James Bond has rarely been one to dress in a rainbow of colours. Some of Bond’s most iconic outfits are the complete opposite of a rainbow and are comprised entirely of one hue in different shades and tints. This is called a tonal, tone-on-tone, or monochrome look. Monochrome is sometimes also used to describe dressing entirely in one colour without varying shades and tines, which is related to but different than a tonal look. Tonal is the most common term in fashion used to describe varying the shades and tints of a hue within an outfit.
Tonal outfits tend to have a modern, streamlined look. Some people find these looks elegant and sophisticated, while others find these looks dull. It’s a matter of personal taste. For James Bond, the tonal outfits have a reserved look that conveys his reticent personality while also providing him with a look that helps him blend in with his surroundings.
How Does One Dress Tonally?
With a tonal outfit, every item of clothing is a variation on one hue, which is the colour on the visible spectrum (the rainbow) we identify it as. The variations on that hue may include shades and tints, and the tonal outfit may include multiple shades or multiple tints, in any combination. For example, a tonal blue outfit could consist of a blue tint and two different blue shades. Or it may be the base hue and one shade of it.
A tonal outfit is not a green-blue with a purple-blue. While those two colours may both be blues, the hues are too different for a tonal combination, and typically two such hues would clash with each other in the same outfit. On the other hand, the hues of all the different shades and tints in a tonal outfit do not need to be exactly the same—clothing is an art, not a science—but they need to be similar.
With a tonal outfit of warm neutrals such as brown, tan, beige and cream, there is more flexibility than with stronger colours. But a golden tan is still likely to clash with a rosy beige because their hues are too disparate.
Tonal combinations need contrast in the values—the light to dark—of the different shades and tints to prevent clashing. If the values are very close, they can work together as effectively the same shade, especially if the textures of the clothes are different to mitigate the slight difference between the two. If the shades or tints are similar but are clearly different, there is likely to be a clash. For this reason, using too many shades and tints in a tonal outfit can create a clash. The shades need to be far enough apart to have contrast in value, not only to avoid clashing shades but also to make the outfit look more interesting to make up for a lack of colour variation. Too many shades can make a tonal outfit look muddy and unfocused.
If there are multiple shades in a small pattern, like in a birdseye suit or a microcheck tie made up of dark and light blue, the pattern can be treated as a solid that averages the two colours when coordinating with other items. The individual colours in very small patterns are indecipherable on their own and thus are not as important to the look as the resulting colour they make up. A small pattern that is made up of a colour along with black or white may also be able to work as part of a tonal outfit, and the black or white in said pattern can bring more depth to the look, so long as the black or white are not noticeable parts of the garments.
Texture is also extremely important when dressing tonally since it can add much needed interest due to a lack of colour variation.
What Is Not Tonal
Though achromatic colours without hue like black, white and grey do not add colour to an outfit, they can be used to break up the tonal look of an outfit that isn’t otherwise these made up of shades. Warm neutrals can also be used to break up a tonal look without competing with the primary colour of an outfit.
It’s common for Bond to break away from a tonal look by setting off a blue suit with a white shirt or a grey suit with a blue shirt or cream shirt. These outfits may still focus on one colour but use neutral tones to avoid the outfit looking tonal. Sometimes an outfit is mostly tonal, with the exception of a narrow stripe in a tie that breaks up the look. That stripe is there on purpose so the outfit isn’t completely tonal, and it’s a good technique for enlivening an otherwise tonal look.
Bond’s all-black and all-navy outfits for sneaky escapades are monochrome rather than tonal, since there are little or no variations in the tones.
Bond’s Achromatic Tonal Outfits
The majority of James Bond’s tonal looks are achromatic, using black, white and grey. These looks tend to be more modern and/or more formal, sometimes approaching the formality of black tie when there is high contrast in the outfit. The lack of true colour gives these outfits a certain elegance.
Black tie usually is tonal, since it traditionally only uses black and white. A midnight blue dinner suit, an ivory dinner jacket or an ivory silk shirt can subtly break the tonal look, but under artificial light the subtle colour will be hardly noticeable, if noticeable at all. The dinner jacket is James Bond’s signature look, so the achromatic tonal look is also a signature of Bond’s that he sometimes carries over into other outfits.
