In the Connery, Lazenby and Moore years, James Bond dressed in a style that came very much out of the 1960s. The prewar standards in menswear had been relaxed, and Bond broke protocols that many well-dressed men today still believe should be followed.
When Pierce Brosnan took on the role of James Bond in 1994, fashions had changed from the previous Bonds. Many of the 1990s men’s fashions recalled men’s fashions from the 1940s, sometimes called the ‘golden age of menswear’, in many ways. For suits, the longer lengths, three-button fronts and lower gorges on the jackets and pleated trousers were standard in both eras. Art deco tie patterns were back. Boys could dress like their fathers, who could dress like their fathers, and none of them would look out of place.
Costume designer Lindy Hemming entered the Bond series for GoldenEye and would go on to dress Pierce Brosnan for all four of his Bond films and Daniel Craig for Casino Royale. Hemming was a traditionalist who showed respect to classic men’s style through her costumes. Though she looked at Connery’s Bond for inspiration, there’s an older inspiration that comes through in her clothes. She wanted Bond’s style to look timelessly elegant in the same way that Cary Grant’s and Gary Cooper’s still do today.
The fashions of the past decade are the opposite of the 1990s fashions in many ways. The fit has gone in the other direction, being very tight instead of very full. While Brosnan’s clothes in the 1990s have a full fit, they never look baggy. They drape elegantly, recalling how the Hollywood stars of the 1940s dressed. Brosnan’s style will stand the test of time, just as style of the 1940s does. Draped clothing may look old-fashioned when other fashions are in vogue, but it will always look elegant.
Hemming brought the classic three-piece suit looks from the 1980s Bond films in the 1990s. Three-piece suits were standard before World War II, and Hemming brought Bond closer to that older standard. Brosnan wore a three-piece suit beautifully, and he would sometimes layer an overcoat on top of his three-piece suit for an especially grand look. The double-breasted fawn-coloured coat in Tomorrow Never Dies has a particularly 1940s look thanks to the double-breasted closure and the colour. Brioni made three three-piece suits for Brosnan to wear in GoldenEye, though he only wore one suit with a waistcoat. Hemming used the three-piece suit to signify that Daniel Craig was a mature James Bond at the end of Casino Royale. She understood its power and used it well.
Following tradition, Brosnan frequently wears oxfords with his suits instead of Lazenby’s, Moore’s and Dalton’s slip-ons or Connery’s boots. Oxfords are the most traditional shoe to wear with a suit, while traditionalists feel that any kind of slip-on is too casual to wear with a suit. Brosnan’s oxfords were usually in the semi-brogue and full-brogue styles, which have an added weight that balances his full-cut trousers. However, some traditionalists feel that full brogues are too sporty for a city suit, though the combination was popular in the 1990s.
Hemming set a new standard for Bond’s shirts to have double cuffs and cufflinks. Before Hemming, Bond saved cufflinks for his dressiest outfits and wore shirts with cocktail cuffs or regular button cuffs with suits. Only in Goldfinger did Bond previous wear double cuffs with his suits. Hemming gave Bond the classic elegance of cufflinks with most of his suits.
Hemming dressed Brosnan and Craig in the most traditional black tie ensembles. For Brosnan’s first two films, she put Brosnan in low-cut evening waistcoats that matched his dinner suits, the only times that Bond wore three-piece dinner suits. The low-cut evening waistcoat, originally from full evening dress (white tie), was common for black tie from its inception in the Victorian era until World War II. Before GoldenEye, Bond never wore one. It was a traditional four-button model with silk satin lapels. Tomorrow Never Dies is the second and last time Bond wore a waistcoat with his dinner suit. This time Hemming looked to rarer vintages style, and she chose a five-button double-breasted model—with the buttons in a V-formation—that’s usually worn with morning dress but cut it lower. Hemming reverted to Bond’s usual method of no evening waist-covering for Brosnan’s last two films and for Casino Royale.
Hemming broke Bondian tradition to follow ‘proper’ black tie tradition in the shirts. British tradition accepted regular buttons down the front of evening shirts by the time Sean Connery started as Bond in 1962, but traditionalists still insist that the shirt fronts have studs, or at the very least, a fly front that covers the the buttons. Exposed buttons were not to be done. So Hemming always had Bond wearing evening shirts with mother-of-pearl studs—in Tomorrow Never Dies and The World Is Not Enough—or a fly front—in GoldenEye, Die Another Day and Casino Royale. Bond’s evening shirts always had buttons until 1989’s Licence to Kill, where Bond first wears studs, for the only time in black onyx.
Tangentially related to the topic of this article, The Bond Experience published a wonderful interview with costume designer Lindy Hemming last month that is a must-see!