Shades of Grey in James Bond’s Suitings

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Grey is James Bond’s preferred suit colour, but he does not discriminate when it comes to the shade of grey. His wardrobes includes suits that range from the darkest charcoal grey to pale silver grey.

Grey wool cloths are rarely a flat grey and are made of yarns twisted in a mélange of shades of grey, black and/or white. Without the variegation grey cloths would look boring and flat, but instead they have depth and liveliness. Grey linens, and sometimes cottons, are also often made with the same mélange colouring, but grey silk usually has a flat colouring and relies on the character of the shine or slubs in the silk to prevent it from looking dull.

Grey clothes look livelier and bright when there is more contrast in the cloth, from contrast in the shades twisted into the yarns and especially from contrast in a pattern of dark grey and light grey or black and white. If a dark grey and light grey sharkskin and a black and white sharkskin have the same average shade of grey, the latter will appear brighter, but it won’t be lighter.

Colour names are not consistent from one cloth merchant or clothing brand to another. When suitings have small patterns, the colour names tend to be used even more liberally. A check made up of medium grey and black may be called ‘charcoal’ because that’s the result of the two colours together, or it may be called ‘medium grey’ because that’s the shade of grey used in the check.

Grey is a neutral suit colour that looks good on anyone for any purpose, but it is important to choose the right shade. Here are the common shades of grey that James Bond wears. Variation in lighting, film stock and colour grading can change our perceptions of the shades of grey as they appear on screen in the Bond films, but I have done my best to judge them as accurately as I can.

Oxford grey

Oxford grey is the darkest of all shades of grey, and it’s woven of yarns that include many black fibres. It’s traditionally used as an alternative to black for morning coats. It’s like the daytime equivalent of midnight blue, but unlike midnight blue it’s not designed to look blacker than black. It is almost as dark as black, but it has more character than a flat black. It’s a more interesting and more stylish alternative to black for suits. This term ‘Oxford grey’ is often used liberally and may not always refer to such a dark grey. Sometimes this shade is called ‘charcoal’, which is typically a little lighter.

The herringbone suit in The Man with the Golden Gun is a very dark grey that is only a hair lighter than his black tie. It looks serious, formal and strkiing for his fancy dinner, particularly because the suit has a sheen, likely due to silk in the suiting.

Charcoal grey

Charcoal grey is a dark shade of grey. Charcoal can be considered a range of dark greys, from as dark as oxford grey to as light as dark grey, but the typical charcoal is in between the two. It’s one of the most conservative colours for suits because it’s dark, but it lacks the overpowering nature of black or oxford grey.

The suit from the start of The World Is Not Enough is a typical shade of charcoal that provides Bond with the right look for his cover as a banker.

Dark grey

Dark grey is light shade of charcoal grey and looks livelier than the typical charcoal with more variegation in the cloth. It looks more sophisticated than the typical charcoal grey but is still dark enough to be a serious business suit.

James Bond’s first suit of the series in Dr. No is a dark grey flannel.

Mid grey or medium grey

In the context of suitings, mid grey is darker than a true medium grey that is halfway between black and white. It’s a medium shade in relation to traditional grey suitings, but it’s a somewhat dark grey overall.

The Spectre herringbone track stripe suit shows how this shade is relatively dark, but it’s lighter than the charcoal range.

Grey

Any shade here can be called ‘grey’ or ‘gray’—the latter is more common in America. Sometimes the unmodified ‘grey’ denotes a true medium grey that sits halfway between black and white. It may be known as ‘Cambridge grey’. Plain ‘grey’ wools are usually made up of fibres of many shades of grey or black and white for a more mottled look with considerable dimension.

The For Your Eyes Only flannel suit fits this proper medium shade of grey that is neither light nor dark. It’s not a very formal suit, but it’s the lightest shade that is appropriate for Bond’s London office. The shade is more flattering on Roger Moore’s lighter complexion than his much darker grey suit from the beginning of the film.

Black and White

Black and white fibres are frequently spun into grey yarns to produce a cloth with depth, but some suitings are made up of yarns of purely black and purely white—or off-white in the case of fibres like wool or silk. Because the white is usually off-white, a black and white cloth looks warmer than other grey cloths where a grey dye both dulls the brightness and removes the warm hue.

This kind of fabric may be called a ‘contrast’ fabric because of the contrast in the cloth, and it often looks sportier or flashier than a pattern with lower contrast. In fine patterns like basketweave, sharkskin, birdseye, nailhead, herringbone or glen check, separate black and white yarns comes together to produce a cloth that reads as grey because the individual shades don’t stand out like they would in a black cloth with white pinstripes, a large black-and-white shepherd’s check or the classic black-and-white striped prison uniform.

The sharkskin suit in Skyfall is made up of separate black and white yarns, but it reads as grey because the pattern is miniscule. The contrast makes this a less conservative suit than one without such high contrast in the cloth. In this example the suit looks flashy, while a glen check with the same contrast would look sporty. Both cloths look bright because of the white woven into the cloths, while the black yarns give the cloth a depth that lacks from typical medium to light grey cloths.

Light grey

Light grey encompasses a range of greys that are lighter than halfway between black and white. The typical light grey is just a shade lighter than this halfway point, and they don’t usually have any black or dark grey fibres. While there are light grey flannel suits for winter, light grey is frequently used for warm-weather suits.