The first of these is Bond’s dark grey flannel suit in Goldfinger, paired with a white shirt that has a subtle grey stripe, a black silk knitted tie and a white pocket square. The colours are formal, but the flannel suit and knitted tie dress down this look.
Bond’s charcoal mini-herringbone suit in The Man with the Golden Gun continues in a similar style. Bond pairs a dark charcoal suit with a black tie and a white shirt with black and grey stripes. This high-contrast look without colour dresses up Bond for the evening, but the striped shirt slightly lowers the formality.
Bond’s grey herringbone three-piece suit in The Living Daylights is paired with a black tie and white shirt for a very simple look at the office. The suit’s herringbone weave, likely in two shades of grey or in grey and black, is the only textural interest this outfit has. The suit’s subtle pattern and texture prevents this outfit from being too boring, but it is a simple look nonetheless.
Daniel Craig’s Bond wears grey suits with white shirts and grey ties on two occasions, in Skyfall and Spectre. In both cases the suits are semi-solid—sharkskin and herringbone, respectively—and the latter also adds stripes. The grey tie, as opposed to the black tie of Bond’s earlier grey tonal looks, lowers the contrast for a less formal look. The lower contrast is also more flattering to Daniel Craig’s pale, low-contrast complexion.
Bond’s grey linen suit and white shirt in Casino Royale almost counts as a tonal look, but it’s broken with brown suede shoes. Bond otherwise always pairs black shoes with his grey suits to stick to the tonal palette.
In Spectre, Bond also wears a tonal outfit of only black and white in the form of a black herringbone three-piece suit, a black tie and a white shirt. He wears this ultra-formal look for a funeral, where it is appropriate. This is the closest Bond ever brings a suit to the formality of black tie. Despite Bond being in disguise, it’s only the details like peaked lapels and a collar pin that make it a disguise. The heart of the simple black and white style is part of Bond’s DNA.
Bond’s Blue Tonal Outfits
Being a naval man, blue is James Bond’s colour and on occasion he wears outfits in almost all-blue. However, most of Bond’s all-blue outfits are completely tonal because the shoes are rarely blue. Because shoes are at the bottom of the outfit and are not usually made of fabric, they don’t disrupt an otherwise tonal outfit. This blog touched on Bond’s all-blue outfits previously.
Bond’s first blue tonal outfit in the series is the only one that is truly tonal, and it is the shoes that make it so. Bond wears a light blue pique polo with similar light blue trousers in Dr. No, but navy blue shoes take the outfit from monochrome to tonal. A navy blue polo could have done a better job at a tonal look.
In From Russia with Love, You Only Live Twice and Diamonds Are Forever, Sean Connery’s Bond wears navy suits tonally with light blue shirts and navy ties. Black shoes are the main thing that breaks up a true tonal look. The suit in From Russia with Love also subtly breaks away from the tonal look by adding a white linen pocket square. Otherwise these outfits are tonal. Even the chalk stripes on the Diamonds Are Forever suit are blue to coordinate tonally with the rest of the outfit.
Daniel Craig continues tonal suited looks, first in Casino Royale with a dark blue linen suit and a light blue shirt, and then in Quantum of Solace with a navy striped suit that has light blue pinstripes paired with a light blue shirt and a tie in pattern of small mid-blue and black squares. The black in the tie subtly breaks up the tonal look, but the tie overall reads as dark blue and doesn’t break the tonal effect.
Bond’s Brown Tonal Outfits
Brown tonal outfits look more old-fashioned than other tonal looks. Brown suits have connotations of old-fashioned country attire, geography teachers or the 1970s. Cream shirts can give the impression of a white shirt that has yellowed with age. Nevertheless, a brown tonal outfit gives James Bond a more modern edge than wearing brown otherwise does.
Bond’s first brown tonal looks are in Thunderball. His light brown hacking jacket, worn with a cream shirt, a dark brown grenadine tie, fawn trousers and brown suede shoes, is entirely tonal for a modern countryside look. He also pairs a dark brown three-piece suit with a brown tie and cream shirt. Black shoes, however, break with the tonal look to dress up the suit more appropriately for his formal office.
