Learning from Bond: Blue on Blue with a Suit

Last week when I attended a wedding during a heatwave in Southern California, I was tasked to put together an outfit that was smart enough for the occasion that could also keep me comfortable in the hot weather to sit through an outdoor wedding ceremony. I wanted to dress in a Bondian manner but not a replicate any specific Bond look. I often choose to learn from Bond’s style rather than simply copy it.

The dress code was stated as the following:

The dress code for our wedding is semi-formal/cocktail attire. Ladies should wear cocktail dresses, and the gentlemen should wear a suit and tie or a sports coat.

While the term ‘cocktail attire’ would have been enough, the full description was very helpful because not everyone understands what dress codes mean. The terminology was used properly here, but sometimes invitations use terms the wrong way and it can be helpful to have an explanation to not arrive inappropriately dressed. The term ‘semi-formal’ meant a dinner jacket during most of the 20th century, but today it usually means that men should wear a suit. On its own it no longer carries a specific meaning. For men, the terms ‘lounge suit’ or ‘business suit’ would also mean the same thing as ‘cocktail attire’. Though ‘business suit’ is more appropriate for a professional event, it may be the most descriptive term of all in the United States.

The temperature was 102°F/39°C at the time the event started in the late afternoon. Thankfully there was little humidity and no direct sun because the wedding venue blocked it. The venue was Castle Green in Pasadena, CA, a former hotel where scenes from The Sting, The Last Samurai, The Prestige and many other productions were filmed. Because of the extreme heat, the bride and groom relaxed the dress code at the last minute, but I had not brought anything else appropriate to wear with me on my trip. In any case I would have done what James Bond would have done and still worn a suit.

The first piece of the outfit I chose was my muted mid-blue cotton voile shirt from Frank Foster, which I had made based on the blue voile shirts they made for Roger Moore in The Spy Who Loved Me and Moonraker sans the excessive 1970s collar. Moore’s Bond frequently wore cotton voile shirts when he visited hot locales as well as occasionally in London. My shirt is detailed with a spread collar and ‘Lapidus’ tab cuffs.

The shirt was not negotiable, as it’s my best shirt for hot weather. Voile is a high-twist cotton that is extremely lightweight and breathable. It’s also somewhat sheer, but that aspect is mitigated by this medium shade of blue. In white with a single layer it would be see-through. My blue Zendaline shirt, which is combination of voile and poplin, might have worked too, but it wouldn’t have been quite as breathable as voile. If the temperature wasn’t so hot, I would have worn a white poplin shirt for additional formality.

I curated the rest of the outfit around the shirt and chose a navy plain-weave wool suit. It’s a fairly loose plain-weave cloth that allows plenty of air to pass through. It was effective in keeping my low half cool, but the jacket’s full lining prevented my upper body from taking full advantage of the weave’s breathable properties. A better lining could improve that. Navy transitions better than any other colour suit from day to night, and the event started before the sun set. Since the event started in the late afternoon, I didn’t have to worry about the sun heating up the dark suit.

This wool is a traditional medium weight of what feels like approximately 12 ounces, so it’s somewhat heavy by modern standards. While it breathes well, which is the most important factor, a lighter weight of around 9 ounces could have been more comfortable in the extreme heat. The weight here helps with its drape, which is superb, but cloth as low as 9 ounces still drapes decently. The weight of this suit combined with its breathability makes it a good three-season suit, save for the hottest and coldest days of the year.

The suit is vintage from Turnbull & Asser, and it’s one of many suits I found together at an estate sale. This was my first time wearing the suit, so without prior experience wearing it I misjudged how heavy it was. In hindsight, the glen check suit that came from the same estate sale would have been a better choice because it’s a lighter weight, even though it is not quite as formal. In this kind of heat, the less formal suit would have been formal enough for the wedding. The temperature was not originally forecasted to be quite as hot as it ended up being, so I couldn’t plan for hotter temperatures. Nevertheless, I survived the extreme heat in the suit with minimal discomfort and once the festivities moved inside I was perfectly comfortable.

In a navy plain-weave worsted wool, this suit is likely very similar to the dark blue tropical wool suits that Ian Fleming frequently wrote about James Bond wearing in the novels. James Bond has occasionally worn lightweight plain-weave navy suits designed for warm weather, like in You Only Live Twice and Quantum of Solace, but those suits had mohair mixed with the wool.

With my wife, Janna, who was a bridesmaid at the wedding.

