What a Suit’s Fit Says About Character

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The ways James Bond’s suits fit over the last six decades say more about fashion trends and personal style preferences—of Bond actors, costume designers, tailors and directors—than they say about the character. Fit has historically often changed as fashions update, and James Bond frequently demonstrates the changing times in his fits.

The number one goal of Bond’s fits has always been to look current and fashionable. His fits have routinely tried to convey that Bond is up-to-date and relevant, which means that what constitutes a modern fit is always changing. Sometimes when we look back on a fit that is no longer current, we simply see it as an outdated fit, a poor fit or both.

However, the fit of a suit and the silhouette it creates can also evoke a feeling regardless of fashion trends, which is sometimes what causes fashions to evolve. What a certain fit says beyond being of a certain era is often in the eye of the beholder. Different fits can also convey the same impressions in different ways. Here are a few of Bond’s fits and the impressions they may present.

The Oversized Fit

Timothy Dalton’s suits in Licence to Kill have an oversized fit that is characteristic of the late 1980s and early 1990s. This is a purposefully large fit and not the result of unknowingly purchasing a suit a size too large. There is far more fabric than needed to comfortably cover the body. This fit makers the wearer look relaxed. The excess of cloth promotes the idea of luxury because there was no skimping in this area.

By traditional standards this is a poor fit because the excess cloth looks sloppy. As a result, the wearer may appear to be sloppy and careless. He may look as if he has no idea how a suit should fit and bought a size or two too large. However, getting simple fit points right like the sleeve length and trouser length can mitigate the appearance of sloppiness.

The Full Fit

Timothy Dalton’s suits in The Living Daylights and Pierce Brosnan’s suits in his 1990s James Bond films have a full fit. There is a moderate excess of cloth to give a luxurious impression, but the cloth is neatly tailored without any bunching or sloppiness. Like the oversized suit it gives the impression of being relaxed and comfortable, and it can comes across as confidence. It also has a traditional and conservative appearance.

To the eye of someone accustomed to the tightly fitted suits that James Bond has worn from Skyfall to No Time to Die, a full fit may look too big, and some may say it looks sloppy. So long as the suit is neatly tailored, it shouldn’t appear oversized.

The Dramatic Fit

Sean Connery’s Anthony Sinclair suits from all of his Bond films and Roger Moore’s Cyril Castle suits from his first two Bond films have what I’m calling a dramatic fit. These suits have fullness in certain places but closeness in others. They have a full chest but a nipped waist. The chest may have drape or it may be swelled and clean. A dramatic fit is uncommon, as it is only found in bespoke—primarily English bespoke—or high-end ready-to-wear and made-to-measure like Tom Ford because it takes more expertise and effort to tailor. A dramatic fit is thus more expensive than other fits and looks it.

The dramatic fit presents a strong, regal and sophisticated man. The shape in the suit can make a man appear more athletic because it emphasises the chest. The attention to detail in this fit shows someone who cares about himself and what he does. Because it’s unusual, a man wearing it may come across as having a somewhat mysterious quality.

On the other hand, this dramatic fit can also make a man appear pompous or showy, whether or not others know that the suit is expensive. The fullness, especially if it’s in the form of drape, can make the wearer look more relaxed, but it can also make the wearer look sloppy to those who prefer a close fit all over.

The Close Fit

George Lazenby’s Dimi Major suits in On Her Majesty’s Secret Service and Daniel Craig’s Tom Ford suits in Quantum of Solace are examples of a close fit. The close fit follows the shape of the body but doesn’t pull or bunch. It has little extra fullness, but it does not feel uncomfortably tight either. A closely fitted suit draws attention to the wearer’s figure as well as to a suit’s non-fit characteristics.

A close fit often conveys a modern look. It projects a strong and confident image with an attention to detail. Though the close fit may seem like the platonic ideal of a fit, there are negatives. Some may find it too sharp and too fastidious, and they might think the person wearing the suit looks too good to be trustworthy. A close fit can look unbalanced and be unflattering to certain body types if there isn’t enough fullness in certain places.

