Should James Bond Wear T-Shirts?

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The T-shirt, or tee, is easily the most popular type of shirt in the world. The standard T-shirt is a simple collarless shirt made of jersey knit with a straight fit, a crew neck and short sleeves, though some have other neck lines and may have long sleeves or three-quarter sleeves. T-shirts are inexpensive and easy to care for, making them highly accessible garments. The name of the shirt comes from its basic ‘T’ shape.

Not all T-shirts are created equal. While basic examples are made of cotton, cheaper ones or special athletic shirts are often made of synthetics. Luxurious T-shirts may be made of Sea Island cotton or cotton blends with silk or cashmere. T-shirts may be woven as a continuous tube, they may be cut and sewn together with side seams, or they may be fully fashioned like a piece of knitwear where the shape is knitted into the garment rather than sewn together. Fully fashioned T-shirts look smarter than the other two types but cost more.

The concept of the T-shirt is basic and has existed for mllennia in the form of countless types of tunics from all over the world. The modern T-shirt originated as an undergarment, originally as a union suit that was cut in half. The T-shirt morphed into a garment that was worn on its own in the first half of the 20th century for sailors and farmers who wore them because they were lightweight and could get soiled. By the 1950s they achieved the fashionable status that they maintain today thanks to movie stars like Marlon Brando and James Dean.

While T-shirts made a statement in the mid-20th century as they transformed from being underwear into a proper casual shirt, the ubiquity of T-shirts today means that they are the opposite of a fashion statement. More recently they would still have made a statement in certain contexts, such as in an office, but with the casualisation of so many aspects of society the T-shirt has taken the place of much smarter clothes. T-shirts and jeans have taken a similar journey. At the same time they morphed from workwear to counterculture style to mainstream casual style to high fashion.

Besides the practical aspects, the popularity of the T-shirt has endured thanks to graphic tees, which frequently feature a printed logo or art. People use graphic tees to express their personality or to make a statement, even if the concept of the graphic tee makes no statement today. Even the most explicit or tasteless statements made by graphic tees are rarely shocking today.

The fit of the T-shirt has changed with fashion trends. When they first became fashionable in the 1950s they were worn tight to show off a buff physique. Fitted T-shirts were also practical for undershirts because they’d create a smooth line under other clothes. In the 1980s through the ’00s, men wore baggier T-shirts to follow trends. In the ’00s it became trendy for women to wear tight T-shirts, and a decade later it was common again for men to wear tight T-shirts. Because T-shirts are knitted and thus have natural stretch, they lend themselves well to a tight fit, even in natural fibres. It’s common today for T-shirts to be made of a blend with stretch fibres to allow tight T-shirts a neater fit.

For some people, the T-shirt is still an undershirt or incomplete on its own. Because it lacks a collar, it is an unflattering look on many people. Some may only wear it for athletic activities or for chores. It’s an easy-to-wear garment for casual occasions, but in the majority of cases it lacks style.

As an undershirt, crew-neck T-shirts provide smooth lines under a buttoned shirt collar or a turtleneck. V-neck T-shirts—particularly deep V-necks—ensure the T-shirt stays hidden under an open-neck shirt or polo. Some men wear a crew-neck T-shirt under an open-neck shirt or V-neck jumper to keep their upper chest hidden out of modesty, but it can disrupt an otherwise elegant look.

Formal shirts were also once seen as a sort of underwear, to be worn under a jacket and/or a waistcoat, and that changed. The T-shirt becoming a garment worn on its own is a dissimilar evolution.

James Bond in T-Shirts

Like with denim, T-shirts were not a significant part of James Bond’s style until Daniel Craig became James Bond. Bond can only be seen wearing a handful of T-shirts before the Craig era: one in Dr. No, one in For Your Eyes Only, one in A View to a Kill and one in Licence to Kill. The Dr. No T-shirt is a white undershirt that he wears under his silk Nehru jacket, which is removed when he’s imprisoned. While Bond does not wear undershirts under his shirts, the Nehru jacket necessitates a base layer of some sort.

