James Bond has a long history of wearing Sea Island cotton. Ian Fleming wrote in his novels that Bond wears a “dark blue Sea Island cotton shirt” in Moonraker, “dark blue Sea Island cotton shirts with collars attached and short sleeves” in Diamonds Are Forever, a “white sea-island cotton shirt” in On Her Majesty’s Secret Service and “sea island cotton underpants” in The Man with the Golden Gun. Sean Connery’s Turnbull & Asser shirts were likely made of Sea Island cotton poplin, and some of Pierce Brosnan’s Turnbull & Asser shirts auctioned with his suits at Bonhams were made of “Sea Island Cotton Quality” royal oxford.
Sea Island cotton is an extra-long staple cotton, and due to the fibre’s fine diameter and long length it has a silky look and feel. Sea Island cotton is also a very strong fibre, which is what allows it to be made into finer shirtings. It is typically spun in a 140 yarn count. Originally it was grown on the Sea Islands of South Carolina and Georgia in the United States, but now it is grown in the British West Indies. Turnbull & Asser has not sold genuine Sea Island cotton shirts for some time and now sells “Sea Island Quality”, which is extra-long staple cotton grown in Egypt. Turnbull & Asser’s”Sea Island Quality” shirts are at the top of their ready-to-wear range.
Though Sea Island cotton is both durable and has the silkiest feel of all cottons, there are downsides. It doesn’t have much body, and in a poplin weave it can be somewhat translucent in white. Because Sea Island cotton is so fine, it is very difficult to iron and wrinkles easily. Underpants, like what Bond wears in The Man with the Golden Gun novel, may be the best usage for Sea Island cotton since they touch one of the most sensitive parts of the body, and it doesn’t matter if they wrinkle.