Sprezzatura on James Bond

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Sprezzatura is an overused and overrated Italian buzzword for men’s style often read on the internet that means “studied carelessness”. The original definition from Baldassare Castiglione’s The Book of the Courtier is “a certain nonchalance, so as to conceal all art and make whatever one does or says appear to be without effort and almost without any thought about it”. The aim of sprezzatura when getting dressed is to achieve a nonchalant look by incorporating aspects of intentional carelessness in one’s outfit.

Sprezzatura is something that James Bond occasionally thinks about but never overdoes. Overdoing sprezzatura can look affected, which is the opposite of its purpose to make a man look more natural in how he dresses.

The most genuine way to achieve the look that sprezzatura aims for is to be entirely comfortable in one’s clothes. James Bond almost always appears comfortable, confident and at ease in his clothes without having to purposely add any careless aspects to his outfits, and because of that we don’t think about the effort he put into his outfits. But for many men, especially those who do not dress up frequently, a perfectly presented formal outfit can look awkward. In such cases, subtle sprezzatura can make a more ordinary man look more comfortable in his clothes. At the other extreme, one needs to be comfortable with his clothes to pull off exaggerated displays of sprezzatura.

How is Bond showing sprezzatura here?

James Bond is someone who usually looks immaculate with everything perfectly in place, but sometimes he incorporates sprezzatura in his outfits. Bond’s occasionally careless look is more likely studied more by the filmmakers and costumes designers than by the character himself to make the character look at ease in his clothes. Bond isn’t the type of person to fuss over how unfussed his clothes look. However, Bond has ways in which he doesn’t want to look too fastidious with his clothes.

Leaving Something Undone

Leaving a button undone is one of the most popular ways to incorporate sprezzatura into an outfit. Daniel Craig purposely leaves the last button of his jacket cuffs open on his Tom Ford suits in Quantum of Solace, Skyfall and Spectre to not only to display that his jackets have working buttonholes on the cuffs (which is not a signifier of quality) but also to show a little carelessness.

Bond has left his last cuff button open on purpose in Quantum of Solace

Sean Connery shows sprezzatura when he leaves the second button of his cocktail cuffs open in You Only Live Twice and Diamonds Are Forever. Because his cocktail cuffs are cut with an unbroken curve, leaving a button open on these cuffs still looks elegant. Leaving the second button undone also loosens the cuffs so the wrists stay cooler in hot weather. Though Sean Connery does not wear a large watch with his cocktail cuff shirts, unbuttoning the last button of a two-button or three-button cuff can—cocktail cuff or ordinary button cuff—makes more room for a large watch.

Sean Connery only buttons the first button of his cocktail cuffs in Diamonds Are Forever

In Dr. No, sometimes Bond just fastens the second button on his cocktail cuff, which makes the cuff feel looser on the wrist.

Bond usually wears his suit jackets closed, even with three-piece suits. But sometimes he wears the jackets of his three-piece suits open to both look and feel more at ease. Unlike wearing a two-piece suit open, a three-piece suit still looks fully presentable with the jacket open because the waistcoat is covering the shirt and tie.

Bond wears his double-breasted blazer nonchalantly open in GoldenEye

Pierce Brosnan shows more sprezzatura with his double-breasted blazer in GoldenEye when he wears it open in Monaco. Convention says that double-breasted jackets must be kept buttoned at all time because their larger front parts look sloppier than those of a single-breasted jacket when worn open, and fussing with the jigger button can be awkward in public. Brosnan’s sloppiness with his blazer in GoldenEye was intentional. The double-breasted blazer’s naval look is fitting on a boat in the port of Monaco, and it makes more of a statement than a single-breasted blazer does. In comparison to the single-breasted blazer, the double-breasted blazer looks stiff when buttoned up. The sprezzatura of wearing it open gives Brosnan a relaxed air and helps him look less like he’s playing dress-up.