Roger Moore’s mid-blue V-neck T-shirt in For Your Eyes Only is an undershirt for his yellow diving suit, and we only see it because the villain strips him down. Another mid-blue crew-neck T-shirt in A View to a Kill is an undershirt for Moore’s Fila tracksuit. Timothy Dalton’s sloppy, oversized mid-blue crew-neck T-shirt in Licence to Kill was a disguise as a Wavekrest henchman. Only in A View to a Kill is Bond wearing his T-shirt as a fashion statement, but it’s also a practical choice with a tracksuit for a midnight run.

In Casino Royale, the T-shirt became a significant part of Bond’s look. Craig was playing a young and immature Bond (despite being 38 years old), and the T-shirt demonstrates this aspect of his character through a youthful but unrefined sense of style. The film features a tremendous number of outfits with T-shirts, mainly from Sunspel, worn in a wide variety of ways.

In Casino Royale‘s opening scene Craig wears a dark T-shirt under a cardigan and pea coat. Craig then wears a light grey crew-neck T-shirt from Diesel worn under a Liberty-print shirt, which is worn mostly unbuttoned to show off the T-shirt underneath—a trend in the ’00s. He wears another light grey crew-neck T-shirt in a number of scenes under a brown leather jacket, a navy dressing gown and a blue rugby shirt, respectively. He wears a dark grey crew-neck T-shirt under both a black cardigan and under a light blue dressing down. He wears black and white crew-neck T-shirts under a light grey V-neck jumper. He wears a white V-neck T-shirt under a black cardigan.

Craig thoroughly demonstrates the modern versatility of the T-shirt. In all of these outfits, the T-shirt both is and isn’t the focal point of the outfit. It is a significant part of these looks because it’s what frames Craig’s face. The eye is drawn to the T-shirts because it’s just under the face. However, it’s always worn under the statement piece: a jacket, a cardigan, a jumper, a dressing gown or another shirt.

In Skyfall, Bond wears a blue long-sleeve crew-neck T-shirt with the SIS logo as a base layer for the training scene. It is a practical shirt for these training moments and is Bond’s only graphic tee of the series. It stands out from other T-shirts with raglan sleeves and it’s in a waffle knit.

In No Time to Die the light grey crew-neck T-shirt returns, and it’s tattered as if it’s a worn out tee from Casino Royale—even though it was made by Orlebar Brown rather than Sunspel. Here Bond wears this old shirt for fishing, where the fish smell would be permanently impregnated into the shirt. However, it also demonstrates a Bond who is unhappy with his life situation. In the same film, Bond briefly wears a white crew-neck under a RGT waxed cotton jacket. Bond is fully leaning into the workwear trend in this scene.

Should Bond Wear T-Shirts?

The T-shirt was hardly part of Bond’s vocabulary before the Daniel Craig era. Bond didn’t wear undershirts with his formal shirts. The change incorporating a T-shirt into almost every casual look in Casino Royale was a shocking change for the character. Was it a necessary change?

The T-shirt, along with the sleeveless A-shirt, is the least refined type of shirt a man can wear. Bond is a man of refined tastes, who even in Casino Royale likes to wear Omega watches and drink Bollinger Champagne. However, with changing times the T-shirt makes Bond appear more up-to-date and more accessible. It’s debatable if these are attributes Bond should have. T-shirts can help Bond blend in with other men wearing the ubiquitous garment, but it’s never the only option. In Casino Royale, the T-shirt is never necessary for Bond to blend in with his surroundings.

In a few of Bond’s outfits, the T-shirt is unquestionable the best choice. Moore and Dalton couldn’t have chosen anything else for their scenes. Craig’s T-shirts in the recovery scenes make sense, especially since Bond would not be caring about style at that time, though it wouldn’t have been inappropriate to see Craig’s bare chest under the dressing gowns.

In the scenes where Craig layers another shirt over the T-shirt, such as with the Liberty-print shirt and the rugby shirt, the outfits would be easily improved if there were no T-shirt at all.

