Why James Bond Wears Wool in the Summer Heat

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Wool is often thought to be a fibre for warmth, but in reality it’s a performance fibre that can be spun and woven into many kinds fabrics. Not all wool is as insulating as woollen flannel, and linen isn’t the only choice for summer suits. Tropical wool was developed for tropical climates, particularly for the British to wear and sell in their tropical colonies. While it is one of the most underrated and underrepresented cloths, James Bond is highly familiar with it.

High-Twist Wool

While some consider any lightweight wool to be tropical wool, true tropical wool is a woven in a plain weave of high-twist worsted yarns. High-twist wool is crisp, wrinkle-resistant, moisture-wicking and breathable, allowing air to easily pass through. Unlike most worsted wool cloths, high-twist wool has very little or no sheen, and it’s often woven in semi-solids rather than pure solids to avoid looking overly flat. It also tends to have a slightly rough hand.

Most high-twist wool is found in a modern medium weight of around 9 to 11 ounces, but it can be found in lighter and heavier weights. Breathability is more important than weight when it comes to comfort in heat and humidity. Heavier high-twist wool is not as good for very hot and humid weather, but it makes for a good travel suit because of its wrinkle resistance. Lighter isn’t always better, and medium-weight cloths may still be a good choice for hot weather because their drape allows for the cloth to hang away from the body and thus feel cooler.

High-twist wool is often known as ‘Fresco’, which is a name trademarked by Huddersfield Fine Worsteds. According to Huddersfield Fine Worsteds, it was originally Martin Sons & Co who invented and registered ‘Fresco’ in 1907. Since then many others have offered high-twist wools. Some of the best and most Bondian tropical wool bunches include, but are not limited to:

  • Huddersfield Fine Worsteds ‘Fresco’
  • Holland & Sherry Crispaire, Airesco, Cape Horn Lightweight and Eco-Traveller
  • Dugdale Tropicalair and New Fine Worsted
  • Smith Woollens Finmeresco
  • Fox Brothers Fox Air
  • Standeven Explorer

You can read more about tropical wool in an excellent blog at Permanent Style.

James Bond in Summer Wool

James Bond frequently wears tropical wool for hot weather, particularly in the first three decades of the film series when English tailors made Bond’s clothes. Costume designers prefer wool over linen because it looks neat on screen, and for a character who frequently wears business dress in hot and humid climates, tropical wool is a natural choice. Coming from a military background, Bond wants to look neat. Bond wears tropical wool in contexts from formal to casual, mainly in suits and trousers.

Starting in Ian Fleming’s novels James Bond became a fan of tropical wool suits, described as ‘two single-breasted suits in dark blue light-weight worsted’ in Live and Let Die, ‘dark blue, tropical worsted suit’ in Diamonds Are Forever, and ‘very dark blue lightweight single-breasted suit’ in Thunderball. Fleming’s Bond liked tropical wool suits not only for the tropics but also for temperate climates. For people who tends to run warm, they can be an excellent choice in three seasons out of the year, except winter.

The ivory dinner jacket is a classic use for tropical wool, though there are few options available for ivory high-twist wool. Since the ivory dinner jacket is intended to be worn only in warm weather, tropical wool can provide it with the formal look and the necessary comfort. It’s not always possible to tell which of Bond’s dinner jackets are topical wool and which other kinds of wool or made of other fibres. The Goldfinger and Diamonds Are Forever dinner jackets may be tropical wool. The Octopussy dinner jacket may be tropical wool but it could be a wool with another fibre, like linen or silk, especially as it has a slight sheen to it.

Bond wears numerous tropical wool suits throughout the films, starting in Dr. No. After he arrives in Jamaica dressed in his London grey flannel suit, he changes into a black-and-white glen check tropical wool suit. He appears to be far more comfortable in this suit, thanks to its light weight and breathable plain weave. Sean Connery’s Bond often preferred mohair over tropical wool, following its popularity in the 1960s.

Bond sometimes wears mohair-wool for his suits instead of pure tropical wool. Such cloths are woven in a plain-weave like tropical wool, but instead of twist they have mohair to add stiffness to the wool to help it breathe better. Unlike tropical wool it typically has a sheen, which brings formality with it. Thus, it’s a good cloth for suits and dinner jackets but looks too smart for odd trousers. Bond’s blue suit in You Only Live Twice may be tropical wool, but it is more likely to be mohair-wool.

In the 1970s, Bond switches to wearing more tropical wool suits. The light grey suit in Diamonds Are Forever is the perfect choice for Las Vegas, and if any suit could be comfortable there, this is the suit. The pale colour helps keep Bond cooler under the sun. Bond continues wearing similar tropical wool suits when visiting the tropical San Monique in Live and Let Die with one in light grey and another in beige. His beige suit jacket gets little wear compared to the trousers, which is to be expected on a tropical island.

In the 1960s and 1970s, Bond’s tropical wool was lightweight for the era, which would likely be in today’s medium 9-12 ounce range. Sean Connery’s tailor Anthony Sinclair was known to be proficient in tailoring lightweight cloths, which wasn’t a skill every English tailor had in the 1960s. English suits were known to be heavy at the time.

