The 1989 Charcoal Suit in Licence to Kill

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Licence-to-Kill-Charcoal-Suit

Licence to Kill is a break from tradition for Bond, in both the story and the fashion. With the help of costume designer Jodie Tillen, Timothy Dalton’s James Bond wears much different clothes than we had ever seen from Bond before while keeping the suits and the classic colour palate. The first of Bond’s suits in the film is a charcoal suit in lightweight tropical wool characteristic of the trendy ‘power suit’ look of the late 1980s and early 1990s.

The suit jacket has heavily padded shoulders, a full cut, an extra-low gorge, a low-fastening button-two front and vent-less back. This combination makes the suit fashionable for its time, but it is the opposite of what people look for today in their tailored clothing. Three-button cuffs and flapped pockets detail the suit, regardless of fashions.

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The suit trousers are typical of the era, with triple reverse pleats and worn with a belt.

Bond’s blue pinpoint shirt has a point collar with edge stitching, rounded single-button cuff and a chest pocket, giving it the look of a typical American ready-to-wear shirt. The belt, socks and low-vamp slip-ons are all black. The low-vamp slips-ons were also a popular American item in the 80s.

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Licence to Kill marks the first time Bond wears a business suit without a tie. Bond has put on this charcoal business suit for a flight to Istanbul for a mission, not for Key West. Bond is supposed to be dressing for Istanbul, not for Key West. In Istanbul, this dark grey suit would make sense, but such a suit and such an occasion demands a tie. Any other time in the same situation, Bond has worn a tie. If Bond had abandoned his tie when he abandoned his mission, it would make sense. But at this point in the film, Bond has no reason to be tie-less because he put this suit on for business rather than pleasure.

He may be planning to put on a tie when he arrives at his destination, so he can stay comfortable in Key West’s heat without a tie. This outfit look gives Bond the look of being overdressed for Key West but not fully dressed for his mission in Istanbul. Because of this, the outfit realistically works for Bond’s situation though without the glamour we usually see from Bond.

32 COMMENTS

  1. Dalton in '89 is worse. At least Moore has a cool wrist gun, but seriously the cut on Moore's '79 suit is a lot better (starting with the shoulders).

  2. Matt,

    I have been following this blog for the last few months – it is excellent, informative and insightful. To respond to this question, Moore in '79 looks far better than Dalton in '89. Moore's suit is well-cut and elegant; Bondian for '79. Dalton looks sloopy. I like that your blog has elsewhere pointed out that Moore's suits looked very good (just on the wide side of classic, I think you said) despite the context of the '70s. He certainly looks better than Dalton. Can you cover the "Somerset Suit" from From Russia With Love?

  3. Christian, whilst Moore's lapels were on the wide side of classic width in his first two Bond films, the width in Moonraker is quite excessive. But despite that lapels and flared trousers, I agree that it still looks much better than Dalton's suits did in Licence to Kill.

  4. Matt,

    I didn't meant to be vague – I definitely agree that Moonraker's lapels were too wide. The cut of the jacket is good though, especially given what others' suits looked like in '79. I do believe Moore's suits in the first two films and in the 1980s were fine. The Marine Blue Suit and the Classic Charcoal from The Man With the Golden Gun are highlights of the series, surprising from an ugly film with few redeeming qualities. Keep up the good work.

  5. No contest, Moore in Moonraker is WAYYYYYY better. In my humble opinion, I quite like the cut of the more conservative 70s suits. Straight shoulders, nipped waist, a bit of a flare in the skirt, larger lapels; very current Tom Ford almost.

  6. Roger Moore's Bond was always impeccably dressed and in fitting with his and the character's British heritage. His 3 piece in Moonraker is classic tailoring with a nod to current fashions in 1979.

    This appalling outfit fits with an appalling film both of which have nothing to do with 007. In fact, I can't recall anything Timothy Dalton wore as 007 which was worthy of positive remark

    Best simply forgotten.

  7. I don't know much about suits, just read this blog as a Bond fan. Why is it many people say Dalton is not a suit-guy, or doesn't wear a suit well, or something similar…? He seems to be in suits more than anything else in his films (not just the Bond ones) and I always thaught he looked good

    (I'm not really refering to the above though, which I think is kind of throw-on garb, fairly inconspicuous I imagine…)

  8. As with a previous post, a fascinating blog. Agreed, the look isn't good, but I think it fits with the situation that Bond is currently facing. How he is dressed is a far less important consideration bearing in mind what's just happened to his friend Felix, his friend and only person he can trust.

  9. To (slightly) correct my previous post – he's actually wearing it before finding Felix. Sloppy of me as well as Dalton!

    Is this the same suit that he wears on the visit to the drug processing factory at the end of the movie? If so, understandably "cheap", as it gets torn to shreds in the tanker crash.

    PS – Moore definitely over Dalton. Some people wear clothes, and some people put clothes on.

  10. Four buttons are acceptable for country tweeds. Those would be reminiscent of lounge coats of the turn of the 20th century. The Norfolk jacket traditionally has a 4-button front, in a similar cut to an army uniform.

    As for 4-button business suits (like often seen on basketball players), those are unacceptable.

  11. Thank you for your articles about Dalton’s wardrobe, Matt. The more I read them, the more I begin to appreciate Moore’s look !

