The Shades of James Bond’s Blue Suits

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Timothy Dalton told Garth Pearce in 1989 of the colour Bond should wear, ‘He’s got a naval background, so he needs a strong, simple colour like dark blue.’

‘Dark blue’, with no further descriptors, is Bond’s suit colour of choice in the Ian Fleming novels. While grey has been James Bond’s default suit colour on screen, blue suits take second place. Most of Bond’s blue suits keep within the navy family, but sometimes Bond breaks away from the standard shades for more adventurous looks. The navy family, from dark navy to light ‘French’ navy are always reliable suit and blazer choices, while other shades have more limited applications.

Specific shades do not appear as accurately on screen as they do in real life. Colours can even look considerably different in reality under different lighting. Colours may appear warmer or cooler, and blues may look darker with warm lighting or warm colour grading on screen. Cool lighting and cool colour grading can make blue look brighter and more vivid than it may look under more ordinary circumstances. The following suits pictured below may not perfectly represent the colours discussed, but they are as close as possible considering the variations in photography.

Midnight Blue

Midnight blue is the darkest of all blues, often indistinguishable from black. It is a type of black more than it is a type of blue. The colour is traditionally used for eveningwear, such as in black tie and white tie, and under artificial light it purposely looks like a deep black. But under natural light the colour looks like a dark, strong shade of blue. It’s not a colour men traditionally wear for the daytime, but when it is worn for black tie in the summer it would commonly be seen under natural early evening light. Midnight blue can make up well into a fancy suit for the evening.

James Bond mainly wears midnight blue in his dinner suits, but he wears a luxurious midnight blue suit in mohair and cashmere in Quantum of Solace for an evening event.

Dark Navy

Compared to midnight blue, dark navy is a little lighter and more muted. It doesn’t have the richness and strength of midnight blue, but there is not a significant difference between the two. It can also be mistaken for black under artificial light. It’s appropriate for suits and blazers and may pass for dinner suits.

Bond’s most notable use of dark navy is in his Royal Navy Blue No. 1 ceremonial uniform, and naturally this dark shade translates to some of his blazers, such as the blazer he wears in The Spy Who Loved Me. The navy herringbone suit at the end of Skyfall is another example of dark navy.

Navy

The colour that is most traditionally called ‘navy’ is a very dark blue, but it’s not so dark that it should be mistaken for black unless it’s dimly lit. While the term ‘navy’ may be used for shades that are darker or lighter than this colour, this is the most typical shade for clothes called navy.

Many of James Bond’s navy suits, blazers and coats are in this shade, such as the herringbone suit in On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, the chalk stripe suit in Diamonds Are Forever, the double-breasted suit in Octopussy, Pierce Brosnan’s birdseye suits and the pinstripe suit at the end of Casino Royale.

Light Navy

Light navy, also called ‘French navy’, is a lighter version of navy that looks more noticeably blue. It’s still dark enough that it falls into the navy family, but it’s light enough to never be mistaken for black. It stands out more than more traditional shades of navy, but it still can be worn conservatively and doesn’t appear too flashy. It’s for those who want a navy suit that looks obviously blue. Under natural light, the blue is bolder than under artificial light.

Sean Connery’s blue suits in From Russia with Love, Goldfinger and You Only Live Twice as well as his blazers in Dr. No, Thunderball and Diamonds Are Forever fall into the light navy category. Roger Moore’s double-breasted in Moonraker‘s sky-diving sequence is also light navy.

French Blue

This screenshot has been colour-corrected to better display the true colour of the suit

When blues become lighter than navy, they either maintain their saturation or they become more muted so they look less ostentatious. The chroma makes a more significant difference at shades lighter than navy. French blue is a vibrant shade of medium-dark blue that is lighter than navy. Sometimes this shade is called ‘dark blue’ or simply ‘blue’ because it implies a shade lighter than the standard navy. French blue suits have been popular for the past decade as suits have become a garment more for fancy occasions and less for conservative offices. The popularity of blue suits that are lighter than navy has nevertheless brought them into office jobs that require suits.

Daniel Craig wears two French blue suits in Spectre: a glen check suit and a sharkskin suit. Neither suit appears French blue on screen, since the yellow colour grading mutes and darkens the blues in the film. Thus, the suits look more navy and more traditionally Bondian rather than the bolder colours that they truly are. The dinner suit on the Skyfall posters was enhanced to look like French blue, sparking a trend for French blue dinner suits, but in reality the dinner suit is almost as dark as a true midnight blue.

Marine Blue

Marine blue is similar to French blue but has a slightly greenish hue and is a little less vibrant. Like French blue, marine blue makes for a fairly flashy suit compared to navy.

Roger Moore wears a marine blue silk suit in The Man with the Golden Gun. In silk it adds to the loudness of the suit, but he appropriately wears it to a nightclub rather than for business.

Air Force Blue

Air Force blue is a medium-dark blue that eschews the vibrancy of French blue and marine blue for a more subtle shade of blue-grey. True air force blue is a dark shade of azure (a green-blue), so it looks like a muted and more sophisticated version of marine blue. However, some shades of air force blue are really just blue-grey. It is a classic British suit colour that deserves more attention.

