Sean Connery's suit lapels smartly complement the flying thingamagig's safety straps in Thunderball (1965) (IMDB)

Even When He’s No Longer in Fashion James Bond (Almost) Never Goes Out of Style

A man of action mostly dressed in smart suits is absurd, but the true essence of James Bond lies in looking good as he goes about his business.


Angel Wings by Zorro4 (Pixabay License / Pixabay)

Many an essay has been written on the topic of James Bond, every facet has been covered and a whole industry has built up around him. Originally, the merchandising was aimed at children — toy guns and cars like the Corgi Aston Martin DB5 — but more recently it has developed a distinctly adult flavour. The product placement from brands like: Sony, Omega, Bollinger and Heineken has now come to include what Bond wears. Quality menswear labels like Orlebar Brown, Sunspel, NPeal and Tom Ford have supplied various items during the Daniel Craig years. The rise of internet sites devoted to Bond’s style such as The Suits of James Bond and Bond Lifestyle further fuels this growing fan obsession.

So why is it, after 75 plus years (if you include the literary version), does James Bond still endure? It’s simple: style.

I was about five years old when I first became aware of James Bond. It was 1977, the year of punk pock, the year of the Queen’s Silver Jubilee, the year of
Star Wars, another nascent franchise. Most importantly, it was the year Lewis Gilbert released The Spy Who Loved Me. My first foray into the world of Bond received positive reviews. The Spy Who Loved Me was a box-office smash, the biggest since Thunderball in 1965 and was very much regarded as a return to form for what had seemed to be a faltering franchise. It was a basic re-hash of Gilbert’s earlier entry, You Only Live Twice, but it seemed to come at a time when Britain needed to feel Great again.

Roger Moore’s Bond keeps it sharp and miraculously dry in The Spy Who Loved Me (IMDB)

The breath-taking opening sequence, climaxing with the opening of the Union Jack parachute, delivered just that. My five-year-old self was more than impressed by all of this when my dad took me to see it; it had a profound effect on me.

My childhood memories are hazy but I do know that the character of James Bond, as I saw him — well-mannered, cultured, stylish — a gentleman; was the quality I enjoyed the most. The gadgets, the locations and the beautiful women were all key ingredients but, in some ways, they were just part of his world. James Bond himself was the key. In Bond creator Ian Fleming’s words, ”
Bond is the kind of man every girl secretly dreams of meeting, and leads the life every man would like to live if he dared.” It was from that moment on, that when asked what I wanted to be when I grew up, I said, “I want to be James Bond”.

We can trace James Bond’s style right back to Fleming’s novels. He was quite prescriptive and set a particular style for Bond, most definitely modelled on his own. Fleming was not averse to name-dropping brands such as Rolex or Floris, for example, and also setting up some of the colours, styles and fabrics that still permeate the Bond films today. When you think about it, a man of action mostly dressed in a smart suit is rather absurd, but this is where the true essence of Bond lies. In looking good as he goes about his business.

Actor Sir Roger Moore was always a stylish man. Even if we discount the safari suits and the flared ties and trousers of the 1970s, he was always smart and well-tailored. Whereas actor Sean Connery inherited the tailor of director Terence Young, Moore already had Cyril Castle and later Douglas Heywood as his go-to suitmakers. As I grew from a teenager into my 20s and beyond however, it wasn’t the Roger Moore era that I took my style cues from. Those came from the Sean Connery, era of sharper, narrower ’60s suits. I recall trying desperately to find a narrower trouser during the ’90s to emulate Connery, but at the time the trend was still towards a looser style that developed during the mid- to late ’80s. I had just re-discovered the early Bond films and saw with fresh eyes just how stylish they are.

Connery’s Bond was groomed to perfection, mostly by the director of the first Bond film, Terence Young. He set the benchmark of what was to come; the Saville Row suits, the Jermyn Street shirts with cocktail cuffs, the knitted silk ties. It was a smart, distinctly British style in muted, mostly business-like colours that came from a preceding era whereby gentlemen paid close attention to the way they dressed. It also helped that Connery moved well (famously described as being like a panther) and spoke in a smooth, purring tone.

