As an essential part of James Bond’s wardrobe it is surprising so few details of his suits are found in the books. Here we take a closer look based on those scant details, Ian Fleming’s own preferences, and an educated guess or two along the way.
Throughout the novels Ian Fleming described James Bond as wearing dark blue in tropical or lightweight worsted, a description that barely varies throughout the series, or more informally, a battered black and white dogstooth suit.
Although lightweight suits are the norm these days, 007 was something of a trendsetter back in the 1950s when heavier weight cloth tended to be employed.
The essential lightweight dark blue suit
Fleming never described Bond’s suits in any real detail and other than they are dark blue and either described as tropical or lightweight. However, he did once sketch out for Playboy an outline of how he saw his creation, whom he described as wearing a two-button single-breasted suit of dark blue tropical worsted and no breast pocket handkerchief.
While Fleming never goes into specific details, there are a number things that might be deduced both from the time and Fleming’s own preferences. Fleming’s own suits featured a turned back cuff, but since he never mentioned Bond’s own suits to have the same it is safe to ignore this feature.
Apart from them being lightweight, Bond would likely wear a very traditionally tailored suit. That means a jacket with two vents, typical of British tailoring, and a notched lapel.
The double vent was originally designed to make activities such as horse riding easier, but they also allow the wearer easier access to the side pockets of the trousers. A single vent is more typical of American tailoring, while Italian designs tend to be vent-less.
Dressed for golf in a battered dogtooth suit
The other outfit that is mentioned on a number of occasions (Moonraker, Diamonds Are Forever, Goldfinger and For Your Eyes Only) is Bond’s battered dogtooth suit (also described as hound’s tooth).
This type of tweed is woven by alternating bands of four dark and four light threads (see photo below) and far more typical of sports jackets than an entire suit.
This suit is much more casual than the dark blue suits, and typically worn in the country during leisure activities. For Bond this means playing golf, although he also wore it when visiting “Colonel Johns” of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police in the short story For Your Eyes Only, perhaps because his cover was that he was to go hunting.
Who was James Bond’s tailor?
While Fleming never mentioned a tailor, it is inconceivable that James Bond would buy his suits off the peg. While many assume that Bond’s suits came from Savile Row, an likelier proposition is that Ian Fleming and James Bond shared their tailor.
Fleming had his bespoke suits made by Benson, Perry and Whitley on Cork Street and, according to John Pearson’s biography, had his suits repaired so often his tailor joked of “fixing some new cloth to Mr Fleming’s original buttons”; this sounds very similar to Bond and his battered dogtooth suit.
Incidentally, John Pearson told me in 2012 that Fleming was “very influential, remembering that I was at quite a young and impressionable age when he gave me a job on The Sunday Times” and “he was a great model […] I used to wear shirts without cuffs just because Ian did. He used to think cuffs were a waste of time. Cuff-links were ridiculous.”