James Bond is most associated with having two buttons on his suit jackets because it is what Sean Connery almost always wears in his Bond films. Daniel Craig’s Bond, on the other hand, almost always has three buttons on his suit jackets. For over a century people have debated whether a suit jacket is better with two buttons or three buttons. Which side does James Bond take? Like most men, Bond follows trends while also considering societal norms. But which of the two styles truly defines Bond’s sartorial identity?
A lounge coat, the the type of jacket that a suit has, most commonly has two buttons or three buttons on the front. There are multiple variations of each button configuration. One button and four buttons are also styles with long histories, and they shouldn’t be forgotten either.
The button-two jacket is the most common style today, where the top of two buttons fastens near waist level and the second button falls below. Only the top button is designed to be fastened because the jacket is cutaway below the top button. The modern button-two jacket is the only kind that James Bond wears, but there’s also an older style with two buttons called the ‘paddock’ where the bottom button is at or slightly below the waist and the top button is above the waist. The top button may be fastened or left open.
The button-three jacket has three buttons, with the middle button fastening at waist height and the top and bottom buttons falling equidistant above and below. This is the most traditional of suit buttoning styles. In a full button-three jacket the lapel starts at or above the top button, not below it, but on a well-made jacket the lapel flows into the front of the suit. The top two buttons are designed to be fastened, but in practice it is common to only fasten the middle button. The bottom button is not designed to be fastened because the jacket is cut away below the middle button.
The three-roll-two jacket—sometimes called a button-two, show-one—is constructed for the lapels to roll down to the middle button, effectively looking like a button-two jacket with a long lapel line. Some three-roll-two jackets are cut like button-three jackets while others are cut more like button-two jackets. The style originated when a soft construction allowed the lapels of a button-three jacket to roll down to wherever the jackets is buttoned. Men started fastening their jackets at the middle button so their jackets would look more like trendier button-two jackets. Some say the style originated in America, where the style has remained more popular than it has been elsewhere. It is also common in southern Italian tailoring and in British drape tailoring. On some examples the lapel folds flat when fastened at the middle button while on others the lapel rolls out from the middle button.
With the three-roll-two compared to other styles of three buttons, the top buttonhole is completely visible on the revers rather than on the jacket front, and the lapel side of the buttonhole is usually finished as the main side. The top button isn’t visible as it is completely hidden under the lapel. In the 21st century the style has become something of a secret handshake for those who notice and appreciate the button and buttonhole in the middle of the lapel. The style is typically a more relaxed one, both due to the whimsy of a buttonhole in the middle of the lapel and due to the usual softer construction that comes with the style.
When the lapel rolls below the top of three buttons but not all the way to the middle button it is sometimes called a three-roll-two-and-a-half. This is a traditional way of cutting a jacket with three-buttons and is typically how high-end button-three jackets are most often cut. There’s often no clear point of where the lapel ends as it rolls into the front of the jacket, but the lapel often ends just below the top button. Since most well-dressed men don’t fasten the top of three buttons, this style softens the look of a when a jacket with three buttons is fastened only at the middle button. Unlike how a three-roll-two closely resembles a button-two jacket, the three-roll-two-and-a-half presents the silhouette of a more elegant button-three jacket, and the top button remains visible. It is still possible to fasten the top button on many three-roll-two-and-a-half jackets, but the lapel may partially overlap the top button.
How much the lapel rolls and where it rolls to may be determined by the collar length and how the canvas is stitched into the lapel. Pressing can change a lapel roll to a small degree, but for the most part it is worked into the construction of the jacket.
The button-one jacket has only one button at the front. The button is placed at the waist or slightly below the waist. The quarters may be more cutaway than on a button two jacket. This style is more commonly used for dinner jackets, but it is equally appropriate on suits and odd jackets. However, it is often thought of as a more formal style because it is more minimal and showier than other styles.
The button-four jacket is a less formal style because it’s a more utilitarian style. Despite revivals in the 1960s and 1990s, it is the most old-fashioned style of jacket. Button positions can vary, with the third button at the waist, the second and third buttons straddling the waist or the third and fourth buttons straddling the waist. Most traditional examples have the buttons spaced equidistant with a fifth lapel button. Some button-three jackets space their buttons with the lapel buttonhole in the same manner. Four buttons are most commonly used for military jackets and safari jackets. For suits and odd jackets it is the most outdated style.
These are all legitimate styles with long histories, and James Bond has worn all of them over the years. None of them belong to any one era in fashion, but at times some have been more fashionable than other.
