James Bond’s Three Piece Suits

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Three-piece suits have been an iconic part of James Bond’s look since he exited the lavatory on Goldfinger’s private jet wearing a grey glen check suit in Goldfinger. Since Daniel Craig will be wearing a three-piece suit again in Spectre, I thought it would be helpful to look back at James Bond’s past three-piece suits.

The waistcoat

The inclusion of a matching waistcoat (vest) along with the jacket and trousers is what makes a suit a three-piece suit. Bond usually wears a traditional waistcoat that has six buttons and a small cutaway at the bottom. Sometimes the bottom button is on the cutaway, but even if it is not, Bond does not fasten the bottom button. The bottom button on a waistcoat is never fastened out of tradition, but it is also never fastened to allow the bottom of the waistcoat needs to spread apart when seated. In Thunderball (pictured top) the waistcoats are cut straight across the bottom, and all buttons are meant to fasten. The straight-bottomed waistcoats look a little like sleeveless cardigans and are thus slightly less formal. Bond has occasionally worn waistcoats with five buttons or seven buttons, and in Goldfinger and The World Is Not Enough, the waistcoats have notched lapels. Bond’s waistcoats typically have four welt pocked on the front, and the back of the waistcoat is made in the same material as the jacket’s lining.

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Bond showing off the waistcoat to his three-piece suit in Goldfinger

How James Bond wears his three-piece suits

Most of Bond’s three-piece suits are made of dark worsteds or flannels and worn in London. Sean Connery wears a dark brown three-piece suit to the office in Thunderball, and George Lazenby wears two navy three-piece suits (herringbone and chalk stripe) to the office and the College of Arms in On Her Majesty’s Secret Service. From Moonraker in 1979 to The World Is Not Enough twenty years later in 1999, Bond all but twice wears three-piece suits to the office and in other London scenes.

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Bond at the office in a navy herringbone three-piece suit in On Her Majesty’s Secret Service

A dark three piece suit gives Bond a traditional, confident and powerful look that is appropriate for his formal office setting. Bond’s dark three-piece suits are most often navy with pinstripes or chalk stripes, but charcoal flannel is another favourite colour for Bond’s three-piece suits. Bond has also worn three piece suits in a business setting in navy herringbone, navy birdseye, grey herringbone, grey windowpane, grey rope stripe and black pinstripe suitings.

For mourning the death of his “brother” in Diamonds Are Forever, Bond wears a black three-piece suit. Today people may consider a three-piece suit too flashy for a funeral, even in somber solid black. Bond also wears two sporty three-piece suits outside of London for non-business occasions: the grey glen check suit in Goldfinger and the brown tweed suit in On Her Majesty’s Secret Service.

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Bond in a three-piece suit in Lake Como in Casino Royale

The last time Bond wore a three-piece suit was at Lake Como in Casino Royale. Considering the location, the navy pinstripe suit that Bond wears is out of place. A solid navy or grey two-piece suit would have been better since the three-piece is too serious and pinstripes suggest the office. Though Bond is often overdressed, he is overdressed more than usual in this scene. However, the three-piece suit in Casino Royale signifies that Bond has completed his first mission and is now the more suave and mature James Bond we know from the previous twenty films.

Though the three-piece suit is a little out of place at Lake Como, it is even more out of place on the oil rig during during the climax of Diamonds Are Forever. Bond looks absolutely ridiculous wearing his navy pinstripe three-piece suit there, though it conceals Connery’s heavier figure better than practical tactical gear would have. In fact, a well-fitting three-piece suit is one of the most flattering things a man can wear.

How to wear a three-piece suit

Wearing a three-piece suit has a few difference to wearing a two-piece suit. It allows the jacket to be worn open and still look just as presentable as it does with it closed. If you remove your suit jacket at your desk like Bond does in On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, you will look more dressed with a waistcoat. The waistcoat, however, cannot replace the suit jacket for any occasions a suit is required.

Bond at his desk in just his waistcoat
Bond at his desk in just his waistcoat in On Her Majesty’s Secret Service

The correct proportions and fit are more important with three-piece suits than they are with two-piece suits because they have a waistcoat to tie the pieces all together. It is important that the waistcoat and trousers work together to prevent the shirt from showing between the bottom of the waistcoat and the top of the trousers. The waistcoat needs to cover the the trousers’ waistband. The problem with wearing a waistcoat with modern low-rise trousers is that the waistcoat has to be very long. When the waistcoat is too long it cannot conform to the body as well, which makes the body look heavier when the jacket is removed. A long waistcoat also makes the torso look larger overall, which is not flattering. A waistcoat that is too long will also be uncomfortable to sit in. Wearing trousers with a traditional rise is the only proper way to wear a three-piece suit so the suit as a whole can fit and move with the body in the best way possible.

