I rarely write about budget alternatives to or thrifting for James Bond style because I feel that it is important to share where the inspiration originates from. But like most people who are interested in James Bond style, I also search for budget alternatives for some of my favourite Bond styles, and I have been doing so for the past two decades. I have bespoke tastes, with a budget that does not allow for anywhere close to a 100% bespoke wardrobe. Being a size 38 R, it is not easy to find vintage clothes in my size, particularly not Bondian English-style clothes in America. Sizes 42 and 44 seem to be the most common.
Almost two years ago I acquired five suits, a blue blazer and a black and white herringbone cashmere jacket at an estate sale in the northern suburbs of New York City. All of them are vintage Turnbull & Asser and made by Chester Barrie. I jumped on these, as they’re very Bondian clothes from one of my favourite James Bond brands. Most of these filled voids in my wardrobe that I would have eventually filled with other clothes. While I already have a number of blue blazers, the blazer here is superior (in style, at least) to all the other blazers I have.
Who Made These Suits?
James Bond has only worn shirts and ties from Turnbull & Asser and never suits. Turnbull & Asser are primarily a shirtmaker, and they make their own shirts, both bespoke and ready to wear, at their factory in Gloucester, England. They also make their own ties in Kent. But they do not make suits. For many years Turnbull & Asser’s suits were manufactured in Crewe by Chester Barrie, which was one of the world’s premiere tailoring factories. They also made ready-to-wear suits for H. Huntsman and Ralph Lauren Purple Label before they went into receivership in 2002, and the factory continued under another company while the brand has since had a rather complicated history.
Over the years, Turnbull & Asser have expanded to offer all sorts of top-quality clothing for both men and women, but shirts and ties will always be their forte.
The suits and jackets I have were most likely originally purchased from Bonwit Teller at their New York City or Scarsdale, NY (properly Eastchester, NY) stores. Before Turnbull & Asser had their own store in New York, Bonwit Teller was the easiest place to purchase Turnbull & Asser clothes in the United States, and they are the reason why Turnbull & Asser is now associated with three-button shirt cuffs. Unlike other vintage Turnbull & Asser suits I’ve come across in America, none of these suits have a Bonwit Teller label. So it is possible, but unlikely, they were purchased in London.
Most of the suits and jackets that I bought are a size 39 R, except for one or two in 40 R. They had all been let out, presumably because the original owner gained weight during the time he owned the suits. However, since they fit me well in the shoulders and chest I bought them. Most suits can be taken in at the waist (especially if they had previously been let out) as long as they fit in the shoulders and upper chest. I have slowly been bringing them all to the tailor for alterations as I need them (New York City alterations tailors are superb but not inexpensive). The tailor takes in each jacket at the rear side seam into the armhole and remakes the vents. The tailor also takes in the waist and seat of the trousers. The result is as good a fit one could possibly have from a ready-to-wear suit.
I am uncertain of the exact age of the suits, but the style suggests the late 1970s through mid 1980s. The jackets have a classic British styling with a button-two front, slanted hip pockets, a ticket pocket and long double vents that flare outwards. The notched lapels are a medium width at 3 3/4 inches wide with a high gorge. The button stance is at a medium height, so the suits don’t have a dated low button stance. The edges and pockets are pick-stitched 1/4-inch from the edge, but the visibility of the stitching varies on the fabric. The jackets all have a white lining, which was a signature of Chester Barrie.
The trousers all have a flat front, belt loops and a medium-width straight leg. The style is similar to what Roger Moore was wearing as James Bond in the 1980s. Some of the trousers came with a matching belt in the suit’s cloth, which is a sporty detail that was popular in the 1970s. It can be nice how a matching belt does not break up the suit with a different colour, but it also looks rather studied. The trousers are not lined at all, which surprised me, but it’s a testament to how durable the cloth is since the trousers are in excellent condition.
The suits are not all from the same year. Amongst the suits and jackets, the length of the vents varies, the depth of the pocket flaps varies, and the rise on the trousers varies.
The Collection of Suits and Jackets
The suits include a dark blue birdseye, a lightweight navy-and-cream plain-weave Prince of Wales check with a light blue overcheck, a navy herringbone, a navy tropical wool and a charcoal sharkskin. There is also a blue blazer made of wool cavalry twill and black-and-white herringbone cashmere jacket with a blue windowpane. There are also another suit and another blazer that was included in the bunch I purchased, but a family member of mine is currently in possession of them. There were other Turnbull & Asser suits and jackets that I passed on at this estate sale, either because I wasn’t interested in the pattern or because there was an issue with the condition. The total cost of the entire bunch was a mere $300.
