James Bond’s quintessential uniform since his first scene in the first Bond film Dr. No has always been the dinner suit, whether midnight blue or black. Starting with the third Bond film Goldfinger, Bond added an alternative black tie look, the ivory dinner jacket. The ivory dinner jacket makes more of a statement than the midnight blue or black dinner suit, but Bond wears it sparingly throughout the series in a way that it never could overtake the dark dinner suit as his most iconic look.
The ivory dinner jacket has always been a secondary warm-weather black tie look for Bond, and the costumers for the Bond series have always made sure of that. Bond wears it in only six out of 24 films: Goldfinger (1964), Diamonds Are Forever (1971), The Man with the Golden Gun (1974), Octopussy (1983), A View to a Kill (1985) and Spectre (2015). In four of the six films he also wears a midnight blue or black dinner suit, maintaining the ivory dinner jacket’s status as an alternative to Bond’s usual midnight blue or black dinner suit rather than a replacement for it. When Bond wears an ivory dinner jacket as his only dinner jacket in The Man with the Golden Gun, its appearance is brief. In Spectre the ivory dinner jacket is Bond’s exclusive dinner jacket in the film, and it has significant role in that film’s wardrobe.
Like the dark dinner suit, the ivory dinner jacket is a garment for the evening. Like with other white clothes, there are many cultural restrictions to when and where one should wear the ivory dinner jacket. The ivory dinner jacket was historically resort wear, and as Bond visits many resort locales it is an appropriate garment for those occasions. Understanding that it is a garment for warm-weather resort wear helps us determine where one would traditionally wear it.
As it is a garment for warm-weather, it is appropriate to wear in the tropics year-round. It is also always appropriate on a cruise ship. It’s a traditional garment to wear around the Mediterranean in the warmer part of the year, and it can be worn anywhere in The United States during the summer months, especially for outdoor occasions. It was traditionally shunned in big northern American cities like New York and Chicago during the summer, but that has changed. It was traditionally never appropriate in the British Isles, though people in the countryside now wear it during warm summer nights like in the United States. The fashion police have lessened their penalties for wearing it in nontraditional places!
The ivory dinner jacket originated in the 1930s and was a popular resort garment for the evening through the 1980s. As dressing up at resorts became less popular, so has the ivory dinner jacket. In the 1990s the ivory dinner jacket became less fashionable and did not come back into fashion until James Bond wore it again in Spectre in 2015. Since then it has been a popular alternative to the midnight blue and black dinner suits, and people are not as concerned about wearing them in the proper season or the proper locale as they were in the old days of the ivory dinner jacket. The best-dressed men, however, will always consider the season and locale for the ivory dinner jacket.
The Bond series has been careful not to overuse the ivory dinner jacket, and thus there are many occasions when it Bond was in an appropriate location for it but did not wear it, often with good reason. Thunderball is the first of these occasions. Though Bond wears an excellent midnight blue mohair-blend dinner jacket that is quite suitable for the Bahamas in Thunderball, an ivory dinner jacket would have been appropriate. The film’s villain, Emilio Largo, instead wears a flashy ivory dinner jacket and Bond wears midnight blue to contrast the villain.
When Bond wears a dinner suit on the Portuguese Riviera in On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, an ivory dinner jacket would have entirely appropriate. However, a dinner suit was chosen instead to introduce the new James Bond George Lazenby in Bond’s most classic attire to help him look the part.
At the end of Diamonds Are Forever, Bond is having dinner on a cruise ship dressed in a blue velvet dinner jacket. Being on a cruise ship, this would have been an appropriate occasion to dress Bond in an ivory dinner jacket, but as he had already worn one for a large portion of the film in Las Vegas they wanted to put him in something different for the film’s third black tie occasion.
In The Spy Who Loved Me, Bond wears a midnight blue mohair-blend dinner suit in Egypt. The hot desert is an appropriate place for the ivory alternative, but as the ivory dinner jacket had just featured in the previous Bond film and Roger Moore had yet to wear the classic Bond dinner suit, the midnight blue dinner suit was the right choice. Feeding into the story, the midnight blue dinner suit makes him look as overdressed as can be in the scenes following the night club.
Bond visits Rio de Janeiro in Moonraker, a tropical city where the ivory dinner jacket is appropriate. The fun look of the ivory dinner jacket would have been appropriate for Carnival, but the black dinner suit that Moore wears is a better choice for sneaking around a warehouse at night.
Bond could have worn an ivory dinner jacket for the casino and dinner scenes in For Your Eyes Only in Corfu, a Greek island with a Mediterranean climate and thus an appropriate locale for the ivory dinner jacket. There are a few other men at the venue wearing ivory dinner jackets, but Bond wears a black dinner suit instead as a way of putting the flashier 1970s era behind the Bond series in favour of a more down-to-earth film.
Licence to Kill takes place in the fictional Isthmus City, which is supposed to be in a tropical region of Central America. Being the tropics, the ivory dinner jacket would have been suitable for the casino scene, but because this is a dark film Bond needed to dress dark in a black dinner suit. Costume designer Jodie Tillen famously wanted to put Bond in pastels throughout the film, and this would have been the most appropriate opportunity in the film to dress Bond in a light colour if the tone of the film suited it.
James Bond visits Monte Carlo in GoldenEye and wears a black dinner suit to the casino. Monte Carlo is a resort destination and is traditionally an appropriate city for the ivory dinner jacket, but the ivory dinner jacket had fallen out of favour at the time of GoldenEye and Pierce Brosnan needed to be introduced as Bond in the more iconic dark dinner suit.
When Bond visits the casino in Baku, Azerbaijan in The World Is Not Enough, Bond is wearing a warm-weather midnight blue mohair-blend dinner suit. A few men at the casino wear ivory dinner jackets and look out of place as the weather doesn’t seem warm enough to justify the ivory dinner jacket. Valentin Zukovsky is wearing a taupe dinner jacket, which is also a warm-weather look, but he gets away with it because he is a mafia boss. Bond could have possibly gotten away with an ivory dinner jacket here, but it is better he didn’t.
Though Skyfall is not the first time Daniel Craig’s Bond wears a midnight blue dinner suit, the film helped take an exclusively high-end dinner suit colour and bring it to mainstream fashion. It is difficult to imagine him wearing anything other than that midnight blue dinner suit in that film. He wears this dinner suit in Macau, a tropical city where the ivory dinner jacket is also appropriate. The tone of Skyfall is dark, and the dark dinner suit better fits the character at that time. The midnight blue dinner suit also contrasts nicely with the cream jacket that the villain Silva wears in their scenes together on Hashima Island.
At the time Skyfall was made in 2012, the ivory dinner jacket was still seen as old-fashioned and outdated. Spectre was able to revive this classic garment three years later, and this summer it is still part of many collections. The Bond costumers throughout the series have been careful not to overuse the garment, even in places where he could have worn it, and though it’s a trendy look now it is still important to wear it appropriately. It will always be a secondary black tie style for Bond, and it is best to keep that in mind when wearing black tie as not to overdo the ivory dinner jacket.