The only time James Bond wears an air force blue suit is in Diamonds Are Forever when he boards his cuise ship near the end of the film.

Charcoal Blue

When a suit is halfway between charcoal and navy, it sometimes gets the name ‘charcoal blue’. It is often found in a semi-solid or a small pattern that combines blue and black or multiple shades of blue to form a muted shade of dark blue. Such suitings are often called ‘navy’ because they contain blue and still read as dark blue.

The fine glen check suit in Montenegro in Casino Royale and the blue Prince of Wales check suit in No Time to Die could be called charcoal blue because of how the colours that make up the patterns come together.

Pale Blue

As the blue suit gets lighter than mid blue, it becomes less formal. Light blue shirts are a year-round classic, but light blue suits are generally a summer style made in lightweight wool, silk, cotton or linen. When in pale blue, a light blue that approaches grey, the suit looks more sophisticated than in other light shades like powder blue or sky blue.

Light blue suits aren’t usually James Bond’s style, but he wears them on two occasions. The first is in On Her Majesty’s Secret Service when he dresses for a holiday look in Portugal. The second is a pale blue-grey silk suit in The Man with the Golden Gun in Hong Kong. This suit is so muted that it looks more like silver in the film, but it’s the very meaning of a pale blue suit.

Other Shades

There are infinite variations of the colour blue, but James Bond usually keeps to the more traditional shades of blue for his suits. Other shades of blue that are trendy for suits include petrol blue, royal blue, ink blue, slate blue and powder blue. Bond doesn’t wear suits in these shades and prefers the classic shades of blue, which won’t make Bond stand out in a crowd.

19 COMMENTS

  1. I have a question about color grading in filmmaking. Is color grading decided before filming or only during post production? For example, in Spectre, would the costume designer have been told the color grading would be more yellow, then make suits in lighter shades of blue to compensate for the color shift? Or was the costume designer’s original vision that the suits would have appeared on screen to be the shade of French blue that they were in real life?

      • I’m glad it wasn’t just my gradually failing eyesight. I clearly remember seeing SPECTRE at the IMAX and thinking someone had draped a muslin cloth over the projector lens. Everything seemed to be sepia-toned and over washed in tan!
        Contrast that with the beautiful bold collars of e.g. Thunderball (caught a re-run on TV today for the umpteenth time!) – despite my general appreciation of the Craig era bringing.Bond up to date as an adult spy action series, one thing I dislike is that in creating the dark, conflicted personality of CraigBond they enhanced it with dingy cinematography to match and in doing so lost the wonderful brightly-coloured escapist travelogue atmosphere of the early canon – Jamaica, Turkey, Switzerland, Bahamas, etc.

  2. Glad this article finally came out. I’m a huge endorser of dark blue suits. Something about the sharpness of a good shape of blue, crispy, hardy fabric, a good cut that flows and drapes well, and the image or ensemble moving live right before your eyes that makes it timeless. The shade might be mute, but the depth makes it something mesmerizing.

    Oh, and, I’m repeating myself, but when I was still in class (basically the best days of my life before the world went to hell), I’m invincible when I’m in my dark navy and midnight blue suits. Encased in absolute darkness and depth of these darkest shades of blue, my presence dominates the classroom. Side note for all of you, the darker, deeper the shade of blue, the more intimidating you become when you’re encased in it. A combination of blue suits, shirt, and tie will also brings about a very cold atmosphere, even if you’re a warm person. So be very careful with the combination, and make adjustments accordingly.

  3. I enjoyed this topic Matt and I believe enhancing the photos gives a better understanding on the colors. I think this could be an interesting topic discussion with different shades of grey.

    • Probably a very underrated topic, to be honest. I see a lot of people who wear suits make a lot of mistakes in color choices and gradings. I know Matt already covered the topics of textures, but honestly, shades and textures need more coverage.

  4. Thanks for an informative post Matt! I’ve really been looking forward to this particular post since the time I suggested it, and I wasn’t disappointed!

    I definitely learned something new with the different nuances and variations of the seemingly simple yet in reality a very complex blue suit and as Blue Suits (particularly shades of Navy) have long been one of my favorite colors for suitings, this post is especially helpful when considering purchasing the right blue suit for the right occasion. It also helps that blue suits (along with grey suits) are quintessentially Bondian as it was the suit Fleming’s Bond favored and is something all Bond actors have worn across their respective films.

    Out of curiosity, between the 3 shades of Navy (that is Dark Navy, Navy, and Light Navy) which shade would be most versatile and best choice for one’s first or second suit or are all 3 shades fairly interchangeable and up to personal preference and perhaps one’s complexion? l plan to commission my 2nd bespoke suit soon in navy and I’ve been agonizing in picking between the 3 shades (though I suppose I’m currently leaning towards Navy and Light Navy). (For reference I have a cool winter complexion similar to Sean Connery though I understand that all shades of Navy can be worn easily by the winter man).