Suitings have since become lighter. When Bond arrives in India in Octopussy, he wears a very lightweight tan suit with translucent trousers that show it’s a very breathable cloth, suggesting tropical wool. He would be able to feel the slightest breeze through this suit, if he’s lucky for a breeze to come his way. It isn’t completely wrinkle-free as most high-twist wools are, but in character for tropical wool it drapes well and springs back into shape. It could be a wool and linen blend.

Bond’s business suits in Licence to Kill are made of lightweight wool for the Key West and Mexico locations, but they do not appear to be any sort of high-twist wool because they do not drape as well. In this case, the light weight isn’t going to help with bearing the heat and humidity as much as a more open weave would. These suits also feature some of the darkest colours of Bond’s warm-weather suits. While lighter colours wear cooler under sunlight, tropical wool is primarily sold in darker colours to be worn as classic business suits.

Because tropical wool has has a dry look to it with less sheen compared to most types of wool, it is a superb cloth for non-suit trousers, both with jackets and for more casual styles. It has a neutral look that makes for versatile trousers that are neither overly formal but always smart. High-twist and other tropical wool does not work well for sports coats because it lacks the necessary texture to set them apart from suit coats.

In Thunderball and You Only Live Twice, Bond wears tropical wool for some of his casual trousers in hot, humid climates. In Thunderball for a sneaky night out in the Bahamas, he wears a black wool long-sleeve polo with black tropical wool trousers. The all-wool outfit is breathable while looking exceptionally neat. In You Only Live Twice, Bond wears his pink shirt with dark grey tropical wool trousers, which have a the noticeably dry finish of high-twist wool that makes it such a good choice for casual wear.

When Bond is in New Orleans in Live and Let Die, he is fitted for a dark brown high-twist wool suit. While the tailor returns to London with the basted suit jacket, Bond wears the suit trousers with his tan sports coat to stay as comfortable as he can in one of the United States’ muggiest cities. While linen trousers may have been slightly more comfortable, these high-twist wool trousers are his second-best bet, and they’re a sure way for him to look presentable while trying to escape from alligators and crocodiles.

Bond’s safari suit in Octopussy of a matching shirt-jacket and trousers is made of tropical wool. While it is an unusual to wear a wool shirt against bare skin as Bond supposedly does with this outfit (though an undershirt can be seen through the sleeve), the safari suit remains highly breathable in the Indian jungle and looks pristine throughout the scene thanks to the springy wool. Having handled this safari suit’s original cloth, it’s a medium-weight cloth of around 11 oz.

Proper tropical wool has sadly gone away in recent Bond films in favour of more linens and cottons. Bond no longer has the need to look as neatly tailored in his summer suits and in his casual style as he used to. Pierce Brosnan’s suits are almost exclusively lightweight, but none are made of proper tropical wool. Daniel Craig wears lightweight wool and mohair suits, but nothing in tropical wool. These two Bonds instead prefer the cooler touch of linen for their tropical suits and casual trousers. The casual world has made it more acceptable for Bond to look a bit mussed from time to time, particularly when Bond’s state of mind has been as shaken as his martinis.

12 COMMENTS

  1. Part of Bond’s title of World’s Greatest Spy surely includes his amazing ability to wear suits, even those made of tropical wool and linen, in the most unbearably hot, muggy, climates time and time again and never break a sweat.

    • I think you may be overlooking a certain Sterling Malory Archer – “not only the greatest spy in the world, the greatest spy in the HISTORY of the world”!

    • It’s funny you say that because in interviews Roger used to always say that, playing Bond he used the most energy and time changing shirts on location!

  2. I completely agree with this article. Tropical wool is my go to warm weather fabric for suits and separate pants. Unlike linen which has lousy drape and didn’t keep me cool for whatever reason, tropical wool has excellent drape and did a much better job of keeping me cool especially when I went to Italy. My personal preference for pant colors are light, medium and dark gray and the same three colors plus dark blue/navy for suits. If I want to wear earthy color trousers I’ll wear them in cotton gabardine.

  3. How can you differentiate by eye a fresco from a simple plain weave ? Even with close ups I can’t distinguish them.
    I have a lightweight grey plain weave suit made from Escorial wool. I guess its a another kind of particular wool for warm weather and probably not a technically a fresco ?

    • Fresco has no or very little sheen, while a regular plain weave has more sheen.

      Escorial is a very unique kind of wool fibre that combines benefits of wool and cashmere. Standeven offer a 3-ply lightweight Escorial cloth that has some similarities to fresco, but I don’t know how similar it is.

      • That’s interesting to know. I think the reason tropical wools have been out of fashion for a long time in favour of lightweight twills in higher super numbers is because those are easier to get a soft hand from. You may have told me that theory, I can’t remember.

  4. Cannot agree more! I’ve found tropical wool trousers to be incredibly useful for my office job in the summer where suits aren’t worn and chinos make me feel underdressed. Cotton and linen trousers absolutely have their place in my wardrobe, but it’s nice to have something that looks so sharp yet wearable in the heat.

    Just one more thing – Matt, are you saying you now think the tan suit from Octopussy is not cotton as previously theorized? I never noticed before how the sun partly shines through Sir Rog’s trouser leg in the pic. After comparing my tropical wool trousers to a cotton pair I have, I agree there must be more going on there!

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