Early Lounge Suits
From the origins of the lounge suit in the 19th century through the early 20th century, the jacket usually had three or four buttons on the front. It was intended to be a practical and functional garment, and buttoning high meant that it would wear warmer outdoors in the British countryside. The lapel buttonhole was originally a functional button that allowed the jacket to close to the top of the chest for warmth.
By the early 20th century the button-two suit had come into fashion. It exemplified how the suit had become a dressier garment for show rather than one based on functionality. It started out in the high-fastening ‘paddock’ style, and the modern low-fastening button-two suit was a standard choice by the late 1920s. A man looking for a single-breasted suit would have a choice between two buttons or three buttons. Two buttons and a three-roll-two was a younger look while high-fastening three buttons was a more traditional and conservative look, but the two styles were more or less equals. This would be the case through the 1960s.
1950s and 1960s
In the 1950s it became trendy to have only one button on the front of a suit, and this fashion became more popular the 1960s. However, it was not a new style for suits at this time either. The button-one suit was mainly found with bespoke tailors who used this as a way of setting themselves apart. In the 1960s, button-four suits also became fashionable again. Neither one button nor four buttons became a dominant fashion at the time, and for most men the choice remained between two buttons and three buttons. The three-roll-two was a very popular style in America during this time as well, usually in the form of the Brooks Brothers sack suit. It was during the 1960s that the standard switched from three buttons to two buttons.
James Bond’s creator Ian Fleming preferred two buttons on his suits in the 1950s and 1960s. While he didn’t specify the number of buttons on James Bond’s suits in the books, Fleming’s preference for two buttons would suggest the same for the character.
Sean Connery established the button-two look for James Bond in Dr. No in 1962. He consistently wore suits with two buttons in the 1960s except for a single suit with one button in You Only Live Twice.
George Lazenby played James Bond in On Her Majesty’s Secret Service in 1969 and wears an even number of button-two and button-three jackets. His London suits and his hacking jacket have three buttons for a more traditional look. His light blue suit also has three buttons, but there’s no particular reason for it. His cream, Prince of Wales and tweed suits as well as his black lounge wedding jacket have two buttons for a showier look.
Lazenby’s button-three jackets are made in the classic English bespoke style where the lapels have a gradual and pronounced roll just through the top button. This is a form of the three-roll-two-and-a-half, but it’s closer to a button-three style. They’re able to fasten at the top button but when he fastens the jacket at the middle button the lapels roll elegantly through the top button.
In the 1970s, two buttons dominated suits while three buttons became an old-fashioned look. Wide lapels were in fashion, and there is more room for a wider lapel on a lower-buttoning jacket. Wide lapels look especially stubby on a button-three jacket.
Both Sean Connery and Roger Moore almost always wore suits and jackets with two buttons in the 1970s. The exceptions are two half-Norfolk jackets with a full three buttons in Diamonds Are Forever for a very traditional look. Because it’s a sporty country style, the full button-three style makes sense even though Bond fastens his jackets only at the middle button. Moore wears a button-four leisure suits and safari jackets in Live and Let Die and The Man with the Golden Gun and a cream suit with one button in Moonraker for a flashier look.
Two buttons remained the standard in the 1980s, but a return to traditional, conservative styles meant that three buttons also returned. Three buttons would once again be a mark of sophistication.
Two buttons—in a low stance—was the standard for Roger Moore and Timothy Dalton in the 1980s, but in the first four films of the decade they each feature one three-piece button-three suit for a scene in London. Octopussy also briefly features a button-three tweed jacket that is supposed to reverse into a button-four military jacket. Three buttons lends these outfits a more traditional and conservative look. These button-three for in London are amongst the dressiest suits of these films, but three buttons does necessarily make these suits dressier than two buttons. However, the more traditional look of three buttons may nominally raise their formality.
Bond’s button-three jackets in the 1980s all have lapels that roll at the top button, except the lapels on his flannel suit in A View to a Kill roll through the top button for three-roll-two-and-a-half look. Unlike Lazenby’s suits, which had a higher three-roll-two-and-a-half look, the lapel roll on this flannel suit approaches three-roll-two territory.
By the mid 1990s, three buttons had become the trendy choice over two buttons, which was now seen as the more conservative look. High fastening jackets were popular, and even four buttons saw a revival.