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M, the Minister of Defence and Bond, all in three-piece suits in Octopussy

Three-piece suits should never be worn with belts since they leave a lump under the waistcoat. Roger Moore, Pierce Brosnan and Daniel Craig wear three-piece suits with belts in their Bond films, as opposed to Sean Connery and George Lazenby who wear suit trousers with side adjusters. Ralph Fiennes’ Gareth Mallory in Skyfall wears his three-piece suits with braces, which are the best option for trouser support when wearing a waistcoat. Braces are the only sure way to prevent the trousers from sagging and revealing the shirt below the waistcoat. And if you don’t want anyone to know you are wearing braces, the waistcoat keeps them perfectly hidden. I am surprised that the films have not—or at least not from what can be seen—put Bond in braces when wearing a three-piece suit. The trousers often slip down in action to reveal a sliver of the shirt. This could have been avoided with braces, and nobody would ever know or think that Bond is wearing braces when they are hidden under a waistcoat.

32 COMMENTS

    • Contrasting waistcoats are great. Pale waistcoats are good for dressing up a suit (like Sean Connery’s sporty office suit in Goldfinger) whilst darker waistcoats can dress down a suit.

    • And what about double breasted and single breasted waistcoats? Any difference in formality or something else?

      • Double breasted waistcoats are more formal. They are great for worsted three-piece suits, or in light-coloured linen for morning dress. For sportier suits and waistcoats, double-breasted is too formal

    • Similarly, Matt what is your opinion on a three piece suit where the trousers and waistcoat match, but the jacket is different? Or alternatively a matching jacket and waistcoat with different trousers?

      • I don’t find that either works particularly well. Neither would be called a three-piece suit. In both cases, an odd waistcoat made of something like doeskin or moleskin or a sleeveless cardigan would work better.

  1. Very informative article! I own two three piece suits and the first one has a little to suffer from the problem you described: lower rise trousers and a slightly longer waistcoat. Though the rise isn’t too low, it could be higher for classic proportions. So for the second suit (inspired by your website) I asked my tailor to raise the trouser rise to my natural waist and also cut the waistcoat shorter to match with the trousers. I’m very satisfied with the result so thanks for the information and confirmation in your articles!

  2. It’s interesting how, to the modern eye, the jacket of Lazenby’s navy herringbone three-piece suit almost looks a bit long, while in actuality it barely reaches to the second knuckle of his thumb. Then again, he does have long arms…

    • I must say I’ve looked at that screencap many times admiring the suit, but only now I’ve started to see how much the shirt collar shortens Lazenby’s neck

    • I hope you don’t mind me answering. They are just about extinct these days. Naturally you can still order them made bespoke or MTM and I bet many tailors would be delighted to make one of these again. But off the rack you’d be lucky to find any three pieces featuring single breasted, straight bottom waistcoats. The double breasted waistcoat, which almost always has a straight bottom, is making a bit of a comeback though.

  3. I wore a dark charcoal (i.e. very nearly black) three-piece to a funeral last year. I did wonder if it might look a bit ostentatious, but I don’t think it did. It was a cold day in January so I felt the extra warmth provided by the waistcoat was a good justification. Would be interested to hear others’ views on the matter.

    • Rob, some people may think it ostentatious at a funeral. I don’t. Wearing nice clothing in subdued colours has always been the order of the day with funerals. (At least in western society. Other cultures will have other traditions.) When I attended the funeral of a dear friend seven years ago our theatre professor wore a charcoal three piece with cufflinks. I wore a navy two piece with a TV fold, white linen pocket square which some people on clothing forums — of all places — find too foppish. White shirts and dark ties of course, black lace up shoes. Neither of us were given grief or looked askance at. In fact, you were lucky to find anyone who wore more than a dress shirt and khakis with square toed slip-ons. But then it’s worth noting that she appreciated our way of dress in life. If in doubt, keep to a barrel cuff shirt and a two piece suit. Whatever you wear, don’t go fashionable with the shirt style. A classic semi-spread or spread collar is best. The pocket square can double as a tear catcher if you iron a cheap, white cotton handkerchief. If anyone gives you crap for it, that’s your excuse.

  4. Another very informative post, Matt! I second the suggestion that you might want to consider putting all of these educational posts in a sidebar in order. The guide to suit fit and classic proportions comes to mind.
    I myself have found your site very helpful when I was looking for a new suit a few years back and the new educational articles would obviously make it even more helpful.