The suit was made for Turnbull & Asser by Chester Barrie in a classic English style. The jacket has narrow, padded shoulders, two buttons on the front, four buttons on each cuff, swelled edges, flapped hacking pockets and a ticket pocket. There are some details that suggest this suit was made in the late 1970s or early 1980s, such as 3 3/4-inch-wide lapels and deep double vents. The proportions are on the larger side but still fairly classic. The suit is well-constructed with a full canvas and a beautiful roll to the lapel.

The suit trousers have a flat front and belt loops. The leg was originally very wide and of its time, so my alterations tailor narrowed the leg so the suit looks more timeless. The trousers have no lining, which helps them wear cooler than the usual front lining to the knee. Some people may find wool uncomfortable against their legs, but even this vintage wool—which is not nearly as smooth compared to most modern wools—didn’t feel uncomfortable at all.

With the dark blue suit and blue shirt, it’s a classic Bond look as well as a standard combination in menswear. While I could have gone full Connery-Bond with a navy silk grenadine or knitted tie or Fleming Bond with a black silk knitted tie, I wanted to bring something of my own to this outfit. I also wanted to wear a lighter-coloured tie to look more festive for the occasion. Dark ties don’t seem right for a wedding.

The silk tie is from Charvet with a subtle pattern of navy and light blue woven textured stripes. I think that Charvet produces some of the most elegant ties in the world, with subtle patterns that remind me of what James Bond likes to wear. I chose the tie because it has both the light blue from the shirt and the dark blue from the suit. The tie reminded me of what Roger Moore wears with his fawn gabardine suit in For Your Eyes Only, and the colour combination also reminded me of a few ties that Daniel Craig wears in Casino Royale and Skyfall.

I usually tie my ties in four-in-hand or double-four-in-hand knots, but due to the shape and construction of Charvet ties, I find that they work better with wider knots. In a four-in-hand this tie ends up knotting too long and skinny, so I used a half-Windsor knot to give the knot more width and body. Still, I ended up with a long, asymmetrical knot that could pass for a four-in-hand knot.

For my shoes, I took cues from Bond and wore a pair of black quarter-brogue oxfords made by Crockett & Jones for Brooks Brothers’ Peal & Co. brand. Daniel Craig wears similar shoes from Church’s in Quantum of Solace. It is currently trendy to wear brown shoes—particularly light brown shoes—with navy suits, but in following both tradition and Bond’s style I went with black shoes. For a dressed-up evening occasion, I think black shoes are the only way to go. For a daytime event, I could have worn burgundy—or oxblood—shoes, a traditional American pairing with a navy suit that I think works much better than any shade of brown shoes do. I’m wearing a black belt to match the shoes.

I’m also wearing a folded white linen pocket square, which bring a light element to the outfit to balance the medium and dark shades throughout. Sean Connery’s pocket squares were always white linen, and that inspired me to wear the same.

Overall, the outfit has a low contrast combination of colours due to the suit not being overly dark, the shirt not being too pale and the tie being in the middle of those two. This amount of contrast is lower than what James Bond typically wears, though Roger Moore and Pierce Brosnan occasionally dressed this way in their Bond films. I like to dress this way because a low-contrast outfit is flattering to my low-contrast complexion, but this outfit would look good on most people, whether they have a high or low contrast or a warm or cool complexion.

The low-contrast combination looks a bit 1990s, but the shirt is light enough to avoid looking like the worst of that era. I took some cues from Pierce Brosnan’s 1999 film The Thomas Crown Affair, where he dressed similarly in navy suits with mid-blue shirts. But the monochrome blue look I’m wearing mainly takes inspiration from the all-blue outfits that Sean Connery wears in From Russia with Love and You Only Live Twice.

Less contrast slightly lowers the formality of the outfit compared to if I replaced the mid-blue shirt with one in white or a paler colour. The higher the contrast between the suit and shirt, the higher the formality, hence the black and white of black tie and white tie dress codes. In my case, I was more than appropriately dressed for ‘cocktail attire’, which merely requires a smart suit and tie. If the dress code were ‘black tie optional’, I would have felt it necessary to wear a white shirt to get the more formal contrast, if I wasn’t wearing black tie.

Of all the brands I’m wearing here, Charvet is the only non-Bond brand. I don’t feel that I need to wear Bond brands to dress in a Bondian manner, but I gravitate towards Bond brands as a way of connecting to Bond. And while Bond never wore suits from Turnbull & Asser (only shirts and ties), I am happy to explore Bond’s brands beyond what they made for Bond.

Photos by Janna Levin Spaiser, except the photo of the two of us.

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