A number of Craig’s T-shirts could have been replaced with more traditionally Bondian garments like polos, mock necks or turtlenecks. The last two would not have been in fashion at the time of Casino Royale, but a casual sports shirt could have refined some of the T-shirt looks. A Henley, which was also traditionally underwear, isn’t so far off from the T-shirt but has a button placket that adds some interest to the shirt. Bond wouldn’t adopt the Henley until Skyfall, and if it wasn’t already so overused in No Time to Die film it would have been a better choice with the RGT jacket than the T-shirt.

20 COMMENTS

  1. I’m afraid we have Marlon Brando to blame for all this!

    T-shirts have their place (in bed, in the gym, on the beach, under your shirt on a cold day) but most men look better with some kind of collar.

    There’s a Dick Cavett interview with Roger Moore saying he disliked T-shirts and never wore them. Although clearly they put him in a couple when he was playing Bond!

  2. Like the rest of the Craig era, with the possible exception of Skyfall, this fashion trend should be quietly forgotten moving forward. I’m never going to be a Craig-Bond fan, again with the possible exception of Skyfall.

  3. Bond is a secret agent, not a fashion model. His job is, ideally, to _not attract attention_. Therefore he should dress like everyone around him. At a high-end casino that means black tie (although as far back as Diamonds Are Forever the movies mocked the idea of casinos as elegant and formal). Once there’s a recognizable “James Bond costume” look for the character, he has failed at his job.

    • In a purely utilitarian sense, yes you have a point. But people have never watched Bond for its realistic, mundane portrayal of spywork. We watch for the glamorous locales, beautiful women, handsome men, evil megalomaniacs and their schemes, and yes, luxurious wardrobe. Bond, at least on film, has always been a heightened and heavily romanticized peek into life as a super-spy. If Bond succeeds at being a realistic spy he’s failed at being entertaining.

      • Exactly. If Bond isn’t at least slightly larger than life, what’s the point?

      • I don’t agree completely. In real life, there are tasty and sophisticated men, who drive sporty cars, wear luxury clothes and eat in gourmet restaurants. They do normal jobs, they are successful and they have good incomes. They are cultivated and charmful, and have success with women. Yes, this whole combination is quite rare. But they exist. Bond character is supposed to be one of them, and he is still realistic even though sometimes a bit exaggerated. The point is, to keep it balanced. Some other times (see: Roger Moore) the balance is lost and Bond becomes his own caricature.

  4. T-shirts look great on Craig because he is built and buff. A T-shirt on someone too skinny or too fat looks ridiculous and only accentuates their aesthetic. If you want to wear T-shirts as your outer garment, get in shape and show the world your hard work.

  5. I’m torn on the Craig casual looks.

    They’re not traditionally Bond, but I don’t know if dressing Craig traditionally would have worked for a rebooted younger Bond. Suit by-default would have made him look out of place, imo.

    The ‘Bond’ look is firmly rooted in what I’ll call pre-baby boomer views on how to dress (more formal attire by default). Since the late 60s standard dress has become more and more casual, and the Craig era Bond would have grown up through this ‘casualization’ and be more comfortable with casual by default.

    This Bond would be comfortable in his jeans and t-shirt, but is also fine with dressing correctly for an occasion.

    I just hope they don’t push the casual stuff too far with the next Bond. Personally, I don’t want to see him in ath-leisure.

  6. The very first mention of T-shirts in relation to Bond comes in Chapter 3 of “Live and Let Die” and the passage is worth sharing here as it touches on the literary Bond’s attitudes to wardrobe in a more general manner.

    ‘Bond had had to submit to a certain degree of Americanisation at the hands of the F.B.I. A tailor had come and measured him for two single-breasted suits in dark blue light-weight worsted (Bond had firmly refused anything more dashing) and a haberdasher had brought chilly white nylon shirts with long points to the collars. He had to accept half a dozen unusually patterned foulard ties, dark socks with fancy clocks, two or three ‘display kerchiefs’ for his breast pocket, nylon vests and pants (called T-shirts and shorts), a comfortable light-weight camel-hair overcoat with over-buttressed shoulders, a plain grey snap-brim Fedora with a thin black ribbon and two pairs of hand-stitched and very comfortable black Moccasin ‘casuals’.