    • Navy and dark navy are more versatile than light navy. You can easily wear any shade of blue as a winter man. For someone with a paler complexion, light navy is the best choice to balance a conservative feel of navy with something more flattering.

    • I would add to what Matt already said, though – for your first suit, keep the blue shade and pattern *especially* conservative, and avoid anything that makes the suit itself stands out. What irks me the most about modern suiting and suiting choices is that the person absolutely has to make the suit stands out. Don’t ever do that. The suit does not do the talking, you do, and the suit does not present you, but rather you present yourself.

      • I express my gratitude and welcome your suggestions and sound advice Matt and Travers.

        Indeed, upon further thinking, Dark Navy and Navy suits appeal to me the most as even though they may resemble black in dim lighting, they still have some character through its blue colour and the dark color really goes well with my high contrast complexion. As a 2nd suit (as my first was a dark charcoal serge) these would really suit my sober yet sophisticated taste (similar to Connery’s Bond) whilst allwoing me to look dignified and giving me a more mature appearance for a young college student like myself.

        I suppose the remaining aspect I should take in consideration is to choose between either a plain, serge, or herringbone weave (currently leaning on a plain weave or herringbone for more variety and for year-round use as it can get hot often but also quite cool wehere I live).

      • Ivan, I really appreciate that you find gratitude in my reply. Honestly, moments like these are where I find faith in humanity again in those hard times.

        Anyways, if I may chime in again, depending on the function of the suit, I’d actually recommend herringbone. You cannot go wrong with navy and herringbone. Maybe I’m being biased, but frankly, it’s the best combination possible. Just remember to make distinction between shine and glow, and you’ll be fine. You want a fabric that has a certain glow to it, but never anything shiny. Herringbone adds more than enough textures to make it “interesting”, but never too much to the point of being obnoxious. Narrow herringbone will work better because of low visibility, so make sure to narrow it down (pun intended).

        The point of navies and dark blues, really, is that they absorb lights in the best manners possible, and they will also provide you a degree of invisibility, as other members had pointed out. But at the same time, unlike black, which can be so rudely absorbent of light, or if shiny, reflect lights so much, navies and blues will paint interests on you in the most polite manners possible. Literally making you a gray man without the rudeness or “boringness” of plain gray.

        And to add, out of experience, don’t forget to make sure you coordinate shirt, tie, and footwear accordingly as well. Navies and dark blue shades can impose an intimidating, cold atmosphere. I know it first hand; I was more intimidating than an agent when I was in my regular rig when I was still in the classroom environment.

  5. That’s a very useful article, Matt! Knowing and understanding colours and nuances is crucial for good dressing, especially for tonal matching. The biggest mistake one can do is mixing warm an cool hues, which would clash unpleasingly. In my experience, there are differences between families of colours. Grey is the family which implies the lowest degree of importance in tonal matching. It is supremely difficult to match different shades of grey, because the difference itself is hardly distinguished by human eye. Generally, it is safe to use a single hue of grey in the same outfit, and match it with other colours. Human eye can’t perceive and firmly judge the “temperature” of greys. With blues, it gets more complicated. But not too much. All you have to do is take care and match warm with warm, cool with cool. Doing so, everything will go fine with blues. You can even match 6 shades of blue together, without fear, only using this rule. Blues are a good territory. Things get much more delicate with browns and tans. In my wardrobe I have 4 grey trousers, 4 blue ones, and 12 brown/tan ones… With browns and tans, I see much more differences and problems. Not only warm and cool, but also darkness, richness, amount of red, blue, green… Taupe, fawn, dove, chocolate, rust, tobacco, sand, stone, coffee, leather, corn… And so on. This family needs much more attention, because to humans’ eye it contains much more differences and nuances

    • I’ve written about the lighter shades of brown, in the beige and tan families: https://www.bondsuits.com/shades-of-beige-in-menswear/

      I’ve also been thinking about browns, but in how they relate to shoes. Bond’s shades of brown in suits, trousers and sports coats aren’t all that varied. When combining shades of brown, I find that different shades can pair well together if they are very different in value. A dark red-brown can still pair with a light golden tan.

      • Considering how many men these days love to wear brown shoes with their outfits (even with formal suits), I think that article on the shades of brown shoes would be a great idea to give guidance on pairing the right brown shoes with outfits.

  6. Obviously my favorite overall is the medium navy shade. Timeless. I also love the slightly lighter navy/french navy/dark blue color and maybe the charcoal blue but I don’t know which of the two work better with fair complexions.

    • I own a very expensive (for me) rich dark navy suit that I never wore, and I could never figure out why. It was only expanding my knowledge of colour theory and complexions that I found out that I was a Summer and should be wearing airforce blue or charcoal blue. In my experience they’re really hard to find. Sometimes I wish I was any of the other three, since they seem much simpler!

  7. So it turns out I too have a summer complexion so I would best in muted shades of blue. I would still go with light to medium navy and maybe charcoal blue but I don’t think AFB would look good on me.

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