Sean Connery wears a pale blue Turnbull & Asser shirt in From Russia with Love that is probably made of Sea Island cotton.
James Bond has a long history of wearing Sea Island cotton. Ian Fleming wrote in his novels that Bond wears a “dark blue Sea Island cotton shirt” in Moonraker, “dark blue Sea Island cotton shirts with collars attached and short sleeves” in Diamonds Are Forever, a “white sea-island cotton shirt” in On Her Majesty’s Secret Service and “sea island cotton underpants” in The Man with the Golden Gun. Sean Connery’s Turnbull & Asser shirts were likely made of Sea Island cotton poplin, and some of Pierce Brosnan’s Turnbull & Asser shirts auctioned with his suits at Bonhams were made of “Sea Island Cotton Quality” royal oxford.
Sea Island cotton is an extra-long staple cotton, and due to the fibre’s fine diameter and long length it has a silky look and feel. Sea Island cotton is also a very strong fibre, which is what allows it to be made into finer shirtings. It is typically spun in a 140 yarn count. Originally it was grown on the Sea Islands of South Carolina and Georgia in the United States, but now it is grown in the British West Indies. Turnbull & Asser has not sold genuine Sea Island cotton shirts for some time and now sells “Sea Island Quality”, which is extra-long staple cotton grown in Egypt. Turnbull & Asser’s”Sea Island Quality” shirts are at the top of their ready-to-wear range.
Though Sea Island cotton is both durable and has the silkiest feel of all cottons, there are downsides. It doesn’t have much body, and in a poplin weave it can be somewhat translucent in white. Because Sea Island cotton is so fine, it is very difficult to iron and wrinkles easily. Underpants, like what Bond wears in The Man with the Golden Gun novel, may be the best usage for Sea Island cotton since they touch one of the most sensitive parts of the body, and it doesn’t matter if they wrinkle.
Though Ian Fleming never included the pea coat as part of James Bond’s wardrobe in his novels, Fleming himself wore a pea coat as a Royal Navy officer during the Second World War. This pea coat was sold at Bonham’s on New Bond Street in London on 22 November 2011 for £13,750. The dark navy double-breasted coat has eight buttons with four to button. It has single-button cuffs, and the shawl collar and vertical outside front pocket welts are trimmed in a ribbed knit stretch fabric. The buttons are made of black horn, and the lining is scarlet.
According to the auction listing, Commander Fleming wore this pea coat during the Dieppe Raid of 1942 whilst he was serving in the Naval Intelligence Division. The coat was later given to Ivar Bryce, a friend of Fleming’s since his school days at Eton. Bryce’s middle name was Felix, and Fleming gave his name to Bond’s ally and best friend CIA agent Felix Leiter. The pea coat was shown at For Your Eyes Only: Ian Fleming and James Bond Exhibition, which celebrated the centenary of Ian Fleming’s birth, at Imperial War Museum London from April 2008 to March 2009. You can see more about the pea coat at the auction listing on Bonham’s website.
It wasn’t until the film Casino Royale that the film Bond wears a pea coat. Later, the film Bond wears another pea coat in Skyfall. Though the pea coat doesn’t have any earlier history with Bond in the films or the books, it’s quite an appropriate casual coat for a former naval officer, and Fleming himself wore one.
A tweed golfing jacket that belong to Ian Fleming was auctioned at Bonhams on New Bond Street on 23 November 2010 and sold for £1,080. This jacket was made by Fleming’s tailor Benson, Perry & Whitley in 1963, only a year before Fleming died. This jacket is most reminiscent of the literary James Bond’s “battered black and white dogtooth suit” that Fleming first mentions in Moonraker, and he subsequently mentions it as the suit that Bond wears for golf in Diamonds Are Forever. This jacket is in a shepherd’s check that is more than twice the size of a houndstooth check. It could have been part of a suit like Bond’s dogtooth suit, but the large scale probably means that this was made only as an odd jacket. Also like Bond’s dogtooth suit, this jacket is a “yellowing” black and white. However, this jacket also has a teal overcheck.