The Diamonds Are Forever tropical wool suit is light grey, helping it to wear cooler in Las Vegas than darker shades of grey. Bond frequently wears this shade when dressing for business in hot locales.

Silver grey

Silver grey is a pale shade of grey that resembles the brightness of a white metal. This shade is better for warm-weather garments than for cool-weather.

The linen suit in the Bahamas in Casino Royale is in this light silver shade, and the colour makes him look like a playboy on holiday rather than a businessman. It’s not a shade for dressing up butrather one for fun.

Dove grey

Dove grey is a pale shade of grey that approaches white. As grey wool cloths get lighter, they tend to look flatter because there isn’t as much room for variation in the grey shades that make up the colour, and dove is one of the flattest shades. Dove grey sometimes has blue undertones, which help give it interest.

James Bond does not wear a dove grey suit in the series. The Albert Thurston braces in No Time to Die are labelled ‘Dove Grey’, but they are darker than a typical dove grey.

17 COMMENTS

  1. There’s nothing like a classic black and white fabric for me. I own a black and white three-piece pick-and-pick for business, a black and white glen check (with a blue overcheck) for warm weather sporty affairs, and a heavy black and white herringbone tweed jacket for cold weather. Maybe it’s neither the most sporty nor the most formal of choices, but it’s so versatile that it works well in either camp.

  2. The cocktail cuffs in pic 2 looks ridiculous sliding out from the coats sleeves. How it must have annoyed Sean having to constantly adjust them in and in between takes.

    I really like the grey tie in pic 8. Budd used to have such a tie but it is out of stock now, unfortunately.

    The dove grey braces in pic 11 are nice and I have similar pairs from Albert Thurston in boxcloth but I find the overall look in that pic quite hideous, to be honest. The slim fit of the shirt is simply awful and the casual trousers with empty belt loops are clearly not designed for braces.

    • Even for non-cocktail cuffs, I still find myself adjusting my shirt cuffs all the time. Savile Row waxed tirelessly about the perfection of bespoke, but really, there’s no perfection. Collars will move when seated, sleeves will ride, trousers may be bent out of shape or not break right, and shirt cuffs will need adjusting. It’s how you can get over it that matters. I find myself adjusting my appearance at least once during my work day.

      • Well, yes, of course you’re right, there is no such thing as “perfection”. Anyway, I have the Dr. No shirt from Turnbull & Asser and I am well aware of the pros and cons of cocktail cuffs in comparison to double-cuffs and barrel cuffs. I like the aesthetics of cocktail cuffs, and the convenience of not having to use cuff links, but not so much how they always tend to get stuck in the sleeves of ones jacket. The problem was addressed by Frank Foster with the Button-Down Cocktail Cuff made for Roger (The Saint, The Persuaders) and eventually by T & A for Sean (NSNA). Matt covered this in a post on 5 January 2012. To me, the BDCC is not as pleasing aesthetically but may be more practical. I’m considering ordering one from Frank Foster’s for evaluation.

  3. Brosnan just rocks the Charcoal in TWINE and is probably the Bond that suits it most. In fact, Brosnan seems to suit the majority of the wardrobe he’s given, whereas Craig seems out of place in a lot of them. Great blog Matt.

  4. Grey is a highly versatile colour for suits, but it’s rarely used by occasional suit wearers, and rarely, or never, for a first suit. So therefore, it’s a colour for “advanced” wearers. And that’s why I like it so much. I have learnt from Bond, too, for what concerns wearing grey suits. Now I have many of them, in various cloths, both heavy and lightweight, and all of them are Bondian in a way. Flannel, sharkskin, houndstooth, herringbone, mohair, glen check, hairline, fresco…And so on. I just hate the darker shades of gray, Oxford and charcoal, especially with worsted, solid cloths. They feel so banal, odd. Politics and businessmen wear them all the time. Boring

  5. Between Charcoal and Dark Grey, which would look best for people with a summer complexion like myself or are both good choices?

      • I can confirm, I love my charcoal flannel suit, but nothing tops how my black and white sharkskin looks on me, especially paired with a sky blue shirt. I always wanted to be a winter, but I’ve embraced being a summer.

      • Matt, if I am not mistaken, you are a summer yourself, with light eyes, a light complexion and brown hair ? So a low contrast summer complexion ? What suit/sports jackets and shirts/ties colors combinations suit you best in general ? Thank you

      • Yes, I am a summer. I find that my best colours are light colours with low saturation. I look best in greys, muted blues and muted browns. I don’t look good in bright colours or black, but a black tie is fine because it’s a small amount of black.

      • Thanks Matt. The best close to a Bondian look would be a light/ medium grey or grey-blue suit with a light shirt and a tie darker than the suit like navy, black, brown or burgundy then ? Any light shade of blue and any off white color for the shirt being better than a stark solid white I guess ? Solid white being better for high contrast complexion ?

      • A good summer look would be the suit from the Skyfall pre-title sequence. The overall look of mid-grey suit and tie and a white shirt is a good low-contrast combination. The North By Northwest suit is another good look for summers. Summers look best in a soft white or slight off-white shirt rather than a stark white, cream or ecru. However, none of these are bad choices. Most shades of blue that aren’t extremely vivid look good on summers. The grey mohair suit in Thunderball with a mid blue shirt is another good look.

      • And what about another summer look, but appropriate for the winter/colder months ?

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