007 Style Lessons from James Bond
Bond — James Bond — is a timeless man’s man. He was a gentleman and an action hero in our grandparents’ time and he’s one today.
Of course, we’ve gone through a few actors to keep Bond from getting too long in the tooth. At this point the quasi-official explanation is that “James Bond” is a code name, like “M,” that gets passed from one super-spy to the next.
But who cares about that? Let’s talk about his clothes.
1. Caring About Your Appearance is Manly
No one can argue that James Bond isn’t “manly.” He’s masculine. He’s tough. He’s rugged. He’s not just good at his job, he’s good at it in a way that is undeniably (and sometimes exaggeratedly) testosterone-pumped.
Bond is also perpetually sharp-dressed. Even when he’s not wearing a tuxedo he’s still fashionable. His casual clothes are dressy, well-cut, and sophisticated.
There’s a lesson in that: caring about your appearance is not an effete, unmasculine thing to do. You don’t need stubble and a ripped shirt to prove how macho you are.
We love James Bond in part because he’s larger-than-life. He’s something to aspire to — and part of that aspiration is not just being the guy who can save the world, but the guy who can do it in a tux. Bond wouldn’t be Bond if he wore Army fatigues in every movie.
2. Function and Style Can Coexist
Don’t get me wrong here — James Bond’s wardrobe must be costing the British government more than some departments of their civil service. But he does manage to perform some impressive feats in clothing that’s made for style rather than pure practical function.
We see Bond in a good range of outfits in Skyfall, and costume designer Jany Temime shows them in a wide range of activities too. We have Bond standing, sitting, running, falling, and shooting, not just in his training jacket but in custom-made Tom Ford suits.
And its clear that he can run and jump and shoot in those suits. We see his shoulder holster in some shots, and the way it vanishes in others makes it clear that Bond has his jackets tailored for that extra room. His fit is too tight to hide anything not designed into it (in fact, we see some wrinkling in his trousers in this one, almost certainly a deliberately overstuffed part of Daniel Craig’s more brutish, muscled Bond interpretation).
Without spoiling anything, Craig’s suits take a beating. But he’s performing all manner of stunts in Tom Ford suits and Crockett & Jones shoes, and we in the audience never have a hard time believing that it’s real. That’s proof right there that dress clothes aren’t, by default, stiff and uncomfortable — if your tailor’s good enough, you can wear them to a gunfight.
3. Small Details Are Not Small
Fashion watchers will get a lot of joy from the small style details in Skyfall. Bond’s suit jackets, for example, are three-button rather than two, with lapels that roll to the middle button. Craig wears them with only the middle button fastened; both the top and bottom button are undone.
Does that make a difference? Absolutely. It takes a very traditional British style and updates it a little — moves him, in effect, from Savile Row to Hollywood, without losing the classic elegance of the suit.
We also get to see a couple of very cool visual nods to Bond’s own respect for detail. This is a man who leaps onto a moving train, catches his balance and adjusts his cufflinks. Very cool.
4. Classics Are Timeless – And Worth the Money
How does James Bond always look so good in the movies?
He wears the best stuff. That’s how it works.
Every suit we see is a classic. We see him in light gray, medium gray, dark gray, and dark blue. The fit is tailored, the jackets are buttoned (even in many of the action shots), and the neckties are simple knits. Bond has been dressed much further out on the cutting edge in other movies, and it has rarely served him well — think Timothy Dalton’s huge shoulders in The Living Daylights, or Roger Moore’s leisure suit in Live and Let Die.
It’s a safe bet that the Skyfall Bond isn’t going to look dated fifteen years from now when the movie is running in TV holiday marathons. That’s because costume designer Jany Temime kept him simple, classic, and custom-tailored, which is what really defines the Bond look. Everything from his smooth full-grain leather footwear to his Omega Seamaster Planet Ocean watch is refined, restrained, and the best there is.
For those of us thinking about spending serious money on clothes ourselves, there’s a good lesson there — find iconic men’s clothing you like and spend on getting the best available version of it, tailored to your body, rather than spending on hot brand names and fashion-forward trends that may or may not last.
5. Know the Rules – and How to Break Them
Jany Temime is a skilled costumer. Her Bond wears classic styles, but he makes them his own, and he does it by breaking “menswear rules” in ways that work for him.
The midnight blue tuxedo with the black shawl collar that Craig dons in Skyfall is going to get the most fashion press — it’s an eye-catching “exception” that even a casual dresser can recognize as a new look. But it’s not the only thing unusual in Bond’s formalwear; he’s also pairing satin lapels (smooth) with a grosgrain tie (ribbed). That’s theoretically a black tie no-no, but because he does it in a tuxedo jacket that’s already emphasizing contrast, between the blue jacket and the black lapels, it works for him.
Bond has a long tradition of taking classics and making them his own. We saw it in the very first film, Dr. No, where Sean Connery appears in a tuxedo jacket with rolled-back silk cuffs, and we see it in Bond’s classic vodka martini (shaken, not stirred) — a hard-edged twist on the traditional gin martini that changed American drinking habits forever.
6. Dress For Your Body Type
Daniel Craig, as we’ve mentioned, looks just the tiniest bit overstuffed in Skyfall. It’s not just the fit of his suit — look closely at his shirt collars, and you’ll notice that they’re cut with so little slack that you get a bit of a bulge outlining the tie underneath the collar.
That’s deliberate costuming. Craig’s Bond has been a bit more straightforward, physical, and on occasion brutish than his predecessors, so there’s a deliberate reason to make him look “meaty.” But even doing that, it’s rarely more than a wrinkle here and a bulge there. For the most party, his clothes are very sharply tailored to fit his body.
In Craig’s bulky case, that means simple, understated patterns and lots of plain solids. His ties are textured but don’t feature much in the way of a color pattern, his shoes are smooth-surfaced without unnecessary stitching or seams; even his pocket square is just a single flat edge. He’s a stocky, bluff man, and too much fine detail on him starts to look overly busy.
Because both the cut of the tailoring and the visual style of his clothes works with his body type, Craig comes off as very sharp-dressed. If the clothes were the wrong color or pattern, even custom tailoring wouldn’t give him quite the same razor-edged appearance, and without the tailoring even the right colors and patterns wouldn’t seem as perfect.
The best suit in the world looks terrible on the wrong man. Take a tip from 007 and find a suit that fits.
7. Wear the Clothes – Don’t Let the Clothes Wear You
There’s a bit of a vicarious thrill in the wear and tear Bond’s clothes take. Tom Ford’s tailors had to make as many as 60 identical copies of some of Craig’s suits for Skyfall, just so there would be enough versions for Craig and his stunt doubles to wear in various stages of damage.
Part of Bond’s appeal is his total lack of concern for his beautiful, expensive wardrobe. Once the job gets started he’s not worrying about his suit anymore. It’s what he happens to be wearing while he does what he does best.
We should all wear our suits more like James Bond: as the outfit we happen to be in, nothing more. We define ourselves; we wear our suits. Bond, despite being a fashion icon in a way that few Hollywood characters are, is never a vehicle for a particular “look” or product. He lends presence to his clothes, not the other way around.
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