The Undersized Fit

Daniel Craig’s suits in Skyfall and Spectre have an undersized fit that is characteristic of the 2010s. This tight fit is a result of aiming for an extremely close fit, while the undersized aspect is the result of Daniel Craig fluctuating in size when bulking up. This fit can make a muscular wearer look especially tough because it can give the impression that he’s so muscular his suit cannot adequately cover the bulk, and he looks like his growing and flexing muscles are going to tear the suit apart at the seams.

The undersized fit conveys a fearlessness, as in the wearer is both not afraid to show off his body and not afraid that his suit will rip in half with the wrong movement. But likewise it conveys showiness and immodesty. It might portray an overconfidence.

By traditional standards this is a poor fit because the suit does not have clean lines. It neither follow the shape of the body nor does it drape neatly off the body. The bunching and pulling looks sloppy. Like with the oversized suit, an overly tight suit can also make the wearer also appear to be sloppy and careless. It looks like the wearer outgrew his suit and couldn’t be bothered to get a new suit that fits. This fit appears young, especially because it was first adopted by younger and slimmer men. Thus, it can make the wearer look immature, especially if the wear is of a mature age.

A Spectrum of Fits

These different fits all fit on a spectrum, and some of Bond’s suits may be positioned between these categories or have elements of different categories. Daniel Craig’s suits in Casino Royale, for example, have a close fit in the jacket but a full fit in the trousers. Sean Connery’s suits in his first three Bond films are on the fuller side of a dramatic fit. Each tailor and brand have their own cuts and fits, with their own unique variations on how the suits fit.

The only aspect of a good fit that does not change with fashions is the fit of the jacket’s collar on the back of the neck. The collar should neither stand away from the neck not should there be any rolls of fabric in the upper back below the neck. When a jacket’s collar doesn’t fit neatly the suit has a poor fit no matter the fashion. A man wearing a poorly fitted collar will always look sloppy and ill-prepared.

Many aspects of a suit’s silhouette beyond the fit can say subliminal things about the suit and the person wearing it. Along with fit, the shoulder expression is the most significant way a suit can communicate character.

What a suit’s fit and silhouette say is never as significant as the wearer’s own words and actions. The way a person carries themselves and behaves is for more important than how his suit fits.

28 COMMENTS

  1. Again, David Tennant has A LOT to answer for in popularizing the ‘skinny suit’ as a core component of ‘geek chic’ in the decade ‘05 ~ ‘15 . . .

    • I hadn’t considered that Tennant’s Doctor might have contributed to the trend, assuming that this is what you’re referring to. I don’t look at those costumes and hate it, as he has the very skinny frame to pull it off, they’re all cotton, they’re four button jackets with fancy flapped pockets he wears them with all with trainers, etc. It’s obviously very casual and was never trying to be formal or even semi-formal.
      It’s interesting that if indeed that look inspired the skinny suit trend of the previous decade then it started off very innocently.

      • I don’t think Tennant’s Doctor inspired Craig’s tight suits, but I can see him as an influence on Ben Whishaw’s Q. Actually, given Q’s personality, he might have even been trying to dress like the Tenth Doctor in-universe.

      • I’m being slightly flippant of course but by the same token I’d not play down Tennant’s contribution to the ‘skinny’ trend either.

        It was actually somewhat inadvertent a look – the costume designer for ‘Doctor Who’ at the time, Louise Page, was using a cotton fabric from a pair of GAP trousers that Tennant insisted upon using (although myriad fabric companies including Holland & Sherry also carry the ‘blue pinstripe on brown’ flavour and in higher quality as well).

        Being unable to source the fabric’s actual provenance, Page just ended up buying twenty pairs of trousers to fashion three ~ four suits out of, unstitching the seams to refashion their material into jackets.

        She apparently didn’t like the actual result and complained to the producer that Tennant ended up ‘looking like a pencil’; he just brushed it off as ‘an appropriate look for the Doctor’.

        I’m not sure if that skinny aesthetic was born out of the necessity of limited quantities of already cut fabric or if Tennant orchestrated the whole thing but in my eyes it looks AWFULLY contrived and uncomfortable.

