The Man from U.N.C.L.E.: The Black and White Check Suit



James Bond isn’t the only spy Ian Fleming created. Fleming also created Napoleon Solo, the main character in American television series The Man from U.N.C.L.E. played by Robert Vaughn. Though Solo, like Bond, is a well-dressed spy, his clothes have decidedly American characteristics. His suits are in an updated version of the classic American sack style, updated both for the 1960s and for a more international look. The second series episode of The Man from U.N.C.L.E. titled “Alexander the Greater Affair”, which was later turned into the feature film One Spy Too Many, features Napoleon Solo wearing a black and white glen check suit with a large repeat.

Click the image for a close-up of the glen check cloth and ribbed tie
Click the image for a close-up of the glen check cloth and ribbed tie

Like the classic American sack jacket, this suit’s jacket has no darts in the front. Instead, the jacket is shaped through the underarm dart and side seam. The shape of an English jacket is not possible without the front darts, but Solo’s jacket still has waist suppression and doesn’t look like a box. The lack of front darts has a clear benefit on this suit: it allows the large check to be uninterrupted on the front of the jacket. Solo’s jacket is updated from the ordinary sack with only two buttons on the front instead of three rolled to two, and the traditional natural shoulders are replaced with padded shoulders that have a slight concave—or pagoda—shape. The jacket has the popular 1960s trends of narrow lapels with very small notches and short, four-inch double vents. The jacket also follows the American tradition of two buttons spaced apart on the cuff, and it also has jetted hip pockets. Black buttons on the jacket match the black in the check but contrast with and complement the cloth as a whole.

The suit trousers follow the American tradition with a flat front, but the trousers are updated with a more tapered leg. The hems are finished without turn-ups, which goes against the traditional method of finishing sack suit trousers. Yes, the American tradition is for flat-front trousers with turn-ups. The lack of turn-ups of Solo’s trousers allows the hem to be slanted, which helps the narrow trouser opening cover more of the shoes.


Solo’s cream shirt, which is likely pinpoint oxford, has a mismatch of styles. It mixes an informal button-down collar, which was a popular collar in the 1960s in America, with dressy double cuffs. Cary Grant was known to wear this incongruous combination, and it can be seen in Notorious. Solo’s narrow, solid black ribbed tie—which is in the spirit of James Bond’s dark textured ties—is tied in a four-in-hand knot. His shoes are black short ankle boots with elastic, similar to the boots Sean Connery wears in Goldfinger and Thunderball. A black leather belt holds up Solo’s trousers.

Apart from The Man from U.N.C.L.E.’s obvious similarities to the James Bond series, this episode has another connection to the Bond series. Teru Shimada, who would go on to play Mr. Osato in You Only Live Twice, plays the president of a small country who the villain of the story attempts to kill.


  1. Apart from the merely decorative vents (need to be at least a few inches longer to function), a very nice suit. I’m not that opposed to button-down shirts with double cuffs, personally. I actually like the way it dresses them down. Far too many people are afraid to wear cuff links, as evidenced by a recent thread on Ask Andy, because they perceive them as foppish.

    • Thanks for getting around to an UNCLE post, Matt. I always enjoyed the show, despite it’s campiness. Solo is well dressed here. Another example of a suit that acknowledges the fashionable trends of its day without going overboard.

      As an aside, I have become an admirer of the pagoda shaped shoulder.

  2. “The shape of an English jacket is not possible without the front darts”

    Well,the coats of Scholte,the Duke of Windsor tailor,had not frontal”curved darts”,and another method is the slanted darts (both under the hands).

    Said this, from where were the suits of Robert Vaughan for “The man from U.N.C.L.E”?
    Tailor,meade on measure or ready to wear,and which firm?

    • Scholte’s jackets are hardly representative of the standard English style, and they didn’t have the kind of shape found in the typical equestrian or military cut. This suit jacket actually has the slanted dart under the arm.

      I have no idea where the suits came from, but they are certainly American.

  3. Matt, great entry…and great to see James Bond’s paternal cousin get a little coverage on the blog! It would be nice to see an examination on Adam West’s Bruce Wayne wardrobe…since many consider Bond and Batman to be similar characters.

    Question, you say that suits without darts are shaped on their sides…So, are suits with darts altered along the darts themselves? The reason I ask, because whenever I take a darted suit to my seamstress she always wants add additional shaping through the sides. Is this method incorrect?

    • Ryan,

      I don’t mean to take this blog off-track, but outside of being ophans, can you elaborate as to the Bond/Batman-Bruce Wayne comparison?

      As for Solo’s attire, I find it passable. The lapels are a bit too narrow. This suit, along with The Saint’s suits, emphasize how unfashionable Connery’s were – for the better.

