned the styles they were traditionally known for to replace them with what is currently trendy.

  2. I think you’ve used a better term before with “Simplistic Elegance.” Generic gives me a connotation of boring and uninteresting.

  3. I believe that it makes great sense why Bond wears a “generic” suit style. I do not believe a secret intelligence agency would prefer their agents to wear flamboyant suit colors!

  4. Great read as usual, Matt. This is exactly why I think his suits work in real life. Extremely well made but generic (in a good way).

    ***
    A sidenote.

    I’ve recently noticed that former Brazilian president Fernando Collor (1990—1992) also preferred cocktail cuffs when he was in office; not that anybody here in Brazil would notice it, but still an interesting detail. This is perhaps the only time I’ve seen somewhere from a somewhat “serious” background or profession wearing those (excluding movie characters and people from the entertainment industry).

    Best regards.

    • Interesting observation! In other pictures he wears the 3 button cuff that’s signature to T&A, so I can only assume his cocktail cuff shirts also come from them.

    • Politics…..”serious”….you have made me laugh! Seriously though, I wear cocktail cuffs regularly in my daily life and surprisingly, I’ve yet to have anyone comment one way or the other on the cuff and I had expected it myself by now!

  5. Great read Matt and yes this is why James Bond can be used as a role model for anyone on how to dress well!

  6. Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication. Can’t beat something so simple.

    Occam’s razor denoted as much. Of all things being equal, the simplest solution is the best solution.

    Scientifically and artistically vouched!

  7. I haven’t commented in a long time, but am sticking my hand up now to say how perfectly this article articulates how I feel about using James Bond as a guide.

    The films have given me a great idea of how I’d like to dress, and I’ve been able to go out and get approximations of these simple styles.

    The biggest trick, I feel, to looking just that little bit better dressed, is to always ensure your off-the-rack coats and trousers are altered to fit you. Your look is instantly improved!

  8. And generic is just how I like it. Take that all you tight-wearing, gaudy colored “fashion designers”!

  9. Do you think there’s some overlap here between “generic” and what Alan Flusser had described about Bond’s style as being “middle class”?

    • I think there is. Alan Flusser does not find Bond’s style particularly interesting and believes that men should dress with more colour and pattern. I’m sure he would agree with the title of this article and think negatively of what it means. To him, a man who dresses generically like this probably looks middle class to him, at least from a mid-century perspective. He contrasted this with the character of Auric Goldfinger, who dresses in a more interesting way and does not look (and certainly is not) middle class. Flusser is proud of how he dressed Michael Douglas in Wall Street, a man who also does not look generic or middle class. His windowpane suit is a good example of this. Dressing upper class still had meaning in the 1980, but since the 1990s there has been little to distinguish an upper class man’s clothes from any other man’s clothes, whether old money or new money.

      • Matt,

        I wasn’t born with a silver spoon in my lips, and, being raised by a single mother, seeing her working the hours and minutes away to ensure we make it through the day, and as of today, both of us being huge investors that we are, I’m not gonna lie, I look down on Flusser, knowing that he’d have such regard for those who prefer simple dressing. Ultimately, be it a person of great wealth or someone with just enough savings, I take it, personally, that everybody should have a chance to dress well, and damn us all of dressing well means burning our checkbooks or breaking our backs.

        This is why I hold men like Anthony Sinclair and James Bond to a higher regard, the latter a fictional character be him. If we fail to forget the “ordinary” from extraordinary, then we might as well have failed. Simple, really, but because of how simple it is, I doubt Flusser, a fussy character, would understand all too well.

    • I think it’s best to get the basics down a la James Bond before trying to incorporate a lot of flashy colors and patterns in one’s wardrobe. I’ve seen many male clients trying to emulate celebrities forgetting that they usually have stylists who know how to pull off the flashiness and not make it look a hot mess. I try to reign it in a bit but some insist they know what they’re about. I respect that, but think the results can often be not as good than they wanted them to be.

      • You mentioned the best part about Bond that Matt mentioned in another article he posted long ago, something along the line of the complexity of the cut and Bond. Knowing that you’re special and wearing clothes that let you speak. Both part of this phrase emphasized heavily on the subject, not the object, and much too often, people forgot about that. Besides, it’s hardly ever doable being someone else, is it not?

      • Good advice in most things… which is to know the rules before you go about bending/breaking them.

    • In the context of dressing simply and appropriately, then yes. But the fit since after QoS, yeah, big time clown world. The fact that they made Bond into an action henchman in an attempt to mimic Bourne is also a wig and red nose set perfectly tailored for him.

      • Hehe, I can see your point here, but in comparison to Flusser, Bond could probably do worse… Funny BTW how QoS, being my least favorite Bond film of them all, is where Craig actually not look so bad. Of course, I concure about the hideous lack of fit in his latter Bond movies.

      • Bond can’t do worse if Flusser decided to charge another dime and/or tell me to wear another pattern with colors and print. LOL!

  10. I suggest looking at the men of the British royal family. In my opinion they dress in a bondian manner. They wear traditional colors and styles and look fantastic because they pay close attention to fit. They dress like Bond in the real world and it works exceptionally well.

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