For the first time, three buttons became the standard for James Bond. While the style made occasional appearances in the series since 1969, it was never enough to make an impact on Bond’s style until Pierce Brosnan wore it in GoldenEye. Brosnan’s Brioni suits in the 1990s films are almost all button-three suits, except one suit has two buttons and another has one button. The lapel roll is more elegant on these Brioni suits than it is on the average button-three suit of the era. While the lapel ends at the top button, the suit’s construction allows the front of the jacket to elegantly roll out into the lapel. Unlike the trend to fasten the top button, Brosnan never does so. He either fastens only the middle button or leaves the jackets open.
The trendiness of three buttons was short lived, and by the early 2000s some felt that three buttons was already outdated. However, for the entirety of the aughts the mainstream attitude was that two buttons and three buttons were equally valid choices. The trendy choice was for high-fastening two buttons, which would remain throughout the 2010s.
In Die Another Day, Brosnan wears an equal number of suits with three buttons and suits with two buttons from Brioni, signalling a return of the latter. The lapel on his button-three suits now rolls down slightly through the top button, making them a three-roll-two-and-a-half.
Daniel Craig wears three-roll-two-and-a-half suits from Brioni in Casino Royale, but they have a higher button stance than Brosnan wore. Craig also wears one high-stance button-two suit from an English tailor at the start of Casino Royale, following the trend that was especially popular in England at the time.
During this decade, the three-roll-two saw an increase in popularity amongst those particularly interested in menswear. It gained a reputation as being a sophisticated style, and Tom Ford happens to be a fan of the look. Bond first wears the three-roll-two style on his Tom Ford suits in Quantum of Solace. Unlike most traditional three-roll-two jackets that have a soft construction, these Tom Ford suits have a firm construction. The ordinarily relaxed nature of the three-roll-two is absent on Tom Ford’s examples.
In the 2010s, the button-three jacket fell out of favour, especially as it was seen as a trend from the 1990s. The long history of the button-three suit has largely been forgotten, with only its reputation of being a 1990s trend remaining. Two buttons has the reputation of being both the current and the classic style.
Despite the trends, Daniel Craig’s Tom Ford suits in Skyfall are a three-roll-two-and-a-half where the top button is visible. Despite popular misconceptions, it is neither a button-two nor a three-roll-two. Because the jacket is very tight it pulls the chest open so it looks more like a button-two jacket, but unlike in a three-roll-two the lapel doesn’t roll down to the middle button. The buttoning style is similar to the style of Bond’s button-three Brioni suits, but the trimmer fit that causes the chest to pull open lends it the deeper ‘V’ of a button-two suit.
The three-roll-two from Quantum of Solace returns on most of the Tom Ford suits in Spectre. While three buttons were largely out of fashion during this decade, the three-roll-two was still seen as a sophisticated choice by those in the know and is Bond’s primary style in the film. Spectre also introduces Bond’s first button-two suit since Casino Royale.
In addition to the Tom Ford suits, Craig also wears an odd jacket from Brunello Cucinelli with a soft three-roll-two style that suits the casual nature of the jacket.
Because No Time to Die was filmed in 2019, it falls under the 2010s heading despite its 2021 release. Here Craig still wears three-roll-two jackets, both in the stiffer Tom Ford suits and in the much softer Masimo Alba needlecord suit.
He fastens the top two buttons of his Masimo Alba suit, despite it being a three-roll-two suit. Even though the cut allows for it, the suit is constructed for the lapels to roll to the middle of three buttons, so it ends up looking strained when Craig fastens the top button.
If it were as simple as counting how many suits Bond wears with two buttons and how many he wears with three buttons, two buttons comes out slightly ahead. However, there was a turning point when three button became Bond’s main style for GoldenEye in 1995, and the change wasn’t just for the 1990s. When isolating the most recent three decades of the Bond series, three buttons comes out far ahead against two buttons.
Despite two buttons being the popular style for the last two decades, Bond has still been a fan of variations on three buttons. While many of them have been three-roll-two suits that resemble button-two suits, as recently as Skyfall in 2012 Bond went against trends with three-roll-two-and-a-half suits, despite embracing the shrunken suit trend. And in the most recent film No Time to Die, Bond even fastens a three-roll-two suit at the top button like it’s a full button-three, further embracing having three buttons on his suits. Bond has been committed to having three buttons on his suits, in spite of both trends to the contrary and his early history as a man who preferred two buttons. Perhaps at a time when the average man wears two buttons, Bond feels that three buttons is a more distinctive look. He may prefer the longer tradition and history of the button-three suit compared to the button-two suit.
If there is to be a true Bond film of the 2020s, which style will be the dominant one when the next film is made? Will Bond finally break away from his recent preference for three buttons?