    • Without wanting the conversation to deviate from its main topic I’ll try to respond in as brief a response as possible…

      While the similarities of the two characters may not be obvious on the surface, I believe that underneath that surface their similarities begin to present themselves. Both Bond and Batman are indeed orphans that wage one-man-army war against those that seek to disrupt the status-quo. Both characters are believed to be conservative businessman by day, but often use this premise to better leverage secret identities as crusaders. Both Batman and 007 seem to have an almost endless amount of resources, capital, and unparalleled access…not to mention fully-stocked indestructible vehicles, and lastly….Both characters have a long list of allies, but a very short list of friends and neither have enjoyed long lasting or significant romantic relationships.

      I suppose this is simply the archetype of the “stranger” character…but you can almost draw a correlation between the tone and tenor of either franchise. Both series’ were often portrayed or perceived as “campy” or “satire” from the late 60’s until the mid-80’s, at which point both would attempt to “return the original tone of the character”.
      Lastly, one should consider that in recent years EON has outright admitted that “Casino Royale” was inspired by the gritty realism that Christopher Nolan injected into “Batman Begins”. Turnabout being fairplay, Nolan regularly “borrowed” plot devices (and gags) from the Bond series and used them throughout the Dark Knight trilogy.

  4. Ryan,

    Interesting and thank you.

    Nolan’s on record as OHMSS being his favorite. Inception’s ski sequence was a direct homage.

  5. @ Ryan, I never would have considered the two characters as close, still not fully convinced but you’ve presented an interesting case. Where I do fully agree with you is your comment that both serieses made a clear attempt to shake off their campy ‘mid period’ image and return to a more gritty and serious theme.
    As I’ve mentioned on here before, it baffled me during the Moore era exactly what audience the films were being made for, when it seemed clear to me even in my youth that there was an audience ready for a well made (semi) serious adult action spy drama.

    Anyway, back to regularly scheduled discussion about clothes!

    • Hard to say what exactly they were going for except that they wanted to reinvent the character and the series as being lighter in tone. By the ’70s, Connery’s Bond — portrayed as a government sanctioned killer with country club sensibilities — was increasingly considered passé and nothing but a violent brute by young people. They toned down these aspects, gave the films a sillier tone, and gave him the preferences of Bourbon and cigars over martinis and cigarettes. He also had a slightly more fashionable wardrobe with boot cut trousers and bigger lapels/ties/shirt collars, but one that dates just a bit better than many of the secondary characters. So I’m not sure if they had any specific audience in mind but they sure as hell wanted to make Bond “cooler” at any cost.

  6. Yeah one of my favourite scenes in the entire series is when he puts several bullets into professor Dent, says ‘that’s a Smith and Wesson, and you’ve had your six’ then unscrews the silencer and blows on it. In some versions they cut the number of bullets he shoots to tone down the violence. I love his portrayal as a cold blooded assassin but it was clearly thought to be too much for some viewers.

    • I agree. I think Dr No and FRWL is where he seems very cold blooded (the scene where he interrogates Tatiana in the train also come to mind). And consequently these two are my favorite Bond movies. Connery at his fittest and sharpest with very tight direction. I like Goldfinger too but for me it’s more eye candy than a spy thriller.
      Regarding this suit, I think it looks great. Robert Vaughn seems to play a lot of well dressed characters. Bullit and Magnificent 7 comes to mind.

  7. A suit that is very much of its time, but still holds up well today, I think. There was a recent interview with Vaughan in which he spoke with great affection of Ian Fleming and his involvement in what was going to be a TV version of Bond. That is, until commercial pressures were brought to bear on Fleming and he had to bow out. The Man From U.N.C.L.E ran into censorship problems in Australia. I remember my parents talking about executions, torture, people being dunked into acid vats, etc. Vaughan mentioned that the network felt the same way, and insisted on the violence being toned down or joked up. Anyway, back to the suit. Clearly, buttoned down business shirts have few fans, but they allow the shirtmaker to delete stiffening from the collar and let it “roll” about the tie knot. The black tie/belt/shoes “anchor” the suit in the grey toned palace Solo has entered. Also, they suggest the attitude of a cop or soldier, who keeps to the accessories he is issued with. Wonder where Solo stowed his gun…

  8. Sigh! The man’s name is VAUGHN! no freaking A at the end. That suit is not a hopsack weave, although it is a glen plaid and the pants are about 2″ too short! Tapered hem or not, they are not flattering and I have hated that particular suit with a passion for over 50 yrs. RV can look incredibly elegant, especially in his tux but that suit should have been trashed. David McCallum’s clothes, while he was not supposed to be a “fashion plate” for the most part looked better on him than Vaughn. The Continental double vents on his black suit jacket were a subtle touch, but no one has been able to tell me why the gauntlet buttons on the jacket sleeves were so often undone!

  9. Hello, I’ve been reading the blog for a few years now… I like the slight infusion of non-bond movies being detailed. Movies that feature the style of a well cut gentleman spy. I would love seeing you detail a few of the pieces from the move Kingsman!


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