1980s-Style Morning Dress in Licence to Kill

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For Felix Leiter’s wedding in Licence to Kill, the wedding party wears morning dress in a manner that was popular for America weddings in the 1980s. Because David Hedison’s Leiter, Timothy Dalton’s James Bond and other men in the wedding party are dressed in almost identical morning dress, it was likely to have been hired. Presumably Felix hired the morning dress because it does not follow the conventions of contemporary British morning dress; something more British would have been expected of Bond if he chose it. For comparison, Bond wore an excellent example of contemporary British morning dress in A View to a Kill only four years earlier. However, Felix’s wedding was in America, and this morning dress was the fashion at the time.

The mid-grey morning coat, or cutaway as an American like Felix would have been called it, is traditionally cut with a single-button front that cuts away to the tails in the back. It includes a waist seam, proper of body coats. Other details include peak lapels, roped sleeve heads, a breast pocket—which not all morning coats have—and three buttons on each cuff. The buttons are grey plastic.

This morning coat has a more classic cut than the suits in the film, which have the more fashion-forward full cuts of the time. However, there are a few problems with fit. The collar stands away from the neck and the back looks sloppy overall, but this is to be expected from a hired garment and adds a touch of realism to the wardrobe. But it contrasts with Bond almost always looking perfectly tailored in the past.

Per British tradition, a mid-grey morning coat would be worn with matching trousers and a waistcoat as part of a matching morning suit. Here Bond pairs the grey morning coat with the striped trousers and light grey waistcoat that would more traditionally be paired with a more formal black or dark grey morning coat. The choice of a mid-grey coat may have to do with the sunny locale of Key West, but in that case a morning suit would have been a better choice from a British perspective. The mid-grey morning coat being worn with different trousers and waistcoat fits the fashions of the time.

The trousers are in the traditional ‘cashmere stripes’ pattern in black and grey. They have double reverse pleats, which were popular on American trousers at the time. British morning dress trousers traditionally have forward pleats, though examples from the early 20th century and earlier would have had a flat front.

The dove grey waistcoat has five buttons down the front, with all buttons fastened, and the shanked buttons are stainless steel. The waistcoat has two single-jetted pockets. Because a darker morning coat is traditionally worn with such trousers and waistcoat, the mid-grey morning coat clashes with the slightly lighter and cooler-toned waistcoat because there is little contrast. Though the pairing of the coat and trousers is not traditional, they do not clash.

The shirt and dress cravat are even less traditional and are the mark of 1980s hired morning dress. The shirt has an attached wing collar, a fine-pleated bib and double cuffs. This type of shirt is slightly more appropriate with evening wear, but hire companies package them with morning dress as well. The wing collar fell out of favour in America by the middle of the 20th century to be replaced by the spread collar, though an attached wing collar almost always gives the look of a hired outfit. The shirt collar for morning dress is traditionally detachable, especially a wing collar.

Bond’s dress cravat has grey, black and white stripes. The cravat is a clip-on, with a clasp in plain sight in the back, and not self-tied. These fell out of favour with the wing collar but came back in the 1980s with it. Bond’s shoes are black cap-toe lace-ups. The outfit is completed with a light grey top hat and white carnation worn in the left lapel buttonhole.

25 COMMENTS

  1. Matt, you are being a real diplomat, as once again this proves that every sartorial item (apart form the wetsuit !) in LTK is a disaster.
    One would also imagine that Bond knew a while in advance that his old friend Felix was getting married, and that would have left him ample time to select a proper morning suit (the one worn at Ascot was just perfect) instead of allegedly renting this one, which makes him look like a clown on holidays. To add a little more to this clothes-UNconsciousness, Dalton even removes the coat and his cravat later on at the wedding party, if I remember well.
    Just imagine Connery or Moore going to a function, and dropping to coat of a dinner jacket and/or wearing a tieless, opened shirt….
    Dalton, although a good actor, will always remain as an unpolished, sartorially uneducated Bond, a voluntarily dull and classless civil servant, instead of the lavish albeit discretely flamboyant secret agent we used to know, and which even Fleming had in mind.

