Seeking Harmony in Dressing Well

Harmony is what makes a person well-dressed. Clothes should look at peace with the person wearing them, within outfit as a whole and with one’s surroundings. Harmony is the reason for ‘rules’ of dressing well; the rules are not arbitrary. There are logical reasons for why we leave the bottom button of our suit jackets open or why we don’t wear brown shoes with black trousers. James Bond usually follows the principles of harmony when getting dressed so he looks and feels his best. Bond avoids chaos in his clothes, just as he works to prevent chaos throughout the world.

Harmony with the Wearer

Harmony with the person wearing the clothes is the most important part of dressing well. Clothes need to fit well and be proportioned well so they make the body look balanced. Clothes that fight with the body, whether in look or feel, make a person poorly dressed. Clothes that are too tight or too loose will not look harmonious with the person wearing them.

Poorly proportioned clothes throw off the proportions of the body. A tailored jacket’s button stance is one of the most important aspects of harmony within a suit because the right placement balances the entire body and also helps the jacket move best with the body. The shoulders are equally important, and while padded or soft and extended or narrow shoulders can be used for a flattering effect when needed, the shoulders need to look natural on the person wearing them to harmonise with the body.

Trouser rise is another important part of harmony. If trousers have too low of a rise, the torso looks too large and inelegant. If the trousers have too high of a rise, the hips can end up looking too big and the chest too small.

If the clothes are comfortable, the person’s feelings will be in harmony with their clothes. Uncomfortable clothes put people in a bad mood or have them fussing with their clothes.

Wearing the right colours for one’s complexion are also important. The right colours and contrast within an outfit can connect the clothes with the person wearing them and make the person look healthier.

Harmony within the Outfit

All the pieces within an outfit should harmonise together. At its most basic, it means that colours and patterns should complement each other. James Bond usually focuses his outfits around a single colour plus a neutral (grey, brown, beige or white), and he sometimes has a secondary accent colour. Often his outfits are entirely neutral, occasionally with an accent colour. Limiting one’s colour palette helps make one look more elegant.

Bond rarely dresses with colour-blocking because when combing multiple strong colours the outfit tends to look more chaotic than harmonious. At its best, colour-blocking lacks focus and elegance.

While a talented dresser can put together a harmonious outfit of four patterns, James Bond rarely wears more than one pattern in an outfit. Wearing too many patterns together can easily turn into chaos, which should be avoided.

Matching one’s belt to one’s shoes is generally preferred, particularly with leather and suede. If the belt and shoes are made of different materials, like a web belt with leather or canvas shoes, a difference in colour can be appropriate, but the items need to find another way to complement the rest of the outfit.

Matching metals is also preferred in an outfit, but one need not obsess over it. While accessories like cufflinks, studs, tie bars and collar pins should match each other, the matching doesn’t need to extend to a watch, a belt buckle or the buckle on monk shoes. Matching all the metals is ideal, but it’s not completely necessary. Too much jewellery or other metals should be avoided in an outfit. A man should not wear cufflinks, a tie bar, a collar pin, a watch, a belt and monk shoes all in the same outfit. Chaos ensues because the metals all compete for attention.

Harmony within a suit means that every piece fits together as if its one garment. In a three-piece suit, all the pieces should have a common waist so that the jacket’s fastening button, the waistband of the trousers and the bottom of the waistcoat all hit around the same place so they all fit together. The shirt and tie should never show beneath the jacket’s button; it’s a chaotic look.

There should also be harmony between the width of the jacket’s lapels, the width of the pocket flaps, the width of the tie, the length of the shirt’s collar points and the length of the shirt’s cuffs. These do not need to match in size, but they should be close in size. The pocket flap width is an exception, as it should vary proportionately with the lapel width but should be about two-thirds the size. Also, the jacket’s lapel notch should be roughly the same height at the end of the shirt’s collar points.

The cuts of different items within an outfit should also match in concept. A trim-cut jacket needs trim-cut trousers and trim-looking shoes, whereas a full-cut jacket needs full-cut trousers. Trim or heavier-looking shoes can both go with full-cut trousers.

Formality of the pieces of an outfit should be in harmony with each other. It’s why athletic shoes or a t-shirt look poor with a suit. A rough tweed jacket can harmonise with jeans, but a dressier serge blazer needs trousers that are dressier than jeans or chinos. With rare exception, a suit jacket’s matching trousers are the only thing that are formal enough to go with it.

While Ian Fleming’s James Bond would dress his suits down with his accessories like short-sleeve shirts, knitted ties and casual slip-on shoes, he succeeded because he dressed down his suits with multiple items. It’s done to look purposeful.

Different items within an outfit should also complement each other seasonally. A winter jumper does not pair harmoniously with summer linen trousers just as a summery camp shirt does not complement corduroy trousers.

Harmony with One’s Surroundings

A person needs to dress for their surroundings, whether its for the weather, the time of day, a special purpose or a specific dress code.

James Bond frequently dresses in colours that hamrmonise with his surroundings, like wearing dark and muted colours in the city, earth tones in the countryside, sandy colours in the desert and blues when near the sea. Wearing colours that match one’s surroundings is a traditional way to choose colour when dressing.

Harmony with the weather could mean wearing insulating clothes for cold weather, wearing lightweight clothes in hot weather, wearing snow boots for snow or wearing a raincoat for rain. Being prepared is being in harmony.

Dressing for the time of day often means wearing darker clothes or more formal clothes for going out at night.

Bond always dresses for special purposes when necessary, whether he’s in swim trunks for swimming, athletic wear for training and working out, safari suits for the jungle, climbing shoes for climbing, a wet suit for diving or a ski suit for skiing. It’s another way of harmonising with one’s surroundings.

Following dress codes is essential for being in harmony with one’s surroundings. For James Bond this means wearing black tie for fancy events and casinos. It could also mean wearing a jacket and tie for a fancy restaurant. Sometimes it means a disguise is necessary to fit in for the sake of his mission.

It also means not overdressing. When James Bond wears a dinner jacket to a Las Vegas casino in Diamonds Are Forever, he’s not in harmony with his surroundings and sticks out in a pretentious way. It’s not the right way to dress.

Dissonant Clothes

Fashion trends often try to disrupt harmony with unflattering or uncomfortable fits, excessive proportions or unflattering colours. Harmony, however, is never outdated or inappropriate.

Dressing in an inharmonious or a chaotic manner is not necessarily wrong, but it needs to be done with purpose. Clothing can be used to make a statement—a fashion statement or any other kind of statement—but statements always go against harmony one way or another. It’s not usually James Bond’s style to make a statement with his clothes, but sometimes he does like with the yellow ski suit with the red cap in The Spy Who Loved Me. It helps him stand out on screen. If you’re dressing against harmony, do so with intent and own your statement.

More reading

Many of the concepts I touch upon in this article are expanded on in these other articles:

The Seven C’s of James Bond’s Suits

James Bond Shows How a Suit Should Fit

Classic Style and the Suit’s Ideal Proportions

(00)7 Ways to Be Well Dressed

(00)7 Times When Bond Is Dressed For the Set

You Don’t Need James Bond’s Body to Look Like Him in a Suit

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