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.
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.
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.
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.
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.