Dressing Down An Outfit

A classic method of sprezzatura that James Bond uses is dressing down his outfits with less formal accessories than would be expected or ideal for the situation. This started with Ian Fleming’s Bond as a way to make him appear more careless about dressing up, and hence his Bond always “felt cool and comfortable” in his clothes. Items like moccasins, knitted silk ties and short-sleeve shirts with his city suits are ways that the Bond of the original books used sprezzatura to appear nonchalant in his clothes. His relaxed manner of dress often contrasted with the more fussed look of the villains. Though mixing formalities in this way can look amateur, Fleming’s Bond is entirely aware of the conventions of how to dress but chooses to dress his outfits down.

Bond adds a touch of casualness to his worsted three-piece suit with a knitted silk tie in On Her Majesty’s Secret Service

The film Bond also occasionally dresses his formal city suits down with knitted ties and moccasin shoes, but he does not dress his suits down to the extent of the literary Bond. The film Bond is more famous for dressing down black tie by omitting a waist-covering and shirt studs as well as for wearing a dive watch with suits and black tie. These ways that Bond has broken convention in the past aren’t so notable now, for Bond has helped make them the standard.

James Bond famously wears dive watches with black tie, as seen in this recent Omega advertisement

Dressing down an outfit with a one or two less formal accessories gives a relaxed look, but too many items that don’t match the formality of the occasion or the main piece of the outfit can look like a poorly coordinated outfit.

Something Askew

One of the most quintessential ways to add sprezzatura to an outfit is to ensure that something is askew or that something that isn’t perfect. For James Bond that is often knotting his ties with an asymmetrical four-in-hand knot. The literary Bond famously “mistrusted anyone who tied his tie with a Windsor knot. It showed too much vanity. It was often the mark of a cad.” An asymmetrical tie knot adds subtly some imperfection to an outfit in a way that doesn’t look sloppy, and it is one of the most quintessential examples of Bondian sprezzatura.

James Bond usually wears his ties in asymmetrical four-in-hand knots and does not always fill up the spread of the collar, as seen in From Russia with Love

Bond often wears wide spread collars but does not fill them up with a large, wide tie knot, which some people feel is necessary when wearing a wide spread collar. Bond does not think this is necessary and purposely leaves a little awkward space to look nonchalantly dressed.

Bond’s puffed pocket square in GoldenEye shows more sprezzatura than his usual folded pocket square.

Though Bond typically likes his pocket squares neatly folded, Pierce Brosnan’s puffed silk pocket squares in GoldenEye show some sprezzatura in comparison. They aren’t the best example of sprezzatura because his pocket squares look perfectly puffed, while someone aiming for true sprezzatura would carefully arrange a pocket square to look like it was haphazardly stuffed inside a breast pocket.

Bond’s Ultimate Act of Sprezzatura

There is a famous story of how Dr. No‘s director Terence Young told Sean Connery to sleep in a suit to help him become more comfortable in a suit. Going through such extremes to look at ease in one’s clothes takes the studied carelessness of sprezzatura to the highest level.

James Bond often dresses with some ideas of sprezzatura, but it does not define how he dresses. He is never dressed in an overly affected way, neither with too much polish nor with too much exaggerated sprezzatura like many of those who visit Pitti Uomo. Mostly, Bond put on what he likes and what comes most naturally to him, and then he forgets all about it.

26 COMMENTS

  1. I think the references to the relaxed and intentional way Brosnan wears his double breasted navy Brioni blazer in Goldeneye would make a great update to the original post about the blazer. Brosnan often wore a double breasted jacket open in Remington Steele, this could also be referenced. The screen shot is excellent also Matt.

  2. What is the line between sprezzatura and outright fashion faux pas? Where would the cocktails cuffs worn with a tux fall on that continuum?

    • There is no line between sprezzatura and faux pas. The difference has more to do with the attitude in wearing the clothes. A faux pas is usually an oblivious mistake while sprezzatura is intentional, and there are clues that can give away whether one knows what they are doing or not.

  3. I am italian, but sprezzatura has always struck me as both a form of hyprocrisy and the ultimate affectation – trying very hard to look like one is not trying. Besides, what is the point of having a well-made, properly fitted DB blazer if one is going to wear it unbuttoned, flapping and flopping all over the place?

    • Think of it this way, Dan. It’s a form of carelessness. But level with me here. Careless is the lack of care, but if you have to care to be careless, then essentially care is there, is it not? So, either one is careless, or one cares. Most people being obsessive with sprezzatura obviously care about carelessness, so all in all it cancels out.