Even when not wearing a suit, Connery’s Bond wore some interesting and stylish pieces: the black outfit in Goldfinger for example: simple black polo, v-neck sweater and trousers. Then there are the pink gingham or pale blue and white striped, camp-collared shirts in Thunderball (Young, 1965) a navy-blue Fred Perry and rather short white shorts. Occasionally there were some lapses in taste such as Connery’s pale blue terry cloth all-in-one worn in Guy Hamilton’s Goldfinger (1964) but generally, Bond looked effortlessly good during Connery’s tenure.

img-6103Sean Connery clowning around in his silly little baby blue onesie with Ian Fleming, and Harry Saltzman on the set of Goldfinger (IMDB)

When Connery left the Bond franchise after You Only Live Twice, the search was on for a new Bond and it was clearly very much in the producers’ mind to find an actor who looked the suave part. Enter, George Lazenby in Peter R. Hunt’s On Her Majesty’s Secret Service (1969). Lazenby was model at the time, but he clearly wanted the role and did his best to achieve the look. Legend has it, he learned of where Connery had his hair cut, picked up one of Connery’s unwanted Anthony Sinclair suits, and was duly noticed by producer Albert Romolo Broccoli whilst at the barbers having a James Bond-style haircut.

Tailor Dimi Major and director Hunt also had a keen eye for style. Together they groomed Lazenby in much the same way as Young had groomed Connery. Lazenby’s Bond exhibited a suiting style that is very much in vogue now. The suits are tight but not Daniel Craig tight (more on him later), have some extra touches of flair but still retain a classic English style, albeit one that reflected 1969 more accurately (see also, Michael Caine in Peter Collinson’s The Italian Job of the same year).

Lazenby’s agent felt that Bond no longer had a bright future and legend has it that he gave Lazenby the advice to move on. For Lazenby, who was interested in the hippy movement, it seemed a smart move. He duly turned up at the premiere of On Her Majesty’s Secret Service with a beard and long hair, much to the Producers’ annoyance. Bond was seen as stuffy and old-fashioned and part of the establishment. Given that it was 1969, the year of Dennis Hopper’s Easy Rider, one could argue that they were both right.

However, what they didn’t know at the time was that the hippy movement was beginning to wane. The Sixties is often remembered for the counter-culture but it also had another — and opposite — world of glitz and glamour. I’ve always felt that On Her Majesty’s Secret Service has that wonderful sunset hue signifying the end of an era.

In light of the Sixties counter-culture revolution and its opposition to the establishment, James Bond was the very embodiment of that establishment, an MI6 agent killing on the orders of his country. Yet, Bond survived this enemy too, he wasn’t done yet.

img-6104Sean Connery suit suffers no wrinkles or smudges – even when working a dirt-digging rig. Diamonds Are Forever (© 1971 Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Studios Inc. All Rights Reserved. / IMDB)

Connery returned for one more outing (as an expensive favour) but Guy Hamilton’s film is a little lacklustre and sadly, from a style perspective, also rather flat. Connery seemed to favour a more American style in Diamonds are Forever, which can be seen in the choice of screen-writer (Tom Mankiewicz) and the Las Vegas location, but this also seemed to influence the clothes he wore during the movie. It didn’t help that his physique had filled out a little and although still in great shape, his outfits had little of the flair of his previous films.

img-6104Roger Moore in the classic black turtleneck sweater and Jane Seymour in… whatever in Live and Let Die (IMDB)

By the time Roger Moore took over the Bond character in ’70s, there was a conscious return to Bond being the classic English gentleman. His haircut is noticeably short in the back and the sides in Hamilton’s Live and Let Die, but as Moore’s movies progress the length increases a little, as a token gesture to the times and possibly Moore’s personal taste. His tailoring too returns to the classic cut, albeit with some style cues that are Moore’s own, slightly flared jacket cuffs, for instance, and his own shirt-maker, Frank Foster. The shirt collars are wide, the ties fuller and the trousers flared at the leg, but Moore still manages to portray a sense of classic style for Bond.

There’s also a change in palette to suit Moore’s warmer colouring. Browns, tans, and reds are used as well as warmer shades of grey and blue. A lot of the style cues for Moore’s informal wear are taken from military sources like his famous safari jackets. My favourite is a green shirt jacket used in Hamilton’s The Man with the Golden Gun (1974).

img-6105Roger Moore in the hideous greenish shirt/jacket in The Man with the Golden Gun (IMDB)

Despite the prevailing fashion of denim and casual wear in the ’60s and early ’70s, it’s interesting how Bond survives and doesn’t succumb to the demands of the fashion. (Mind you, the less said about his ill-advised pale blue outfit and white vest combo in Live and Let Die, the better). It reinforces that old saying that fashion is industry and style is culture.