  5. Funerals are mainly the occasions where I systematically wear three-piece suits nowadays, but not only during winter time. Lightweight cloth is hardly felt in spring and summer. After all, one does wear a waistcoat with a morning suit for weddings, even in warm months, and God knows this traditional attire is not really heat-repellant..
    Funerals are (in my humble opinion) the only appropriate occasion to wear a truly black grenadine tie. My posthumous apologies to Ian L. Fleming for this, as well as to the purists among the readers.
    As much as I like seeing Connery & Lazenby wear the epitomial black grenadine tie, I still do not feel entirely at ease with it in everyday business suits, and prefer a navy one.
    Maybe I miss imagination..Still open to suggestions, though.
    Beware to tone down (or ‘up’ in this case) and introduce some discrete patterns in your tie to differentiate yourself, out of respect for the close family, if you are not part of it.

    • Connery only very occasionally wore a black grenadine tie, and Lazenby never wore a black or a grenadine tie. I think they can work well for other serious occasions or in the evening, but I agree with you on wearing it for business attire.

  6. You powers of observation do you credit, Matt 😉
    You are right, Lazenby wears navy, not black indeed.
    I obviously confused knitted silk with the woven silk of the proper grenadine tie, and should have brushed up on my knowledge (or ignorance) in your 2010 post
    https://www.bondsuits.com/the-grenadine-tie/
    Still, I find the nuance ‘knitted vs. woven’ difficult to grasp. Maybe you could once more enlarge our horizons ?
    Thanks again.

  7. @Matt: “And if you don’t want anyone to know you are wearing braces, the waistcoat keeps them perfectly hidden. I am surprised that the films have not—or at least not from what can be seen—put Bond in braces when wearing a three-piece suit.”

    -I think the reason why Bond didn’t wear braces is quite simply because it doesn’t suit his character. Since there’s always a lot of action around him (missions etc.) braces would be obstructive when running etc. Furthermore braces have an old-fashioned touch and therefore are not the right item for Bond. It’s rather something for a character like M – it surely would look right on Bernard Lee or Robert Brown (or Ralph Fiennes). Dinner suits are perhaps an exception (Daniel Craig wears braces in CR), but even here Bond mostly preferred self-supporting trousers (if I am not mistaken).
    I think it’s perhaps the same reason for which producers decided that Bond should not wear cuff-links but instead cocktail cuffs. The latter are much more practical than classic French cuffs because it’s far easier to put them on and off (no tedious fiddling with inserting the cuff buttons etc.). At last Bond is not described as being too formal when it comes to clothes.

    As to double-breasted waistcoats: IMHO they deserve a comeback – wearing them allows to add an interesting note to a suit . The problem is that very easily they can create a rather garish look if the wearer doesn’t pay attention to details. An example how good it can look if done correctly is James Mason as Philip Vandam in Hitchcock’s “North by Northwest”. In spite of playing a criminal his suit is not all “gangsterish” but rather on the sophisticated side. “The smoothest of all killers” as one critic stated.

    All the best,
    Renard

    • My point about braces is that they would never be seen with a three-piece suit, so whether or not they suit the character is irrelevant. They are not obstructive either.

  8. “My point about braces is that they would never be seen with a three-piece suit, so whether or not they suit the character is irrelevant.”

    -Yes, but once a sartorial image is created producers do not switch easily to a different one. And one detail of this sartorial image is self-supporting trousers instead of belted ones or ones hold by braces. A film’s wardrobe team sticks to that image because producing several versions would be more costly.

    And I really think that braces indeed can be obstructive. Perhaps Connery would not have moved in his typically smooth and easy manner if who would have been forced to wear them. In addition they are not very comfortable to wear in warm weather (f.i. on Jamaica).

    • “And one detail of this sartorial image is self-supporting trousers instead of belted ones or ones hold by braces. A film’s wardrobe team sticks to that image because producing several versions would be more costly.”

      Braces can be there and not be part of this image. They would be there simply to prevent the shirt from showing between the waistcoat and trousers, which is especially a problem in action scenes. Braces don’t need their own version. All of my suit trousers, whether self-supporting or with belt loops, came with buttons for braces.

      “And I really think that braces indeed can be obstructive. Perhaps Connery would not have moved in his typically smooth and easy manner if who would have been forced to wear them. In addition they are not very comfortable to wear in warm weather (f.i. on Jamaica).”

      I wear braces often and I find them to be quite the opposite of restrictive. I noticed that the first time I wore braces. Bond doesn’t wear three-piece suits much in warm weather (especially not in the tropics) so that would not be a problem.

  9. All right then – I surrender! 🙂

    I am a fan of self-supporting trousers and the few times I actually wore braces I didn’t enjoy it. And I don’t know if Connery did or would have. But let’s finish it here.