These suits and jackets remind me of some of my favourite suits of the James Bond series. The cut and styling of the jackets recalls George Lazenby’s jackets from Dimi Major in On Her Majesty’s Secret Service. The trousers recall Roger Moore’s Doug Hayward trousers of For Your Eyes Only, Octopussy and A View to a Kill.
The cloths are all classics, recalling what Sean Connery, George Lazenby and Pierce Brosnan wore in the Bond films. The blue birdseye suit is a Brosnan classic that features in all four of his Bond films. The Prince of Wales check is a plain-weave check like what Connery wears in Dr. No, but it has a blue overcheck like Lazenby’s suit in On Her Majesty’s Secret Service has. The navy herringbone is a large herringbone like what Lazenby wears in the first M’s office scene in On Her Majesty’s Secret Service. The navy tropical wool suit is reminiscent of the navy suit in You Only Live Twice. The charcoal sharkskin is similar to the train suit in From Russia with Love.
The blue blazer’s cloth is cavalry twill, which is more common for trousers than for blazers, but it’s a perfectly classic blazer cloth that has a military heritage, and Bond may have worn a blazer made of it at one time or another. The blazer came with beautiful brass buttons that are emblazoned with Turnbull & Asser’s Quorn logo. As much as I like and appreciate the classic buttons, I took the opportunity to replace them with stainless steel four-hole buttons that resemble the buttons on Roger Moore’s blazers in The Spy Who Loved Me and Moonraker for a more modern touch. The blazer’s slanted pockets and ticket pocket match the style in The Spy Who Loved Me, so I had to match the buttons. I had them sewn on with matching navy thread in a crisscross style like Moore’s buttons were. I bought the buttons at Lou Lou Buttons in New York City.
The cashmere herringbone jacket is reminiscent of Connery’s herringbone tweed jacket in Never Say Never Again and even has the same styling in the pockets and vents. But this herringbone pattern is augmented with a thin single-yarn mid-blue windowpane. The crosswise stripes look lighter than the lengthwise, but that’s only because of how the colours are arranged.
These suits and jackets resemble some of James Bond’s best. The only things I would change with these suits are that I’d rather have side adjusters on the trousers than belt loops, I would have preferred the jackets without a ticket pocket, and I would have liked the button stance on the jackets to have been slightly lower. But for the price, I had to get them all to avoid any regrets. Many of the items still need alterations, which cost much more than the cost of purchasing each piece.
Great finds! If you head to LouLou any time soon tell them Mike, since relocating to Cleveland, misses them. I think I remember you mentioning them before…
Very interesting Matt! I think while this was James Bond’s shirt maker in the films it is interesting to see them as suit creators as well. Thanks for sharing!
What Watch do you wear in this Photos?
It is not a Gruen Watch?
No, it’s a Jules Jurgensen. It looks just as much like Sean Connery’s dress watch as the popular Gruen does. Hopefully one day we’ll know what Connery’s watch is!
Amazing and well written post Matt! I must confess that I have lot to say with regards to this post but overall top marks!
Firstly, I find it fascinating how all these pieces somehow have a connection to Bond from the Turnbull & Asser brand (as you alluded to, the jackets are similar to Lazenby’s, the trousers to 1980’s Moore, and the colour palette and style reminiscent of the suits worn by Connery, Lazenby and Brosnan’s Bonds). I also find it fascinating on the predominance of blue as the primary colour palettes as it is very much a literary Bond staple and homage. They are all fairly conservative pieces in the the typical city colours perfect for your situations and for your cool complexion (I myself as someone with a cool winter complexion am personally inclined to these pieces as a result!)
Secondly, I enjoy the variety of the pieces as it pretty much covers nearly any situation in a year. Some are perfect for formal or business in a year round context (the dark blue birdseye, navy herringbone, and charcoal sharkskin suits), one for warmer weather (navy tropical wool), one for more sporty and social suit wearing occasions (Prince of Wales check suit), as well as cool weather odd jackets (wool cavalry twill blazer and black-and-white herringbone cashmere jacket).
Lastly, I like how timeless these pieces are cut and they fit your frame fairly well for something not custom made for you. The details aren’t particularly dated and are generally well proportioned. Though they all look great, I would agree with the details you would change (side adjusters instead of belt loops, no ticket pockets, and a slightly lower button stance) and I would add that the pocket flaps could be narrowed to a more classic width instead of the slightly wide width present (though I don’t think the wide width are bad, just a bit wider than the ideal, but that’s a matter of preference).
Overall, all I can say is that this is an impressive post you’ve written and is a great inspiration for someone like me who is slowly building the foundations of wardrobe that are inspired by James Bond as these pieces (with a few concessions to my tastes and personal circumstances) may be the very things I need for most of my tailored clothing needs and circumstances!