  2. A clip on tie and wing collar on James Bond? Yuck. What were they thinking? I can look past the mid-grey coat but a clip on tie is unforgivable in a Bond movie. At least the wedding party is in morning dress rather than evening dress in the middle of the day, as so often seems to be the case nowadays.
    Unfortunately morning dress seems to be a lost art these days, particularly in the U.S. It's a shame because it's very traditional and looks great when done correctly. I'm especially fond of Lazenby's stroller at Bond's wedding to Tracy. This isn't bad for Licence to Kill, but it's a far cry from the OHMSS wedding scene or royal Ascot in AVTAK.

  3. I think the 80's was the last time the morning coat or suit was still to be seen in the US. (at least I haven't seen it since) Reagan was certainly the last president to wear one.

  4. Ugh. What can I say? Not much, except that this was not Dalton's finest sartorial hour. Not good at all. I agree with others here: Moore's morning dress in AVTAK, or even Lazenby's in OHMSS is light years ahead of this one here.

    Anonymous #2 – Having re-watched the film, I can safely say that Dalton doesn't remove the coat at the wedding party, though he does remove the cravat, which is not good either.

    Also, consider this: all the groomsmen and the bride's father are wearing the same outfit as Bond. I don't think it is out of the realms of probability that Felix chose a uniform look for the outfits for the groomsmen and that Bond, out of politeness and respect for his friend, chose to go along with Felix's choice of wedding attire rather than bring his own.

    Also consider that Bond was supposed to fly out to Istanbul for an assignment the day ater the wedding. It probably wouldn't be that convenient to haul your own morning dress around on assignment in Turkey, when you can just wear a hired outfit for the wedding and drop it off at the shop before flying out the next day.

    Not a good look, but if you take the points I made into consideration, you can excuse it, somewhat, on he grounds that it is a rental, and not something that James Bond would have hanging in his wardrobe.

  5. The color makes the suit look cheap, like something out of a two-bit vaudeville act. Let's just assume Felix rented it.

  6. Dalton_Fan, should Bond have gone along with wearing something this bad? If this were Roger Moore or Pierce Brosnan he would have fixed everything, or at least worn his own. But what would have Fleming done?

  7. If Roger Moore or Pierce Brosnan had worn this outfit you'd have sugar coated your review.
    It's ridiculous to suggest that the best man would refuse to wear the wedding outfit chosen by the groom. No-one with any social skills would suggest such a thing. It would be a complete insult to the wedding.

  8. There's no way to sugar coat an attached wing collar and clip-on cravat. It would definitely be very insulting to Felix and Della not to wear their clothes, but on the other side it can be insulting to be forced to wear a tacky costume. Felix won here, as he should. What really came to mind when I wrote the above was in Quantum of Solace how Daniel Craig changed his hotel reservations to a hotel that met his standards. I do believe Bond might have done the same for clothes. It's not something I would suggest anyone do in a wedding party. But even with Dalton, he dressed up for the opera when Saunders clearly did not approve. Bond often feels the need to dress the way he wants to, regardless of what's appropriate. The character is the same way in regards to his missions overall. Also, traditionally in a wedding the men wear their own clothes, or at least tried to vary their outfits in some way.

