Though shawl collar is not the style of dinner jacket that James Bond has worn the most often, it might be the style that he is most associated with. Sean Connery was introduced as James Bond wearing a shawl collar dinner suit in Dr. No, and a famous photo shoot for From Russia with Love featuring him wearing another shawl collar dinner jacket posing with a Walther LP53 airgun solidified the shawl collar as the classic Bond look. For Skyfall, Daniel Craig’s midnight blue dinner suit that was enhanced to a bright blue for the film’s posters brought renewed attention to the shawl collar dinner suit.
Hardy Amies defined the shawl collar in his 1964 book ABC of Men’s Fashion as a “roll collar”, which he then defined as “a collar without lapels, unbroken by any kind of notch, so that it rolls smoothly down to the jacket front.” The only break in a shawl collar is a seam at the back of the neck, which helps it sit comfortably against the neck and allows for alterations.
The shawl collar is a decorative style of collar that made its way to early dinner jackets by way of the smoking jacket. And before the smoking jacket, the shawl collar was a style found on dressing gowns, where it is still commonly used. Today another popular use for the shawl collar is on cardigans. It is occasionally found on overcoats, but more often on women’s than on men’s. James Bond creator Ian Fleming wore a pea coat with a shawl collar.
With seven appearances of this style of dinner jacket throughout the series, all on either midnight blue or black dinner single-breasted suits, the shawl collar has seen a number of variations.
As with any lapel style, width is the first aspect of the shawl collar’s design that people notice. Bond’s narrowest shawl collars feature on Sean Connery’s Anthony Sinclair dinner jackets in From Russia with Love and Thunderball and are around two inches wide, following 1960s trends for narrow lapels. There’s a certain coolness to a narrow shawl collar. Without the break between the collar and lapel, shawl collars visually appear wider than ordinary lapels. While Connery’s lapels in those films are around 2 3/4 inches wide, the narrower shawl collar appears to be similar in width.
The shawl collars on Timothy Dalton’s first dinner jacket in The Living Daylights and on Daniel Craig’s Tom Ford dinner jacket in Quantum of Solace feature the widest shawl collars of the Bond series. These examples are around 3 inches wide, but like Connery’s shawl collars they look even wider when compared to ordinary lapels. Wider shawl collars have a more traditional look than narrower examples, and if you asked Tom Ford he might say they lend a more luxurious appearance to a dinner jacket.
Belly is the outer curve of the shawl collar through the chest, and all good shawl collar designs have at least a little belly. Shawl collars traditionally have more belly than other lapel designs since curviness is in the nature of the shawl collar. Without any belly—a straight edge from the upper chest to the buttonhole—a shawl collar has an unbalanced and anorexic appearance.
The illustrations above demonstrate different amounts of belly, with the example on the left having more belly than any of James Bond’s dinner jackets have and the example in the middle being a minimum amount of belly. The middle example is similar to the shape of the shawl collar on Sean Connery’s dinner jacket in Thunderball. All of Bond’s examples fall between the first two with varying shapes having varying degrees of fullness in different areas. The example on the right has no belly and looks unbalanced.
Sean Connery’s dinner jacket in Dr. No is the most bellied of any of Bond’s dinner jackets in the series, where the fullness of the collar is pronounced in the middle of the chest. A lower placement of the collar’s widest area gives an overall wider look to the collar.
Shawl collars traditionally do not have a buttonhole like peaked and notched lapels have because a shawl collar is not derived from a type of collar that fastens. A buttonhole disrupts the continuous line of the shawl collar. Some designers, however, like a buttonhole in their shawl collar for the option to wear a boutonnière through the buttonhole like people can do with peaked and notched lapels. For sophisticated dressers, pinning a boutonnière to a collar or lapel is not an option.
Tom Ford is one of the designers who often puts a buttonhole in his shawl collar, and the shawl collar dinner jacket that he made for Daniel Craig to wear in Quantum of Solace has a buttonhole through the lapel. The buttonhole is placed on the left side like any normal buttonhole in a single-breasted lapel would be placed. It is positioned as if the lapels were peaked, with the buttonhole slanting slightly upwards. The buttonhole is placed a bit lower than it would be on peaked lapels, giving more prominence to a flower that could be placed in the buttonhole.