    • At least Tennant is/was skinny enough to pull it off naturally. Craig just looks like a cheap “minder” for a two bit crook.

    • Funny, because despite the trainers (I would prefer desert boots at least, but the Doctor has to look quirky in some way), I think he actually looks pretty good. I don’t get the impression that the suits are too tight for him.

      • Were I designer I’d have put him in a full fit three button suit in Royal blue (anything a few shades lighter than navy), with a single vent. The maroon chucks looked alright when paired with maroon ties, though I’d have put him in standard brown leather boots and matched them to brown neckties.

      • I’m going to weigh in here on allusions to dress in “Doctor Who,” as I’ve published on it quite a bit. I’m always leery of assertions about the influence that “Who” has had on fashion (and even its attunement to fashions, at least after 1975), but in the case of Tennant and his successor, Matt Smith, there seems to be some empirical evidence of effects on taste — or, at least, there were some published claims in the press, scholarship, and the blogosphere about alleged effects on taste and consumption. It was, after all, around the end of Tennant’s incumbency and the beginning of Smith’s that “Doctor Who” started to make a serious impression on international audiences, and was arguably “cool” in ways that it had not really sought to be in the past.

        That said, media impact on fads (and I don’t use that term derogatorily, just to distinguish the idea of passing modishness from the idea of the classic) is notoriously a chicken-and-egg issue. Did “Mad Men” start the mania for so-called “midcentury modern” styling in furniture and fashionable dress? Or is it only in retrospect that it seemed to, especially after the show’s creative personnel (in consort with major high-street chains) had jumped on the style bandwagon? Hard to be sure. The most that can be said safely is that over its eight-year run, “Mad Men” certainly encouraged and helped to sustain this mania.

        But there’s another problem with the Doctor, not least a Doctor played by someone who was an avowed fan of “Doctor Who” from childhood, as Tennant was. If there are acknowledged rules of good taste in relationship to tailoring and dressing, the Doctor has never been conceived as obeying those rules. The costume given to William Hartnell at the show’s inception was, according to the (much later) recollections of the designer, Maureen Heneghan, influenced by the neo-Edwardian fashions of the postwar decade, which had made its way to the high street by the end of the 1960s. But Hartnell was not the show’s primary identification figure in the early days, and his character was an avowedly an alien who might—like Ford Prefect in “The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy”—reasonably be understood to have misread what constitutes a sartorial norm. The costume for Hartnell was vaguely late-Victorian/Edwardian, but it was fully of eccentricities that marked the Doctor as being perpetually out of time, or at least out of joint with gentlemanly good taste.

        After that, most Doctors have been cast as either uninterested in “appropriate” dress or as actively subversive and anti-establishment. I don’t think Tennant was any exception. Although commentators in the press talked about his look as being accessible for cosplayers (in a way that, say, the Doctors of the 1980s were supposedly not), there’s a world of difference between relatively normality and elegance, “timeless” or otherwise. In 2008 you could cosplay Tennant’s Doctor and not get jeered at on the street, but (especially with a copy of the bizarre overcoat, made with “screen-accurate” furnishing fabric) you could still barely pass as even geek-chic fashionable.

        Tennant and the Doctor made each other sex symbols but their conjoined existence didn’t start out with either of them fitting the bill. The stratospheric success of the 2006 series secured that dubious cultural identity for actor and character. So, amplifying a point made earlier in this thread, I think Tennant’s Doctor certainly reads as partaking of noughties “geek chic,” and can even seem retrospectively as a primary embodiment, but I don’t think this was the plan, nor am I convinced that the Tenth Doctor’s look initiated anything. My own sense, piecing together interviews and off-hand comments, and reading between the lines, is that Tennant was primarily interested in making the character “Doctorish” again in a way that Eccleston (for very good reason) had emphatically not been. And, putting aside Louise Page’s stunning missteps in terms of choices about fabrication, the resulting skinny-fit look doesn’t really correspond in any useful way with the skinny-fit silhouette that we’ve come to know and (in my case, at least) loathe.