As Roger Moore aged during the ’80s it was clear he no longer convinced as a secret agent and he bowed out after John Glen’s A View to a Kill (1985). His style at this time was looking a bit “old-mannish”, if you will. It’s a modern phenomenon for people of a certain age (40 plus) to dress in the fashion of younger people, and carry it off convincingly. Strangely, as wonderful as Roger Moore was, when we compare him to Daniel Craig, who is now at time of writing 51-years-old, there is a marked difference in their suitability for the role.

We suspended our disbelief for Moore, who was 54 when he played Bond in Glen’s 1981 film, For Your Eyes Only, my personal favourite of the Roger Moore era and probably the last time he convinced me as Bond. These were still my formative Bond years though and although I appreciated that he was aging, I still recognised that he was a smart, well-dressed man. Neither Roger nor the Bond producers made any concessions to youthful trends of the time, which I believe is the key to his endurance.

img-6105Timothy Dalton’s Bond suffered from ’80s style: tan, with shoulder pads. The Living Daylights (IMDB)

Bond in the late ’80s, as portrayed by Timothy Dalton, took a different direction and sadly, the character’s sense of style in Glen’s The Living Daylights (1987) and Licence to Kill (1989) seemed to abandon him. Dalton’s approach influenced this; he wanted a tougher Bond closer to Fleming’s original and therefore made a distinct break from Moore’s era. Dalton felt, rightly or wrongly that a man in Bond’s role would wear off-the-peg clothes more aligned to his civil service salary.

The colours and types of clothing worn during his two films are in keeping with the original blueprint, including a casual but smart option when not wearing a suit, but quality tailoring is noticeably absent. Sadly, this stands out like brown shoes with a black suit, or in Bond’s words like “red wine with fish”. Dalton’s suits seem to be ill-fitting, which despite the times (after all, it was the ’80s, so boxy suits with exaggerated shoulder pads were fashionable) just aren’t very James Bond at all. Dalton was a solid Bond. He’s a good actor, has looks and charm — but he really lacks style.

Is it any coincidence that these are the Bond wilderness years? After all, Licence to Kill was, up until that time, the least successful James Bond film and still remains one of the worst performing, along with Dalton’s first outing The Living Daylights.

From 1989 until 1995 there was a Bond drought due to some legal wrangles. At the time, my late teens to early 20s, I was still a fan but tellingly, I saw neither of Dalton’s entries at the cinema. It was at this time that I started looking back at the Connery era in particular and at the often overlooked On Her Majesty’s Secret Service. This was probably when I became consciously aware of style being the key component of James Bond films.

Then, a new Bond was announced in the form of Pierce Brosnan, a contender for the role as far back as the early ’80s when his late wife, Cassandra Harris, was cast as Bond Girl Countess Lisle in For Your Eyes Only.

img-6106Pierce Brosnan finely tailored and accessorized in GoldenEye (IMDB)

Brosnan is another naturally stylish man. One would go so far as to say he is a bit of a dandy. It also helps that he’s very handsome, moves gracefully, and speaks with a soft Irish accent. The Brosnan-as-Bond era ushered in some fine Brioni tailoring with a sharper look reminiscent of Connery’s Bond but with some of Moore’s playful flourishes. His ties and pocket squares, for example, display a sense of fun against the backdrop of the well-tailored and business-like suits. His casual wear is classic in style, good quality knit-wear, linen shirts and suits, blazer and trousers combinations and even extending to a cravat in Martin Campbell’s Goldeneye (1995).

I recall a colleague offering a comment on my Pierce Brosnan computer wallpaper, where he is posing in front of an Aston Martin DB5 wearing sand-coloured chinos, brown brogues, a navy cable-knit, said cravat and a French blue shirt. “Man at C&A”, she said, referring to the Belgian-German-Dutch retail stores, much to my dismay and irritation.

