Blue jeans are one of the most important garments of the past century, but until recently they were not part of James Bond’s style. This changed when Daniel Craig became James Bond.
Blue jeans started as a utilitarian garment. They’re hard wearing and designed for manual work—originally mining. In the 1950s they became a symbol of rebellion and subcultures, particularly in America. By the last quarter of the 20th century they had become commonplace casual wear, both for men and women. Cuts had become more stylised as jeans became more fashionable.
James Bond never wore blue jeans during the 20th century because they didn’t represent the character. Bond was a social climber, so he didn’t want to dress like a labourer. Bond was only rebellious to his boss, not to the world order, so dressing as subcultures do wasn’t for him. And he’s known for dressing up, not for dressing down. Jeans were too casual for Bond. Chino, poplin, corduroy and moleskin are more elegant cottons, so that’s what he wore for his most casual trousers.
The status of blue jeans changed in the 21st century. Today, denim is more fashionable for casual wear than other cottons, and its previous associations have been forgotten. While previously jeans were forbidden from fancy restaurants, today people put on their dressier jeans for a night out. Dark wash jeans are often known as ‘formal’ jeans to be worn for dressing up. Designer and selvedge denim can cost as much as a fine pair of tailored trousers, so people treat them as such. James Bond, however, only wears jeans for dressing at his most casual, never dressed up with a formal shirt or tailored jacket.
Jeans are no longer just a symbol of labour or a symbol of rebellion. They are now a simple canvas. In countless permutations, jeans have a wide variety of meanings to different people.
James Bond adopted denim jeans in the Daniel Craig era as a way of updating him for the 21st century. Bond’s wardrobe has always followed trends, but unlike George Lazenby’s frilly shirts or Roger Moore’s bell bottoms, denim fashion is here to stay. Bond hasn’t sunk to the former level of jeans. On the contrary, jeans have been upgraded to James Bond’s level. Both their fashionability and their ubiquity are why Bond has to wear them now. To eschew jeans today is to be old-fashioned, and while Bond has always appreciated tradition he has never been old-fashioned.
James Bond in Jeans
Jeans have always been a part of Bond’s style, but not denim blue jeans. Ian Fleming dressed Bond in canvas jeans on two occasions. In the 1958 novel Dr. No, Bond wears ‘cheap black canvas jeans’ for his mission in the Caribbean. In the 1960 short story ‘For Your Eyes Only’, Bond is instructed to get a pair of ‘dark brown jeans’ from a secondhand clothing store for his mission to Vermont. In both cases, Bond’s jeans are intended to be practical garments for his circumstances, with durability and comfort paramount over style.
In both of these cases, ‘jeans’ refers only to the five-pocket style with rivets. Sometimes non-denim jeans are called ‘five-pocket trousers’, especially when the trousers don’t have rivets. Apart from denim, jeans-style trousers are commonly made of cotton in canvas, drill, moleskin and corduroy, but it’s also not uncommon to find wool flannel five-pocket trousers.
The first hint of Bond wearing jeans on film is with his powder blue leisure suit in Live and Let Die, but contrary to popular belief, the suit is not made of denim and the trousers are not jeans. The suit is likely made of cotton canvas or drill and is comprised of a trucker jacket and trousers with front patch pockets. The outfit is workwear, so conceptually it isn’t much different than if Bond wore blue jeans. Bond attempts to maintain his standards by wearing the trousers pressed with a crease down the leg.
Bond’s first time wearing denim came in the non-EON series Bond film Never Say Never Again. Bond finds himself in need of clothes and borrows blue denim dungarees from Valerie Leon’s character. While the outfit looks humourous and out of character on Bond, he wears it only out of necessity.
Later in Never Say Never Again, Bond wears khaki canvas jeans, hinting at the canvas jeans that Fleming dressed Bond in. Contrary to the dungarees, these show a tougher side of Bond.
Bond almost wore classic blue jeans in A View to a Kill. In a cut scene, Bond is undercover on a boat full of fishermen and dresses to blend in to get a closer look at Zorin’s operation. This would have been Bond’s first time in the EON series wearing denim, but in the the context of a disguise they would not have been worn as a fashion statement. This disguise is anything but.
In Casino Royale, Bond pairs khaki cotton bedford cord bootcut jeans with his Sunspel ‘Riviera’ polo. While they don’t look as polished as chinos, they help to portray the unrefined nature of a newly OO Bond in the film without going as far to put him in blue jeans. They look more fashion forward than chinos in just the right way for James Bond.
Bond’s first blue jeans in the series are in Quantum of Solace, and they’re perfect for the intense action sequences. They fit with the gritty portrayal of James Bond, and by 2008 they were no longer a fashion statement for Bond. The 7 For All Mankind bootcut jeans in a dark blue ‘Mercer’ wash were very trendy for the time, so they made Bond look both fashionable as well as prepared for action.
Bond also wears Levi’s 306 STA-PREST tapered-leg jeans in cream and khaki, which are a more expected choice for the character than blue jeans. These jeans have a more rugged look than chinos, but they are slightly dressier than blue jeans and have the elegance of earth-toned trousers. The STA-PREST model was originally designed to be worn with a crease, but Daniel Craig’s Bond does not press his. Roger Moore’s Bond would have.
For his combat gear at the Skyfall lodge in Skyfall, Bond wears brown corduroy ‘Corduane Iggy’ jeans from All Saints. While brown corduroy is a traditional material for the Scottish countryside, updating the style of the trousers to a quintessentially 2010s slim-fit low-rise jeans silhouette instead of a chino or tailored style gives Bond a more modern look.
No Time to Die portrays Bond at his most dressed down and features two pairs of denim jeans. His first pair is in light grey from Tom Ford. They repeat the slim fit and a low rise ‘skinny jeans’ style of the Skyfall cords. Bond turns up the hem to rest neatly on top of his shoes for a more casual look than hemming the jeans. He wears them during his retirement in Jamaica, where he’s not putting much effort into his appearance. Chinos, like in his previous retirement in Skyfall, would have been a more Bondian and climate-appropriate choice, but jeans better portray Bond at his most casual.
Bond’s style looks a little more polished later in the film when he wears blue jeans from Naked & Famous in the ‘Stretch Selvedge’ model to retrieve his Aston Martin V8 Vantage. These jeans are made of 12.5-oz indigo rope dyed Japanese selvedge denim, woven on vintage shuttle looms in a right-hand twill construction. They’re in the ‘Weird Guy’ fit, which has a medium rise and a tapered leg.
There are a number of occasions in the past films that would likely be updated with jeans if the films made today. The light blue trousers in Dr. No, the leisure suit in Live and Let Die, the cords for rock climbing in For Your Eyes Only, and the flannel trousers with the leather jackets in A View to a Kill and The Living Daylights could all be replaced with jeans for a more 21st century look, in denim or in other cloths. But doing so would remove some of the individuality of Bond’s style. By outfitting Bond in jeans, it makes him look more accessible to today’s audiences, but it also makes his style more generic. Jeans are what the average person wears for casual to smart casual looks. While denim should no longer be off-limits for James Bond, it doesn’t mean his style needs to leave more elegant and varied casual trouser styles in the past.