      • Piers, do you have a site or blog or forum you post on? I was heavily involved in the Doctor Who costume scene about ten to fifteen years ago- I was one of the early few to help identify the source of Tennant’s 50th Anniversary tie- and reading your post brought back a lot of memories.

      • Timothy: I don’t have a blog or website, but my book “Design for Doctor Who” came out in 2021 from Bloomsbury Academic, and I have occasionally been asked to contribute something on costume by the editors of the Doctor Who Magazine. (Their costume design special, which came out in Spring 2019, was a good 30% my work). Incidentally, one of the chapters of the book I’m working on now addresses aspects of design in the Bond films, and is indebted to Matt’s impeccable research and rich reflections here.

  2. “Sometimes when we look back on a fit that is no longer current, we simply see it as an outdated fit, a poor fit or both.”

    I definitely noticed this a lot, even from commenters on this blog regarding more traditional fits during the peak of the Skyfall and Spectre era…. e.g. “Brosnan wore baggy suits.” Those type of comments are diminishing as fashion seems to be moving (slowly) towards fuller fits again.

  3. Good write up. As always, I think the full fit or the dramatic fit is the best, very timeless middle of the road appeal. If I had to choose between the two I might go with the full fit as I prefer more comfort as an overweight person.

    • LOL.

      I wasn’t sure Craig would be able to have kids after the trousers he wore in the last few Bond flicks, but I congratulate him on beating the odds.

      • LOL.

        No wonder Craig changed into jeans whenever the lower part of his body wasn’t visible on film, like in the Spectre Rome car chase.

      • Actually Le Chiffre had a midsection-flattening session on Mr Bond in Casino Royale presumably allowing for a closer fit in the southern part. That is character development.
        After this bout of tasteless joking, we need to designate the culprit of skinny fits, Hedi Slimane at Dior Homme in the early 2000s.
        I am gratefull I had the possibility of wearing full fit suits from Dormeuil before that. A glorious time when a wallet, a Nokia 3310 and keys could fit in your jacket and trousers without them bulging. Quite practical for a P99 (or PPK in skinnier suits) in a shoulder holster too but on that I can only guess.

      • Yeah good point Eric. It’s been a long time since I read the books but I do remember quite frequent mentions of the tailoring required to fit a PPK unobtrusively in a pBurns Martin shoulder holster but Bond always being able to notice the tell-take bulge. Wonder how Fleming would have tried to get Craig’s piece secreted within his sausage skin!

  4. My favorite of the examples here is the dramatic fit. It’s really flattering on Connery when he’s in shape (especially with his huge chest-to-waist drop), and it helps make Moore look a little more physically imposing than he actually was. I don’t think I’ve got the right body type to look good wearing it myself, but maybe it’s something to work toward.

  5. . . . also, I’d say that Brosnan absolutely perfected the balance of ‘masculine with just the additional and strictly optional touch of “dandy”, nothing even close to fruity’.

  6. Personally I look best and feel effortlessly elegant in what Matt refers to as a ‘dramatic fit’ , always have and always will! Comfort and ease of movement are also a great factor in my style, I can’t imagine how unflattering, uncomfortable and restrictive a Craig era suit is, or even worse a ‘Piwi Herman’ look! I say Live and let Die to all my enemies and let cry the dogs of war! LOL(I just had to put that in…)

  7. You mentioned in another comment that Roger’s Hayward suits fall somewhere between a close and a dramatic fit, but how do they compare with his Castle suits in terms of fullness? I got the impression Castle was also on the slimmer side, at least compared to Connery’s early-60s Sinclair suits, but I’m curious where they both fall on the scale. Particularly FYEO where the fit is a bit fuller.

    • Hayward usually cut with less fullness in the chest than Castle did. When you compare Castle to Sinclair, Sinclair’s earlier suits had more fullness in the chest (as did Castle’s at the time), but Castle always had a closer fit in the waist. The For Your Eyes Only jacket doesn’t have a fuller fit than later suits, but the trousers are wide and the lapels are wider.

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