Brosnan though, embodied that classic style once again, that of the English gentleman. He wore established, quality brands chosen by costume designer Louise Frogley, although I’m guessing Brosnan had some input. Throughout the Brosnan-as-Bond era, both my taste and spending power was still developing, so I couldn’t afford to buy the sort of brands he wore. I still aspired to “being” James Bond, if nothing else but in style and dress. The Thomas Pink French blue shirt I bought was often worn under an inexpensive navy cable-knit, but it did the trick.


Daniel Craig’s Bond made a loose tie look exquisitely tailored. (image excerpted from the UK poster for Casino Royale)

Daniel Craig as Bond, sexy casual. Casino Royale (IMDB)

It wasn’t until the Daniel Craig era from 2006 to the present, that my Bond style aspirations went supernova. I wasn’t sure about him at first; he was blond, for starters, and at first glance had all the attributes of a Bond heavy, such as a Russian or Eastern European as depicted in the films. Then I saw Campbell’s Casino Royale (2006) at the cinema and it engaged me on so many levels. Not only is it a superlative Bond film, seemingly having all the ingredients that make Bond great, but it also had that extra secret ingredient: a style of its own, but one carefully informed by the past. It was the first Post-Modern Bond.

Goldeneye had certainly tried with the reintroduction of the Aston Martin DB5 and a return to some strong but classic styling, but with Craig’s opening scenes in Casino Royale, he very firmly re-invented it. Yes, the film went back to the original source material and Craig was keen to stress in interviews that he had read all the books. It also had the DB5, the beautiful women, and superb locations. But for me, it was Craig’s wardrobe that delighted most of all. Whether dressed down or dressed up, he looked immaculate. The costume designers cleverly mined Bond’s past for ideas and updated them for the present.

Soon I was buying Sunspel t-shirts, Church Ryder III boots, or trying to find suitable alternatives to achieve Craig’s look. I wasn’t the only one. My internet searches about Bond showed there were others just as devoted and obsessed with this fashion as I was. The aforementioned web sites and forums grew with each new film release, detailing what each item of clothing was and where to get it. The internet is a wonderful thing.

Craig is a clothes horse and a very stylish dresser. Fortunately for him he has the golden ratio of physical proportions (which he works very hard for at the gym) that make anything look good on him. He also wears everything with a casual disdain and arrogance, as though he is more than entitled to all of this. He exudes confidence, he inhabits the role fully. His influence on the style is obvious despite having costume designers such as Louise Frogley and Jany Temime advising him and sourcing outfits.

In later films, he has championed designers Tom Ford, Brunello Cucinelli, and Massimo Alba. It’s also notable that Bond patronises British brands and traditional outfitters such as NPeal, Barbour, John Smedley, Crockett and Jones, Drakes, and Turnbull and Asser. This reinforces his British heritage but not in a flag-waving overtly patriotic way. Of course, understatement is also a key British quality.

Craig’s dress sense and style has significantly improved and developed as a result of his role as Bond, although what he wears in private and in other films is equally remarkable. Bond’s style has evolved during the Bond era to incorporate a modern take on classics, with nods to Steve McQueen’s preppy American look, Sean Connery’s early Bond template as well as Lazenby and Moore’s. even got away with wearing denim jeans in Marc Forster’s 2008 Quantum of Solace (it caused a bit of a stir among the fans).

Indeed, probably more than any other actor, Craig as Bond has been a style influencer, beyond the clichéd dinner jacket and bow tie. His Bond is dressed purposefully, and even while wearing a suit he adheres to the teaching of director Young, whereby he insisted Connery sleep in the suit to feel truly comfortable in it. The casual clothes Craig wears as Bond are also well-chosen and indicate a certain understated masculine style. The colour palette is spot on, from traditional greys and navy-blues to tan and stone with splashes of russet red.

img-6108His face may be shredded but there’s not a stitch out of place in Daniel Craig’s casual wear in Casino Royale (IMDB)

Clothes are as much a part of Bond’s armour as his Walther PPK. With James Bond, style is everything. He needs to look good whether he’s brawling, jumping out of planes, or crashing through windows. He needs to address the straightening of his tie to ensure that he’s keeping the British end up.

So, as Craig’s time as Bond comes to an end there is much talk of who will play the role next. It poses some questions. Broccoli believes that the Bond character should remain male and I’m inclined to agree. No offence to womankind, but please find your own fashionable hero(ine) to identify with. You have so many to choose from.