Respectfully disagree about the pocket flaps, they look proportionate to the lapels.
Incredible find. Did the person behind this estate sale have English tastes in other areas?
The person had very elegant tastes for sure.
“The only thing I would change with these suits is that I’d rather have side adjusters on the trousers rather than belt loops, I would have preferred the jackets without a ticket pocket, and I would have liked the button stance on the jackets to have been slightly lower.”
The blue birdseye suit clearly has suspender/braces buttons and the trousers don’t seem to have belt loops (it seems unlikely that they’re spaced such that they can’t be seen). Was this another change you had your alterations tailor make?
(Incidentally, “rather” is used twice in the sentence quoted above and you wrote “the only thing” and then listed multiple things that you’d change.)
The braces change was one that I made for the blue birdseye suit.
Thank you for the corrections.
All look good on you and what a nice price! Great finds there. I have been trying to find some vintage suits and sport coats to buy, and despite having a slightly more common size than you, 40R, I still have found it difficult.
Thank you! I used to be a 40R, and it was still difficult finding clothes at that size.
Great cut,great suits and jackets!
Oh,if only Timothy Dalton was gone to Chester Barrie (driven by a good wardrobe supervisor).
Maybe the birdeye suit is a bit long…but is in line with the equestrian British style tradition.
It’s the camera lens and angle of the photo that is making the jacket look longer. It’s the same as the others.
The length looks great. Maybe the jackets just seem long in an age when the “bum freezer” look is prevalent.
Truly beautiful, the gentleman who owned these evidently had excellent taste. I love the large scales of both herringbone cloths.
I’m curious, what were some examples of the suits you passed on?
I remember a grey puppytooth check suit, but I can’t remember the others. It was an easy decision to pass on the ones I didn’t take.
Congrats, Matt on these wonderful finds!
I too had some luck recently with picking up some Bondian English RTW tailoring myself. I discovered that Dege&Skinner has a very reasonably priced small collection of RTW suits and blazers. The suits are in classic Bondian cloths like navy twill, navy birdseye, and a small/subtle mid-grey appearing Glen check. Basically, the same assortment as you picked up here.
The jackets are cut very much in Dege’s strongly British house style with a structured construction, strong roped shoulders, suppressed waist, flared skirt, tall double vents, bellied notch lapels and a medium low button stance. The trousers have a medium rise, forward pleats and side adjusters.
I grabbed the navy twill and am over the moon. Apart from the more Brosnan-ian padded, roped shoulders (which I typically find more flattering on myself due to rather uneven shoulders from an old injury), the jacket silhouette reminds me a lot of Lazenby’s button two suits from OHMSS with the benefit of Connery’s pleated trousers, which are once again more flattering and comfortable on my more muscular legs.
I like to think it was a very successful attempt at taking inspiration from Bond and adapting it for my particular physique and personal style.
Love the suits, you got so lucky finding them for a good price. My favorites the Birdseye Suit of course. I was surprised to see the prince of Wales check is navy and cream. From afar it looks like a typical black and white medium gray which reminds me of the navy and sand check suit from Goldeneye.
A navy birdseye and a medium grey Glen check are the two non solid suits I hope to eventually get, although the check suit would be way more subtle like the Gold finger suit.
Very, very beautiful pieces, Matt! But I don’t think they would fit you better with a lower button stance, at all. The opposite, perhaps. Stance is actually very low, and also the jackets are too long, in my opinion. But they reflect the 80’s cut
The button stance on these suits is higher than usual for the 1980s, which might be why the jackets look long to you. The jackets are longer than what is currently fashionable, but they are a standard length for any suit jackets made before the 2010s.
Words to live by
1. Id rather drive a used aston martin than a new nissan any day of the week.
2. Always first class, never full price…
3. Smile for the birdie you bastard
Great find Matt! I think the jackets look stylish and Bondian. Thrifting vintage items is one of favorite hobbies. By thrifting, I found a great pair of Church’s burgundy brogue dress shoes. I really love them and they fit perfectly. Also, do these vintage garments feature surgeon cuffs?
No, the cuffs have fake buttonholes for ease of adjusting the sleeve length. It wasn’t until recently that ready-to-wear suits started to be made with working cuffs.
Although I have only recently caught this article I must say that these styles on you are outstanding and suit you quite well in a very well linked Bondian way . Well done Mr.Spaiser once again.
What are your go to alterations tailors in NYC? I have yet to find one i am very happy with.
L&S Custom Tailors on East 61st Street did the alterations on the two suits and the blazer you see me wearing here.
Thank you very much