    • This touches on Bond’s attitudes towards wardrobe when he has to dress in disguise. He wasn’t wearing T-shirts under his shirts by choice, but only because he had to look American.

  7. Personally, I have no issue with the majority of Craig’s t-shirt wearing. In the Fleming novels, Bond often dressed down when necessary for action sequences. I greatly prefer a casually dressed Bond for these sort of moments than Brosnan’s inevitable third act commando gear. For me, the question is not the garment itself, but rather if Bond wear it with the understated English elegance and style that defines the character.

    With the exception of the Liberty print shirt and Venice rugby shirt, I find Craig’s t-shirt wearing in Casino Royale rather Bondian. As Matt notes, they are a practical part of the ensembles and are not the statement pieces. Other pieces of the ensembles continue to be elegant. I think the collars on the cardigan, peacoat, and leather jacket go a long way to framing Craig’s face in a flattering fashion in those scenes.

    Similarly, I have no issue with the SIS training gear in Skyfall as it would be ridiculous to have Bond wearing anything else during his physical evaluation and I actually find the old t-shirt for the fishing scene in No Time to Die far more Bondian than a lot of the other casual wear in that film. The duster, henleys, supply jacket, and linen jacket have a distinctly very un-English aesthetic to them and look very un-Bondian to me. In contrast, the old t-shirt and shorts in a naval colour palette seem perfectly appropriate for the setting and activity. The worn condition of the t-shirt even has a bit of that classic English reverse snobbery to it. Why get a new t-shirt if this one still does the job?

  8. I don’t think Bond would or should wear tshirts very much. When I think of Bond I think of well dressed elegance. The idea is he may die any day so wants to live life to the fullest, enjoying the very best – cars, hotels, food/drink, women. I don’t see how tshirts really figure into that.

  9. As much as I’m not a fan of Craig as Bond, I think that the grey T-shirt worn on its own was a fantastic look – both on the yacht in Venice and in NTTD in Jamaica. I think this mid grey is a great colour and although slightly off topic, it works well with a sweatshirt too.
    To answer the question, I think generally no. But a well fitted mid grey crew neck T worn in the right context (especially with navy chinos or shorts) looks classic.

  10. As I said to you before, I find all this quite fascinating as a woman who wears t-shirts in a business casual setting almost all the time now! Deep v-necks, square necks, scoop necks, etc. all give different looks and are acceptable in business professional settings when made in nicer fabrics with nicer construction, like you allude to early on in the article. But part of it may be that women are more likely to wear a necklace, silk scarf, or some other accessory with them. I definitely want to explore this difference in perception at some point on my blog.

    • By way of some small ‘compensation’ one can zhuzh up a T somewhat via wearing a long sleeve T underneath it for some element of visual flair and to dispel the sartorial heterodoxy of just the T, a.l.a., Sheldon Cooper of ‘The Big Bang Theory’ fame . . . It doesn’t make the T look any more formal but it breaks up the T silhouette, hides one’s arms if skin needs to be invisible and enables some colour and / or pattern coordination to happen. It’s also a very postmodern look which isn’t a bad thing in this context and HELLA comfortable.

  11. Oh, and I definitely agree with all your points in this article, to be clear. There were definitely smarter ways to go and I disagree with the “immature Bond” approach used in Casino Royale.

  12. Are there any examples of Bond wearing no socks in casual attire? Would that be appropriate for him in certain situations ? The no sock look always appeared a bit slovenly to me. Is it ever appropriate and under what situations, outside of beach wear, of course?

    • Bond usually wears socks unless dressing extremely casually like with his powder blue leisure suit in Live and Let Die or with his black Tommy Bahama shirt in No Time to Die. The most dressed up he is without socks is with the Nehru jacket in Dr. No, but his lower half is casual in cotton trousers and espadrilles.

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