  9. Nobody has worn a shirt with a detachable collar in years..certainly not in Key West, which is scarcely a locale where one dresses up.
    In addition the clothing will have been hired by Leiter..wedding hire establishments don't provide such things.
    Furthermore Dalton is essaying the literary Bond, a character who eschews hats and wears suits with short-sleeved silk, owns only one tie and wears mocassins with a suit. IN THE WHITEHALL OF THE FIFTIES!! Fleming's Bond wouldn't have worn a shirt with a detachable collar since being expelled from Eton.
    I'm not sure the cravat is a clip-on..I've seen footage of Dalton loosening it between takes on UK TV coverage in the 80's.
    Dalton said of the scene at the time that "it's the first time we've seen Bond in a situation of social obligation" with the key word being obligation. It would be extremely unfriendly to reject an outfit selected by and for his best ( and in movie series terms only) friend's wedding.
    Given that this is the second time you've reviewed this outfit I wonder why other actors have not been subjected to such vitriol.
    Reading through reviews of Dalton's two films none of them make any negative mention of Bond's clothing. Indeed the only ones that do celebrate the fact that "Bond no longer looks like a tailor's dummy", praises the fact that "this man's dinner jacket looks like his own" and appreciates that " Dalton had a liking for slim knitted ties and structureless suits" an improvement on "Roger Moore who many consider to be the least successful Bond (even less cool than Lazenby) and not JUST because of his clothes" and "its for his safari suits,blousons and slip-on shoes that we'll remember him for, a strangely ham-fisted combination that is impossible to forgive".

    • “Indeed the only ones that do celebrate the fact that ‘Bond no longer looks like a tailor’s dummy’, praises the fact that ‘this man’s dinner jacket looks like his own’ and appreciates that ‘ Dalton had a liking for slim knitted ties and structureless suits’ an improvement on ‘Roger Moore who many consider to be the least successful Bond (even less cool than Lazenby) and not JUST because of his clothes’ and ‘its for his safari suits,blousons and slip-on shoes that we’ll remember him for, a strangely ham-fisted combination that is impossible to forgive’.”

      Those comments are simply laughable – though what rhetoric can you expect from fashion dilettantes?

  10. Because people haven't worn detachable collars in years is why Bond should not be wearing a wing collar. If Fleming's Bond did wear morning dress he would surely not approve of a wing collar, and most people in England don't anyway. The cravat is indeed a clip-on, and in a few shots the clip is visible in the back of the collar. If you feel it's necessary to show a screenshot of it I will put one up.

    I've only reviewed this outfit once. My criticism has been directed toward the clothes, NOT toward Dalton, who is a very fine actor and had very much a valid portrayal of Bond. If this were indeed Roger Moore, he would have had not allowed Bond and the wedding party to wear these clothes and would have guided the film's costume designer to better clothes.

    Also keep in mind that this blog is more about clothing than it is about James Bond. The clothing does not make a movie good or bad, unless it's a period piece where those things have much more impact. Like Moore, Dalton also wore slip-on shoes and blousons. Dalton did not wear safari suits because he didn't go on any safaris like Roger Moore did. There is nothing wrong with wearing safari suits on safaris. It's very old-fashioned, but there's still nothing wrong with it.

  11. I am not much of a Dalton fact (I think he is mildly overrated, better suited for the stage than the screen), and I think Roger's 1977-1983 run of performances was quite excellent, but in the year that I have been following this blog, it does seem that Roger Moore's concessions to the fashions of his time are more tolerated than Dalton's concessions to the fashions of his time. It may be because Roger's clothing did not indulge in the extreme excesses of the 1970s, or because his clothing was just better tailored then Dalton's. Or that Dalton was a generally unpopular and unsuccessful Bond (particularly in America, for reasons that had nothing to do with his clothing), but there often appears to be a double standard in the evaluations of Roger and Dalton when it comes not to the quality and tailoring of their clothing, but to the clothing within the context of the respective times.

    That said, I generally agree with Matt's evaluation of this morning suit, which should be timeless and looks just cheap, having nothing to do with the 1989 or Florida setting.

    I have not double-checked the novels, but anonymous seems to have a point about the literary Bond's chosen attire in the Whitehall of the 1950s.

  12. Isn’t it just extraordinary how, on a wholly unrelated post concerning shoddy wedding clothing, the same old yawn-inducing guff about traditional British safari clothing rears it’s tedious head again?