    • Dan, I kind of agree with you on the blazer and how some forms of sprezzatura are trying a little too hard. They should have put Brosnan in a single breasted blazer if they wanted to allow him some movement in sneaking around and then carelessly (see what I did there?) charging out into the open. I also don’t care for unbuckled double monk shoes. It’s like having your shoelaces untied, whereas leaving one jacket or shirt cuff button undone out of multiple doesn’t really affect its functionality.

      I wrote about this a while ago here, if Matt will permit me to share: https://nouveauvintage.blogspot.com/2018/01/forced-sprezzatura.html

      • Me too! Especially the tie thing. I had a disagreement with a regular styleforum poster who tried to defend the long thin end of the tie protrusion. I reponded that he’s asking us to believe that he’s spent considerable time educating himself about menswear, carefully selecting fabrics, searching out a tailor and going through the whole bespoke process and subsequent fittings numerous times, thoughtfully selecting complementary shirt, shoes, pocket square and tie, but when it comes to actually tying said tie, decided “aaah f**k it!” and thus gives the pretence that he has yet to master a skill that people my age managed in primary school.

        In an interview in Esquire magazine Brunello Cuchinelli confessed to tying and re-tying his tie several times each morning to achieve the thin end at the correct length of protrusion beyond the fat end.

      • Thanks for the support, gents.

        Rod: I don’t really participate in menswear forums anymore, for various reasons…

        Dan: I especially can’t behind putting your tie in front a v-neck sweater. The v-neck is already there showing off your tie knot. Just… why?

  4. I have to say, I’ve been waiting for this article for a good long while now. Thank God you finally touched on it. When you posted the article on why Bond still wears suits, somehow the concept of a more modest, more controlled version of sprezzatura came to my mind (I believe I posted a response regarding this).

    I suppose it’s a practical definitional issue, but we all define sprezzatura differently at one angle or another. Surprisingly, Bond and I may share the same definition of sprezzatura, but not the folks of Pitti.

      • I agree. The short sleeved shirts are awful. But the slip-ons and knitted tie are passable, particularly because Bond’s suits were somewhat less formal in the books. So his well polished moccasins (I always pictured something sleek with a high vamp) would have looked alright. Same goes for the ties.

        As an aside, I’ve always been curious why Fleming chose a knit tie? If he merely wanted to differentiate Bond from himself in the choice of tie, he could’ve just said that Bond never wore a bow tie and left it at that. The choice of knit was deliberate, then, and I suspect there is a backstory story that is sadly lost to time.

  5. How is Bond showing sprezzatura in the photo? By holding the phone with a casually loose finger while he complains to his dry cleaner that they have shrunk his tie.

  6. I love that the dive watch with black tie concept was born of a scene in which Bond was literally wearing a dive suit (including a dive watch) over a tuxedo.

  7. I always regarded Sprezzatura as the idea of a well dressed man trying to incorporate a hipster attitude to his wardrobe – but still falling within the umbrella of formal wear. I don’t know if that description makes total sense.

    Of course, the real hipster Sprezzatura would be to wear a suit with sneakers. Good God.

    The older I get, the more I avoid dressing Sprezzatura.

  8. I don’t believe leaving a single jacket cuff button undone should count as sprezzatura. If there’s no reason to unbutton the cuff, and I can’t think of one, how can you carelessly leave it unbuttoned? It’s clearly intentional and a subdued way to show that you paid a lot for your suit.

    • It’s about the appearance of carelessness rather than what might be logical. Today, working buttons on a jacket cuff are no longer an indicator of a bespoke suit, or even paying a lot for your suit, when H&M are doing it too.

  9. i read the first paragraph, and then saw the first picture and laughed. Sprezzatura is almost a silly idea, although Mr Bond expresses it more by being an agent on a mission than anything else. A cuff being buttoned here or there is less important than catching the bad guy, or girl. He is usually dressed properly until something goes awry and then, sprezzatura!

    as an aside i have some jackets with functional cuff buttons, and it is cool, but it seems useless as well.

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