In You Only Live Twice, Bond wears a simple tonal casual look, with a beige camp shirt, brown linen trousers and brown sandals. While not as colourful as the similar looks in Thunderball, this one allows Bond to look more subtle like a secret agent should.
Bond’s boldest brown tonal look comes in On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, when he combines a fawn-coloured golfing suit of blouson and trousers with an orange polo neck and brown suede shoes. The orange polo neck is practically the same hue as the fawn suit, making these items a tonal pairing. It’s Bond’s boldest tonal look due to the incredible power of orange, but the tonal pairing tones down the orange polo neck by providing it with a comfortable home. This outfit features a high contrast of chroma, the intensity of the colour. The values of the orange and fawn are similar, so the difference is in how orange is much more intense than fawn.
Roger Moore’s Bond is the one most famous for wearing brown, and he wears a number of brown tonal outfits. Brown was a trendy colour at the time Moore was Bond, but Moore also wore brown because looked good in it. The first outfit is in Live and Let Die, when he pairs a tan sports coat with a beige shirt, a brown tie and brown trousers. The shoes are a subtle shade of burgundy, which blends with the tonal outfit but subtly breaks from it.
Moore continues with a similar look in The Man with the Golden Gun by pairing an ecru safari jacket with a cream shirt, a brown tie, brown trousers and dark brown shoes. The shirt is a similar shade to the jacket, but they don’t clash because the textures are so different.
Moore wears his light brown silk dupioni suit in The Spy Who Loved Me tonally with a striped shirt in beige and ecru, a striped tie in cream, light brown and dark brown and tan leather shoes. The next day he wears the same outfit but changes the shirt for solid cream. No outfit that Bond wears defines tonal dressing as well as this one does, with five noticeably different colours in the version with the striped shirt, including the shoes. The shirt’s ecru is similar enough to the tie’s cream to count as one colour. The outfit does a decent job at combining so many different warm-toned neutrals, and because they are neutrals it is easier to combine them than if they were all shades of blue. The tan shoes stand out the most out of all the colours and compete with the suit a little because their hue is different. Dark brown shoes that match the dark brown in the tie would have been a more elegant choice.
Moore continues with a tonal brown outfit in Moonraker by pairing a light brown Donegal tweed suit with a cream shirt. A dark brown knitted tie matches the suit jacket’s dark brown elbow patches. This outfit is reminiscent of Bond’s tweed look in Thunderball, but the trousers are part of a suit to cut down on one additional shade of brown.
In the 1980s, Moore brought his tonal brown outfits to more casual looks. In For Your Eyes Only he combines a light brown shearling blouson with a mid brown fleece interior, a bronze polo neck, fawn trousers and dark brown boots. In Octopussy he pairs a mid brown gilet with a light brown shirt and dark brown trousers and shoes.
Very informative article with great examples of Bond’s tonal style! I really like them all (expect possibly the orange polo neck in On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, and the white shirt with black and grey stripes in The Man with the Golden Gun).
Moore’s cream suit in Moonraker might counts as well, correct? Or do you find the rosy shirt too different from the cream in hue?
I think it does count.
I thought Daniel Craig had a Warm spring complexion.
He does indeed. A spring complexion has low contrast.
I naturally love tonal matching, and I have learnt so much from JB in this field. To me, it’s the suoreme way to look refined and sophisticated, without being dandy and too eye-catching. I nearly always dress in a tonal way. Sometimes I break it slightly with some details: a navy tie on a grey dress, a sky blue shirt on a tan dress, a green-and-beige matching… But the overall feeling of my outfits must be governed by a one-hue (tonal) rule. No complementary colours. No bold contrasts. No dandy things. I feel great this way
Does Brosnan’s tweed suit from TWINE count ?
No, the windowpane is blue.
Ah yes. It would have worked with a light grey windowpane?
Yes, it would have.
I just realized that Lazenby’s golf suit and orange sweater appears to possibly have inspired the outfit Ncuti Gatwa will wear as the Doctor for Doctor Who series 14: https://i.guim.co.uk/img/media/39d40c899d6588194497d08edff6a7cc3b77c1e3/0_728_3413_3709/master/3413.jpg?width=620&quality=85&dpr=1&s=none
It’s another tonal outfit of shades of brown with orange to frame the face.