The colours we see on screen in a film are often very different than colours in reality. This may have to do with the type of film used, the way the film was processed or the colour grading done in post-production. The way scenes are lit can also affect the colour that we see. I know little about exactly how films are coloured, but it is easy to see that colours on film often do not look realistic.
Bond films are often graded to have a certain colour cast. You Only Live Twice has a pink cast. On Her Majesty’s Secret Service has a blue cast, which makes the snowy scene feel colder. Spectre has a yellow-orange cast, which makes the scenes in Morocco feel hotter, but the yellow is out of place in the colder scenes. Some films also have more saturated colours than others. Casino Royale (2006) has very vivid colours that make the locales feel exotic, while Skyfall looks dull to reflect the typical weather in England and Scotland.
The colour grading of the film affect the colours that we see the clothes are. Daniel Craig wears mostly white shirts throughout Spectre, but because of the colour grading we see the shirts as cream. A coloured cast also dulls any colours opposite on the colour spectrum. The yellow-orange cast in Spectre not only emphasises that area in the colour spectrum but dulls the blues. Two of James Bond’s suits in Spectre are bright, vivid blue in reality but dull, dark blue on screen.
Set lighting can also affect colours, with bright lights blowing out light colours and lightening dark colours, and dim lighting can dull and darken colours. Sometimes indoor scenes will have an additional yellow or orange cast to get the look of warm artificial indoor lighting, which is common in the more recent Bond films.
When I judge what colour an item of clothing is in a film, I take into account if there is colour grading that places a cast over the film and correct the white balance to see a truer colour. Because colours on film can be sometimes be so different from reality, I compare the colours in the original DVD releases with the Lowry remastered DVDs and Blu-rays for different prints of the film. Lowry worked from the original film negatives, but they made their own adjustments.
I also look at production stills and behind-the-scenes photographs to get another look at the colours of the clothes. These various sources often show different colours, and I have to use my judgement to determine which is most accurate to reality because none will ever be 100% true to reality. The colours of clothes are easiest to determine when they are most vivid. The colours of very dark or muted suits and very light shirts are the most difficult to determine. I often use another well-defined colour on screen for comparison since so much of the colour we see is based on the colours that surround it.
The best sources for true colour are ones I have been able to see in person, such as the Rittenhouse costumes cards and in-person exhibits of clothes—when well-lit.
I try to take note of all the details of the clothes that I can when I see them at the cinema, but in the moment I can’t notice everything or remember everything. I also did not see any Bond films in the cinema before the 1990s. Thus, most of my judgement is not based on cinematic releases of Bond films.
Determining a true colour is not only difficult on film but also in reality. Our perception of colour is based on light, and light in our own lives can vary as much as it does in a film. Natural light is the best way to see colours, as artificial light can vary in warmth. Because artificial light is usually warm, it is one reason why evening wear is commonly made in midnight blue rather than black. Black has a brown cast under warm artificial light while midnight blue looks closer to black. And in daylight, true midnight blue appears to be black when there is no true black around for comparison. But even outdoors in natural sunlight our perception of colours can vary depending on season, time of day and air pollution.
For those who desire to replicate Bond’s clothes, is it more important to copy the colour that appears on screen or the colour that the clothes are in reality? Both are legitimate ways of interpreting the wardrobe, though my preference is to determine the true colours of the clothes.
Is there any way to know the exact hues and shades of Bond’s clothing colours? In many cases it is not possible, especially when it comes to subtlety. Without having the real piece of cloth in hand for comparison in the proper lighting conditions, we can never know the true colour.