    And, regarding Christian’s assessment, to be honest, I don’t see the double standard. Matt is, as he keeps stating, concerning himself solely with 007’s clothing, good, bad and indifferent. The reason Roger Moore get’s a better press is surely because of the superior tailoring you yourself refer to? In a Moore Bond film the whole ensemble, including Leiter et al, would have been correctly dressed, likely in morning suits provided by Moore’s own tailor Doug Hayward and the idea of anyone insulting anyone else would not have arisen.

    Dalton may be, as everyone keeps reminding us, fine Shakespearean actor but a good actor, in my opinion, does not necessarily make a good 007. (I would apply the same rationale to the current occupant of the role but for slightly different reasons). They take it all far too seriously in trying to put a complex human dimension on a wholly fantastical character (at least in terms of the cinematic version) and, for me, this doesn’t work well. However, I do believe everyone’s view of Bond is subjective, nuanced and coloured by which actor one first encountered.

  13. David,
    I generally agree with your comments above (and I tend to agree with your opinions, present Bond incumbent excepted). But an example of what I think is the double standard is criticism of Dalton's wider shoulders on his suit, or rather boxy 1989 fit. I don't care for either, but those were very much the fashions of the day (I had some myself). It seems to me (and I haven't gone through the posts and comments to empirically confirm, though some others obviously are of this opinion as well) that Roger Moore (the Bond I grew up with, albeit the John Glenn-directed one) escapes criticism by the commenters (though Matt I believe did criticize the Moonraker-era lapel width and trouser flares) for some of his concessions to the bad fashions of the 1970s (and I have no issue with "traditional British safari clothing" if it fits the film's setting). Daniel Craig has taken criticism for some of his casual clothing which I think ignores the reality of what people wear today. But as I believe you said, and I agree, Dalton's clothes just aren't very good, with a mediocre look and they deserve the bad press for their poor quality.

    And I agree wholeheartedly that it is unthinkable that Roger Moore would have worn such a ridiculous looking morning suit.

    • For cold weather a a proper Chesterfield coat would be best. A morning coat should be made in a weight heavy enough that one shouldn’t need an overcoat for above freezing temperatures.

  14. While I agree in a Roger Moore Bond film, the morning suits would have been more tailored, but it doesn’t really bother me at all. I agree with other assessments that Felix probably picked out the men’s clothing for the wedding party, and based on what we’re allowed to see of the relationship between Bond and Felix in this film before tragedy strikes, I have no issue at all with chalking it up to Dalton’s Bond just going along with the flow and wearing what Felix asks for without a fuss.

    There’s three things to consider. The wedding party is made up of a group of Americans, none of whom have much of an inkling as to what is proper/improper morning dress attire. Two, the wedding is for Felix. It’s not about Bond. He’s the best man, but the day is for Felix, so him raising a fuss about shoddy quality in the morning dress attire would make him look pretty petty, and not focused on what really matters, which is Felix’s wedding day.

    And third, and a big one, Bond, through past history, lost his own wife on his wedding day. Based on Dalton’s later reaction in the film when Della tosses him the garter, those wounds are still extremely fresh, as Dalton politely, but quickly, takes the garter and leaves. So in actuality, from a character standpoint, Tracy’s probably been on his mind somewhat for the entire wedding, and he probably would rather be somewhere else anyway, but it’s a testament to Bond that he shows up for his friend.

    With those three things taken into consideration, while not Bond’s best look, it’s easy for me to speculate not only that Felix picked everything out, but that Dalton’s Bond wouldn’t have the heart or lack of class to point out any mistakes in the wardrobe. Hell, I can even picture in my mind a scene of them in the rental shop with Dalton smiling ruefully at the suit, but biting his tongue and putting it on.

    • These are all excellent points on the reason for the clothes (whether or not the costume designer actually considered them), but it doesn’t change the fact that this is a morning dress disaster!

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