James Bond inspires more men to wear black tie—a.k.a. a tuxedo—than any other person, real or fictional. Whether you call it a dinner suit, dinner jacket, evening suit, tuxedo or tux (but please don’t!), 007 sets the ultimate example for how to follow the black tie dress code. Bond usually follows traditional protocol for the black tie dress code, but there is a certain way to follow the protocol if you want to wear black tie like Bond. What follows is a summary of Bond’s usual black tie styles. It doesn’t cover all black tie outfits Bond has worn, but it’s a general guide to how Bond wears black tie. There are a few exceptions to what is written here, but those exceptions are not part of the essential James Bond black tie look.
Bond’s favourite colour for his dinner suit is midnight blue, but he often wears black dinner suits as well. Until recently, midnight blue was rarely found off the rack and signified that one bought his dinner suit from a bespoke English tailor or a high-end Italian maker. The dinner suit (or tuxedo) is a suit, meaning that both the jacket and the trousers match, whether the suit is black or midnight blue. Bond ordinary follows tradition and wears his dinner suits in a pebble-like barathea-weave wool, but sometimes he wears them in a wool and mohair blend that has a slight sheen. The image at the top of this article is of a mohair-blend midnight blue dinner suit that Sean Connery wears in Thunderball.
The silk trimmings—the lapel facings, trouser stripes and button coverings—on Bond’s midnight blue dinner suits are sometimes matching midnight blue and sometimes contrasting in black. On his black dinner suits they, of course, match in black. They are usually in satin silk, but sometimes in grosgrain silk.
The Dinner Jacket
There are dinner jackets and dinner jackets; this is the latter. And I need you looking like a man who belongs at that table.
Vesper Lynd’s advice to James Bond in Casino Royale is sound for any man wearing black tie in any occasion. Bond’s dinner jackets are almost always single-breasted, and they follow tradition with only one button on the front. The jackets may have peaked lapels, notched lapels or a shawl collar. Since notched lapels are less dressy than peaked lapels or the shawl collar, Bond mostly wears notched lapels for private dinners, like for his dinner with M in Goldfinger or his dinner with Kamal Khan in Octopussy. Because black tie these days is more often worn for grander occasions, Bond prefers peaked lapels and shawl collars.
Bond wears double-breasted dinner jackets a number of times in the 1970s and 1980s. They usually have six buttons with two to fasten in the most traditional style for double-breasted suit jackets, but in A View to a Kill his double-breasted dinner jacket has four buttons with one to button. The simpler double-breasted style is thought by some to be more appropriate for a dinner jacket, but either style is acceptable.
Bond’s dinner jackets usually have double vents, but they sometime have no vent, which is the most traditional style for a dinner jacket. Double vents, especially when 8 to 10 inches long, are appropriate on a dinner jacket and keep the back draping neatly and elegantly. In Skyfall, Bond makes a mistake by having a sporty single vent on his dinner jacket, which is an error typically found only with American makers.
The hip pockets on Bond’s dinner jackets are straight and jetted without flaps for the cleanest look, and the jettings are usually done in the same cloth as the jacket’s body, not the silk trimming. The jacket cuffs have three or four buttons. On occasion they have gauntlet—or turnback—cuffs in the silk trimming, like in Dr. No, From Russia with Love and Quantum of Solace. The dinner jacket’s buttons are either covered in the same silk as the lapels or made of horn.
Bond’s dinner suit trousers follow black tie tradition and have a silk stripe down the side. The stripe matches the silk facings on the jacket’s lapels. The front style of Bond’s trousers has varied considerably, from double forward pleats and double reverse pleats to darted fronts and plain fronts, and any of these styles is appropriate. The trouser bottoms are always finished without turn-ups. The trousers are either held up with white silk braces or with side-adjusters on the trousers. Dinner suit trousers are never worn with a belt.
The Waist Covering
Though low-cut waistcoats and cummerbunds are traditional, Bond more often than not breaks traditional black tie protocol and goes without any waist covering, which has been completely acceptable now for decades. Pierce Brosnan wears low-cut waistcoats in his first two Bond films, and on occasion, like in the most recent two Bond films, Bond wears cummerbunds.
In For Your Eyes Only and Octopussy Bond wears trousers with a wide silk waistband that buttons at the side to give the illusion that he is wearing a cummerbund, even though he is not. Though the waistcoat is not a very Bondian part of black tie, the cummerbund is the best way to go if you want to dress like Bond and also wear traditional black tie. Though going without any waist covering isn’t ideal if you’re a traditionalist, it’s not the biggest sin provided the trousers have a rise long enough so that the white shirt does not show beneath the jacket’s button. Forgoing the waist covering is the classic Bond method.