  10. Here are my favorite 3 piece suits for each actor:
    Sean Connery: Grey Glen Check Anthony Sinclair 3 piece in Goldfinger
    George Lazenby: Navy Herringbone Dimi Major 3 piece in On Her Majesty’s Secret Service
    Roger Moore: Gray Pinstripe Douglas Hayward 3 piece in Octopussy
    Timothy Dalton(His only one): Navy pinstripe (idk brand) in The Living Daylights
    Pierce Brosnan: Navy Birdseye Brioni 3 piece in Tomorrow Never Dies
    Daniel Craig: Navy track stripe Brioni 3 piece in Casino Royale

    Do you agree with these? Would you tell me your favorites for each actor and why? Thanks!

    • I prefer Moore’s charcoal flannel three piece suit in For Your Eyes Only and Dalton’s other three piece suit in The Living Daylights, a grey herringbone. I prefer Craig’s black herringbone three-piece suit in Spectre.

  11. Do you think 3 piece suits look good when you are not wearing a tie? I see a lot of people wearing 3 piece suits with open collar shirts, and although it looks cool in a way, I think it is really pointless to add the vest. I think that the look clashes with itself, because at one time you are trying to look formal and casual at the same time. Also the vest is a good way to hold your tie in place, and it’s really only worn by the wealthiest executives in the world. I don’t even really think there is ever an occasion in the world where a three piece suit is even mandatory. And without a tie, I think the vest is really pointless and just a fashion statement. Do you agree or not? why?

    • I think you answered your first question already. But city suits in general just don’t look good without a tie, three piece or two piece. But your assertion that only the wealthiest executives wear three piece suits is false.

    • Three piece suits should always be worn with a tie. Actually, almost all two piece suits except for casual tropical suits should also always be worn with a tie. Follow James Bond’s example on this.

  12. Matt, is it ok if the back of a waistcoat can be made with the same fabric as the front of the waistcoat instead of being made with just lining? For example a light grey wool waistcoat but the back is not made of lining but instead the same wool used in the front.

    • It’s okay for a waistcoat to have a self back, but they are bulkier and wear warmer. They’re more typical for country suits where they are worn outdoors for sports.

  13. Matt , l think l can answer your Question as to why The producers never had James Bond wear Braces. To start with , l 100 % agree with you that Braces are not restrictive. My every day dress up invariably consists of a spread collar Button down cocktail cuff Dress shirt ( usually sea cotton poplin , but sometimes silk shirts too ) , pleated Dress trousers ( Usually lightweight worsted wool , but also silk , cotton poplin , wool Tweed or a Vicuna pair which l had made by Scabal lately ) and A pair of Albert Thurston Barrathea Braces . On cold days , l top it off with a cashmere cardigan , or a Blazer or l wear a Suit ( usually without a tie , unless the days l have to go to court ).
    Anyway , since l wear Braces everyday , l can attest that they are extremely secure and comfortable and unobstructive. But here is why l think James Bond never wore them :
    Let’s Look At Sean Connery. He knew Nothing about suits or suit etiquette . He was just dressing the way Terrence Young was making him dress . Since Young dressed Connery up like himself , l would assume that Connery wore Daks Top Trousers because Young Wore them. Since Young never wore Braces , Connery never wore them.
    Let us Look at Roger Moore . His clothing were very much a product of their times – 1970s inspired. He liked flared pocketless trousers and Braces would not look good with such a radical style. Moore ( unlike Connery ) was quite familiar with fine dressing , and l personally think he wore A belt , simply because he liked Belts
    Let us look At Timothy Dalton . It is a well known fact that Dalton did not like dressing up at all . Chances are , producers probably picked a wardrobe for him and he agreed ( note the cheap quality American style off the rack Dress Shirts and His eschewing of ties with Navy blue business suits ).
    Let us Look at Pierce Brosnan. Brosnan is quite familiar with refined dress up BUT his suits we’re sourced by Brioni , an Italian Brand. Now , l am no expert on the matter , bit my experience tells me that Italian styles favour belts instead of Braces or Side Adjusters. Also l have one Italian suit ( a Gucci ) and the waist band is too soft to support Brace Buttons without them constantly popping off ( unlike the robust construction on English Waist bands ).
    Daniel Craig however DOES wear Braces in Casino Royale , Skyfall and Spectre and l think that it is certainly a very warm welcome to James Bonds Wardrobe ( although he only does it with Black tie ).

    • The point I was making about braces has nothing to do with the look of braces, since with a three-piece suit they would not be seen. Lots of tricks are used in costuming to make the clothes look their best at all times. Braces are a useful (and hidden) trick to make a three-piece suit look its best.

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