  12. While I agree with the sentiments that Dalton’s “LTK” Look may be worse than Moore’s in “Moonraker”, some consideration needs to be made within the context of the film. Dalton’s Bond is visiting Key West for Leiter’s wedding. He probably hasn’t been there for more than a day or two, so it’s likely he’s packed very light. The charcoal suit he wears at the airport is very likely the same one he wears in the final climactic showdown with Sanchez in the tankers. While he may not look the best, I applaud the costumer and/or Dalton for keeping with the realism. He’s not going to be carrying Saville Row suits with him for a brief visit to Florida. When Leiter is maimed and he goes to Ithsmus City, the outfits he wears are very likely off-the-rack, since his primary focus is killing Sanchez. The tuxedo he wears is likely something he bought very quickly, as his primary focus is shadowing Sanchez, not how he looks in a tuxedo he wears to the casino.

    One thing to mention also is the affinity for dark colors, especially blues. This is a throwback to the Ian Fleming Bond, who often wore blue in the novels. Bond’s tie of choice was black-knitted, Dalton sneaks in a brown one during the scene at the safe house.

    And going back to the off-the-rack stylings. This is again a throwback to Fleming’s Bond (Which Dalton was trying to do justice) Bond in the books is not the best paid of agents, and in all honesty, he wouldn’t have been able to afford the endless supply of Saville Row suits and other expensive varieties worn by previous actors.

    It’s not the best look, but Dalton was trying to ground his interpretation in Fleming’s Bond. So it works for me.

    • I don’t quite get what you are saying. Why wouldn’t Bond have packed a tailor-made suit to bring to Key West? Fleming’s Bond would most likely have had his clothes made by a tailor, just as Fleming did himself. Fleming modeled much of Bond after himself. He went to a cheaper tailor than a Savile Row tailor, and he would never have bought a trendy Italian suit. The suits he wears in Licence to Kill were not inexpensive suits.

      The brown knit tie was in The Living Daylights, not this film.

  13. “The only part of the suit coat that doesn’t scream 1989 are the 3-button cuffs”

    Very curious – what was the fashionable number of cuff bottons back then? Four? One? None?

    Thanks!

  14. Sorry, I guess I wasn’t clear enough.

    You said: “The only part of the suit coat that doesn’t scream 1989 are the 3-button cuffs”

    I took that to mean that 3-button cuffs weren’t “in vogue” in the 1980s, the way padded shoulders, ventless backs, and low gorges were. I thought you were implying ther was a different number of buttons which would have been “more 1980s” (more in-line with the other characteristics of the suit in question – in other words, something which would “date” the suit, from our perspective today).

    So is that the case, or was there no trend with cuff buttons in the 1980s the way there was with the other aspects of the suit?

    • There were no trends in cuff buttons. Either 3 or 4 cuff buttons has always been the standard. 1-button cuffs were trendy in the 1960s, and Brooks Brothers is known for 2-button cuffs on their sack suits. That’s about it as far as the number of cuff buttons goes.

  15. I always liked Dalton’s suits in this film. Sure, they’re not Savile Row, but they’re what Bond would probably wear if he was a real agent – not too pricey, comfortable and they blend in well.

    Also, here Bond has gone to Florida for his friend’s wedding, so he probably packed for fun and enjoyment, not a mission. The colour is great, and whilst it does scream 80s, it makes sense in the context of the scene.

    You’re being a little mean, I feel.

    • Thanks for the comment John. However, I don’t think a flashy Italian suit is what a real British agent would wear. This is actually an expensive suit, and its the kind of suit Americans in the late 80s wore to show off. This would have blended in well with bankers on Wall Street (see Charlie Sheen’s suits in the film Wall Street for something similar) and really isn’t the kind of thing anyone wears for fun and enjoyment.

    • I remember going to see this film several times when it was showing. I liked Dalton in the day.

      But, I have to say that the proportions of this suit are quit frankly hideous and in my view the worst Bond has ever worn.

      I’m addicted to your site Matt – and agreed in every detail this is the opposite of the Skyfall suits

  16. This suit reminds me a lot from the suits FBI agent Fox Mulder wore during the first seasons of The X Files. To our modern eyes, it has the kind of ‘a 50$ suit’ look because it looks so much like the ill fitting suit a 18 year old would buy, te defend his graduation project in front of a jury. I can however imagine that when new, this type of suits were cutting edge and all the great designer labels like Armani, Boss and Brioni made this style of clothes.

    Anyway, even tough I would not dress like this, other than maybe for a Miami Vice or X Files dress up party, I don’t quite hate this as much as many of you do. License to kill is my favourite Bond movie (great plot, realy great) and I like so many movies and tv series from the 80s and 90s. This look is simply inherent to this period.

    Sorry if my English is bad, I am a non-native speaker :p

    • It did some qucik internet research and found out you are right about Brioni! My apologies!
      I always thought Brioni was in the late 80s all in the middle of this hype, but this must be a misunderstanding of me!

      As Dalton his suit above goes, I think very much is a matter of taste (as is Dalton his Bond as a whole is actually).

      It is indeed not that this is all that nice, but somehow in this movie, in that part of the movie it all works great. Dalton his Bond is more like the ‘I grab the first thing that that I find in my closet’ sort of Bond, (a glorified Hitman rather then a civilized British secret agent) so it comes with the whole diffrent clothing taste than Moore before and Brosnan after it had.

      Then again, I admit I am not a die hard fan of the whole James Bond thing, so the fact that Dalton and his whole style manages to caught my attention must conclude hy dresses like a very a-typical Bond!

  17. If I was designing costumes for this film, for this scene I would have put Dalton in an open necked shirt, navy hopsack blazer with tan or beige tropical wool trousers. The cut of the blazer would have been a classic straight shoulder, not too wide, with a clean chest and gently suppressed waist. The button stance wouldn’t have been any lower than on Roger Moore’s later Hayward jackets. Trousers cut with a straight leg and with double forward pleats. He would have looked neatly tailored and not too fashionable, but Bond shouldn’t stand out too much with fashion in my opinion.

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