Vintage James Bond Suit Style from Turnbull & Asser
I rarely write about budget alternatives to or thrifting for James Bond style because I feel that it is important to share where the inspiration originates from. But like most people who are interested in James Bond style, I also search for budget alternatives for some of my favourite Bond styles, and I have been doing so for the past two decades. I have bespoke tastes, with a budget that does not allow for anywhere close to a 100% bespoke wardrobe. Being a size 38 R, it is not easy to find vintage clothes in my size, particularly not Bondian English-style clothes in America. Sizes 42 and 44 seem to be the most common.
A blue birdseye suit from Turnbull & Asser, worn with a white poplin shirt from Frank Foster and a grey grenadine tie from Sam Hober. Photo by Karina Mekel.
Almost two years ago I acquired five suits, a blue blazer and a black and white herringbone cashmere jacket at an estate sale in the northern suburbs of New York City. All of them are vintage Turnbull & Asser and made by Chester Barrie. I jumped on these, as they’re very Bondian clothes from one of my favourite James Bond brands. Most of these filled voids in my wardrobe that I would have eventually filled with other clothes. While I already have a number of blue blazers, the blazer here is superior (in style, at least) to all the other blazers I have.
Who Made These Suits?
James Bond has only worn shirts and ties from Turnbull & Asser and never suits. Turnbull & Asser are primarily a shirtmaker, and they make their own shirts, both bespoke and ready to wear, at their factory in Gloucester, England. They also make their own ties in Kent. But they do not make suits. For many years Turnbull & Asser’s suits were manufactured in Crewe by Chester Barrie, which was one of the world’s premiere tailoring factories. They also made ready-to-wear suits for H. Huntsman and Ralph Lauren Purple Label before they went into receivership in 2002, and the factory continued under another company while the brand has since had a rather complicated history.
Over the years, Turnbull & Asser have expanded to offer all sorts of top-quality clothing for both men and women, but shirts and ties will always be their forte.
The suits and jackets I have were most likely originally purchased from Bonwit Teller at their New York City or Scarsdale, NY (properly Eastchester, NY) stores. Before Turnbull & Asser had their own store in New York, Bonwit Teller was the easiest place to purchase Turnbull & Asser clothes in the United States, and they are the reason why Turnbull & Asser is now associated with three-button shirt cuffs. Unlike other vintage Turnbull & Asser suits I’ve come across in America, none of these suits have a Bonwit Teller label. So it is possible, but unlikely, they were purchased in London.
A Prince of Wales check suit from Turnbull & Asser, with a bespoke Turnbull & Asser shirt. The shirt’s collar is based on a 1970s design from a shirt they sold at Bonwit Teller. The tie is from Drake’s. Photo by Janna Levin Spaiser.
Most of the suits and jackets that I bought are a size 39 R, except for one or two in 40 R. They had all been let out, presumably because the original owner gained weight during the time he owned the suits. However, since they fit me well in the shoulders and chest I bought them. Most suits can be taken in at the waist (especially if they had previously been let out) as long as they fit in the shoulders and upper chest. I have slowly been bringing them all to the tailor for alterations as I need them (New York City alterations tailors are superb but not inexpensive). The tailor takes in each jacket at the rear side seam into the armhole and remakes the vents. The tailor also takes in the waist and seat of the trousers. The result is as good a fit one could possibly have from a ready-to-wear suit.
I am uncertain of the exact age of the suits, but the style suggests the late 1970s through mid 1980s. The jackets have a classic British styling with a button-two front, slanted hip pockets, a ticket pocket and long double vents that flare outwards. The notched lapels are a medium width at 3 3/4 inches wide with a high gorge. The button stance is at a medium height, so the suits don’t have a dated low button stance. The edges and pockets are pick-stitched 1/4-inch from the edge, but the visibility of the stitching varies on the fabric. The jackets all have a white lining, which was a signature of Chester Barrie.
