While James Bond’s appearance hardly varies throughout the books, it is also true to say that Ian Fleming scarcely describes him in any detail at all.
Fleming tells us that Bond is around six feet tall and has black hair, a comma of which is permanently out of place; he has blue-grey eyes with a hint of anger, a rather cruel mouth, and a lean body weighing around 168 pounds. He also has a three inch scar on his right cheek, as well as on his left shoulder and signs of plastic surgery on the back of his left hand.
Although descriptions of James Bond are scarce in Fleming’s books he did describe 007 to the art director of Playboy in a letter written in 1962, prior to the release of Dr No on the big screen later the same year, presumably for a Bond-related article. Henry Chancellor’s book James Bond: The Man And His World (2005) includes a copy of this, in which Fleming confirms pretty much what we already know, although here he puts Bond at an inch over six feet and his weight at 176 pounds. He also adds that he is in his mid thirties, has a determined chin and has narrow hips and broad shoulders.
To keep in shape Bond has been known to perform a morning routine (at least in From Russia, With Love) of 20 slow press-ups, enough straight-leg lifts to make his stomach muscles scream, 20 toe touches and finally arm and chest exercises combined with deep breathing until he is dizzy.
James Bond’s clothing
And as far as clothing is concerned he favours dark blue suits, described variously as tropical or light weight worsted, silk or Sea Island cotton shirts with a black knitted silk tie, and black casual shoes or moccasins are mentioned by Fleming on a number of occasions too because, he tells us, 007 dislikes tying shoe laces. We also learn in Casino Royale that Bond’s dinner-jacket is single-breasted and under it he wears a heavy silk evening shirt with a thin double-ended bow tie of black satin.
In the previously mentioned letter to Playboy Fleming expands on this slightly, stipulating a two-button single-breasted dark blue tropical worsted suit with no handkerchief in the breast pocket; a black leather belt; a white sleeveless Sea Island cotton shirt; black, square toed casual shoes; a thin black knitted silk tie with no pin; dark blue socks; and a Rolex Oyster Perpetual.
His shirts are sometimes white silk (or cream in Thunderball), otherwise dark blue (and later white) Sea Island cotton shirts. Fleming rarely mentions Bond’s shirts being sleeveless, which is what Fleming personally favoured, although it does appear a few times and is reiterated in the Playboy letter.
Although it is generally taken that James Bond’s suits are tailor made on Savile Row no tailor is mentioned and in fact, according to John Pearson, Ian Fleming bought his suits from Benson, Perry and Whitley on Cork Street.
Bond’s shirts are generally accepted to be provided by Turnbull & Asser (71-72 Jermyn Street), mainly because of their use in the early films but also because they were Fleming’s own shirtmaker. The only brand that Fleming mentioned in relation to Bond’s clothing was a raincoat from Burberry’s and that was when Bond had just arrived in London after being brainwashed by the Russians.
More informally Bond wears dark blue trousers, a Sea Island cotton shirt in white or dark blue and black casual shoes and in the country he wears an old black and white dogtooth (or hound’s-tooth) suit or a black windcheater for playing golf, while he may wear shorts or sandals while in the tropics.
While on a mission his wardrobe may change substantially such as when in New York for Live And Let Die when a FBI tailor furnishes him with a pair of lightweight single-breasted worsted suits, white nylon shirts, and half a dozen “unusually patterned” foulard ties and “dark socks with fancy clocks”; the outfit is completed with a camel-hair overcoat and plain grey snap-brim Fedora. And we read in Doctor No that “Bond fitted himself out with cheap black canvas jeans and a dark blue shirt and rope-soled shoes” prior to sailing to Crab Key with Quarrel.
But it is only in You Only Live Twice that Bond’s appearance changes radically. Disguised as a Japanese miner, Bond is bathed in walnut stain to darken his skin and his eyebrows shaved to give an impression of slanting eyes. He dresses in a white long-sleeved cotton shirt with a cheap black knitted silk tie held in place by a gold pin, black off-the-shelf trousers with a cheap black plastic belt and dark blue nylon socks with black plastic sandals; a Japan Air Lines bag in which he carries cheap toiletries completed the picture.
Bond has a few accessories, which are expensive, but unostentatious. These include a Rolex Oyster Perpetual on an expanding metal bracelet that was used to great effect in On Her Majesty’s Secret Service as a knuckleduster, a wide, thin cigarette-case of black gun-metal and a black oxidised Ronson lighter.
James Bond has also been known to carry an attache case containing thirty rounds of ammunition, two throwing knives, a cyanide pill and fifty gold sovereigns and a tube of Palmolive shaving cream containing a silencer in the case.
Note that the watch is not a Rolex Submariner, which was worn by 007 in the early films. Fleming himself wore a Rolex Explorer though and it is likely this that he was thinking of when writing his novels. Although not a diving watch it should have been sufficiently waterproof for the depths Bond dived to in Live And Let Die and Thunderball, which would probably have been no more than 10 or 12 metres.
Also, the first time Fleming refers to Rolex is in Live And Let Die, and it was a Rolex Explorer that was worn by Sherpa Tenzing when he and Edmund Hillary ascended Everest for the first time in May 1953, an event that must have appealed to Fleming and occurred soon after he would have completed the first draft of that book and would have been easy to incorporate during the editing process.