The Dress Shirt
The most important part of the shirt is the collar, and James Bond always wears a turn-down collar—usually a spread collar—with black tie and never a wing collar. Bond wears one of three different styles of shirt with black tie: the pleated shirt, the marcella shirt and the textured shirt.
The pleated shirt has a bib on the front of half-inch pleats, and it has either mother-of-pearl buttons down the front placket or occasionally a fly placket that covers the buttons. The pleated shirt doesn’t take studs since it’s a soft and relaxed alternative to the older and dressier marcella shirt. Studs are not necessary with this kind of shirt and not part of the classic James Bond black tie look. Bond does not wear studs until Licence to Kill, the 16th film of the series! The pleated shirt may have double (French) cuffs or cocktail cuffs.
The marcella shirt has a marcella—or piqué—bib on the front, and the front has no raised placket and is fastened with studs due to the stiffer front. Bond’s studs are white mother of pearl, not black onyx. The marcella shirt also has not only a marcella bib but also the collar and cuffs—always double cuffs—in marcella cotton. Marcella is too stiff for the body and sleeves. The marcella shirt is the dressiest of all black tie shirts.
The textured shirt is made with the same weave all over with no bib in front. The texture may be a white-on-white waffle weave, like in Casino Royale, a white-on-white self stripe, like in Thunderball or an airy voile weave for hot weather, like in The Spy Who Loved Me and Octopussy. The shirt may either have a fly placket that covers the buttons or regular mother-of-pearl buttons down the front. Even less than the pleated shirt, the textured shirt is not dressy enough to take studs. It may have double (French) cuffs or cocktail cuffs.
Sometimes Bond combines the textured shirt with the pleated style, like in the pleated self-stripe shirts in Goldfinger and For Your Eyes Only. Bond’s dress shirts are almost always white, but Roger Moore occasionally wears cream dress shirts, like in The Man with the Golden Gun, Octopussy and A View to a Kill. The elegance of black tie comes from the contrast between the black and white elements, but a cream shirt slightly softens that contrast for a more flattering look on Moore’s warm complexion. A non-white shirt for black tie should be worn with caution.
The Bow Tie
Bond’s bow tie is always black and matches the texture of lapel facings, whether the facings are satin or grosgrain. Bond has occasionally made the mistake of not wearing a matching bow tie, and this is not recommended. Sometimes the bow tie is a thistle shape and other times it’s a batwing shape. It usually has straight ends, but sometimes Bond wears a diamond-point bow tie. All of these shapes are valid for the Bond look. The only thing that is a must is a self-tie bow tie. If you can tie your shoes correctly (not a granny knot) you can tie a bow tie. They use the same knot! Bond never wears a pre-tied bow tie or long four-in-hand tie with his dinner suits.
Plain Toe Shoes
Black plain toe shoes are the most traditional choice. James Bond’s shoes are usually patent leather, but recently they haven’t been. Bond mostly wears plain toe oxfords—per the British definition with closed lacings, also known as balmorals in American—but George Lazenby and Roger Moore wears slip-ons.
Though oxfords are preferred, if the slip-ons have a plain toe they are almost like a variation on the traditional opera pump. In Casino Royale, Bond wears black calf plain-toe derby shoes with his dinner suit, which are not as traditional as oxfords but not a poor choice either.
Warm Weather Black Tie
Though James Bond hasn’t worn an ivory dinner jacket since Roger Moore played the role in A View to a Kill, it is still a classic style for warm-year-round locales. It’s what you’ll want to wear for black tie occasions in places like The Bahamas, Latin America, Southeast Asia and India.
Bond’s warm-weather dinner jackets are never usually pure white, but they are ivory. Bond’s ivory dinner jacket may be made of wool like in Goldfinger, in silk like in The Man with the Golden Gun, or in linen like in Octopussy. Bond’s ivory dinner jackets follow the same styles as the black and midnight blue dinner jackets, except they have self lapels rather than silk-faced lapels. The buttons are also different; they are always white mother-of-pearl except for the beige horn buttons in A View to a Kill. Bond’s ivory dinner jackets are worn with black dinner suit trousers as described above, as well as the same shirts and bow ties.
If you’re interested in learning more about how to follow the black tie dress code, read Peter Marshall’s Black Tie Guide, which is the ultimate source for formalwear. You can also leave any questions about wearing black tie like James Bond in the comments below. For more specific examples of James Bond’s and related characters’ black tie outfits, see this blog’s black tie tag.
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