The trousers all have a flat front, belt loops and a medium-width straight leg. The style is similar to what Roger Moore was wearing as James Bond in the 1980s. Some of the trousers came with a matching belt in the suit’s cloth, which is a sporty detail that was popular in the 1970s. It can be nice how a matching belt does not break up the suit with a different colour, but it also looks rather studied. The trousers are not lined at all, which surprised me, but it’s a testament to how durable the cloth is since the trousers are in excellent condition.
The suits are not all from the same year. Amongst the suits and jackets, the length of the vents varies, the depth of the pocket flaps varies, and the rise on the trousers varies.
The Collection of Suits and Jackets
The suits include a dark blue birdseye, a lightweight navy-and-cream plain-weave Prince of Wales check with a light blue overcheck, a navy herringbone, a navy tropical wool and a charcoal sharkskin. There is also a blue blazer made of wool cavalry twill and black-and-white herringbone cashmere jacket with a blue windowpane. There are also another suit and another blazer that was included in the bunch I purchased, but a family member of mine is currently in possession of them. There were other Turnbull & Asser suits and jackets that I passed on at this estate sale, either because I wasn’t interested in the pattern or because there was an issue with the condition. The total cost of the entire bunch was a mere $300.
These suits and jackets remind me of some of my favourite suits of the James Bond series. The cut and styling of the jackets recalls George Lazenby’s jackets from Dimi Major in On Her Majesty’s Secret Service. The trousers recall Roger Moore’s Doug Hayward trousers of For Your Eyes Only, Octopussy and A View to a Kill.
The cloths are all classics, recalling what Sean Connery, George Lazenby and Pierce Brosnan wore in the Bond films. The blue birdseye suit is a Brosnan classic that features in all four of his Bond films. The Prince of Wales check is a plain-weave check like what Connery wears in Dr. No, but it has a blue overcheck like Lazenby’s suit in On Her Majesty’s Secret Service has. The navy herringbone is a large herringbone like what Lazenby wears in the first M’s office scene in On Her Majesty’s Secret Service. The navy tropical wool suit is reminiscent of the navy suit in You Only Live Twice. The charcoal sharkskin is similar to the train suit in From Russia with Love.
I’m wearing the blazer outside of the Live and Let Die Voodoo Shop, wearing a blue Frank Foster shirt, grey puppytooth Tom Ford trousers and a Paul Stuart pocket square. Photo by David Zaritsky of The Bond Experience.
The blue blazer’s cloth is cavalry twill, which is more common for trousers than for blazers, but it’s a perfectly classic blazer cloth that has a military heritage, and Bond may have worn a blazer made of it at one time or another. The blazer came with beautiful brass buttons that are emblazoned with Turnbull & Asser’s Quorn logo. As much as I like and appreciate the classic buttons, I took the opportunity to replace them with stainless steel four-hole buttons that resemble the buttons on Roger Moore’s blazers in The Spy Who Loved Me and Moonraker for a more modern touch. The blazer’s slanted pockets and ticket pocket match the style in The Spy Who Loved Me, so I had to match the buttons. I had them sewn on with matching navy thread in a crisscross style like Moore’s buttons were. I bought the buttons at Lou Lou Buttons in New York City.
The cashmere herringbone jacket is reminiscent of Connery’s herringbone tweed jacket in Never Say Never Again and even has the same styling in the pockets and vents. But this herringbone pattern is augmented with a thin single-yarn mid-blue windowpane. The crosswise stripes look lighter than the lengthwise, but that’s only because of how the colours are arranged.
These suits and jackets resemble some of James Bond’s best. The only things I would change with these suits are that I’d rather have side adjusters on the trousers than belt loops, I would have preferred the jackets without a ticket pocket, and I would have liked the button stance on the jackets to have been slightly lower. But for the price, I had to get them all to avoid any regrets. Many of the items still need alterations, which cost much more than the cost of purchasing each piece.