The style of the jacket is the closest to what we can guess Bond’s suit jackets were like. It is a button two with narrow lapels and flapped pockets. Though we can see the cut from the pictures of it laying flat, it is probably cut like Fleming’s other jackets with natural shoulders and a little drape. To match the sporty tweed look, the buttons are black leather. Like on some of the film Bond’s dinner jackets, this jacket has turnback “gauntlet” cuffs as well, with two buttons. Gauntlet cuffs have little bearing on formality, so they are just as appropriate on a sports coat or an overcoat as they are on a dinner jacket. They are, however, too fussy for tailcoats.
View the auction listing
Jeffrey Deaver took on the task of writing the last James Bond continuation novel, released in 2011. Deaver specifies an updated wardrobe for Bond, with a little more detail than Fleming wrote:
“By seven fifteen he was dressed: a navy-blue Canali suit, a white sea island shirt and a burgundy Grenadine tie, the latter items from Turnbull & Asser. He donned black shoes, slip-ons; he never wore laces, except for combat footwear or when tradecraft required him to send silent messages to a fellow agent via prearranged looping.” (Chapter 6)
Deaver takes inspiration from both Fleming’s Bond and Connery’s Bond in dressing the character. The navy suit, sea island shirt and slip-on shoes are straight from Fleming, whilst the grenadine—though in a different colour—is a more refined choice taken from Connery’s Bond. Though the film Bond’s long relationship with Turnbull & Asser has also made it into the novel, Deaver made his own choice for the brand of Bond’s suit: Canali. Canali’s suits are well-made and have some Italian flare, but they are still fairly conservative suits. Though their suits no longer have the traditional Italian details of jetted pockets and a ventless skirt, they still have some of the strongest shoulders of any suits today.
“It was, exceptionally, a hot day in early June. James Bond put down the dark gray chalk pencil that was the marker for the dockets routed to the Double-O Section and took off his coat. He didn’t bother to hang it over the back of his chair, let alone take the trouble to get up and drape the coat over the hanger Mary Goodnight had suspended, at her own cost (damn women!), behind the Office of Works’ green door of his connecting office. He dropped the coat on the floor. There was no reason to keep the coat immaculate, the creases tidy.”
This passage comes from Fleming’s short story “The Property of a Lady,” which was added to the Octopussy and The Living Daylights short story collection in 1967. It’s interesting to see that Bond didn’t always care for his clothes the way a well-dressed man ordinarily would. But since the weather was hot and the suit was lightweight, it was probably too wrinkled to wear again without a pressing anyway. Hopefully the floor was clean!
“Wearing his usual rig—dark-blue single-breasted suit, white shirt, thin black knitted silk tie, black casuals— but they all look brand-new. Raincoat bought yesterday from Burberry’s.” (Chapter 1)
“Bond then took off his clothes, put his gun and holster under a pillow, rang for the valet, and had his suit taken away to be pressed. By the time he had taken a hot shower followed by an ice-cold one and pulled on a fresh pair of sea island cotton underpants, the bourbon had arrived.” (Chapter 7)
“James Bond had a quick and small breakfast in his room, dressed, reluctantly because of the heat, in his dark blue suit, armed himself, and went for a walk round the property.” (Chapter 7)
Here’s one of the rare occasions when Bond’s clothing is mentioned by brand name. Sea island cotton underpants is a nice change from the nylon underclothes of some of the previous novels.
“Bond’s face and hands were of a light brown tint, his black hair, brightly oiled, was cut and neatly combed in a short fringe that reached halfway down his forehead, and the outer corners of his eyebrows had been carefully shaved so that they now slanted upwards. He was dressed, like so many of the other travellers, in a white cotton shirt buttoned at the wrists and a cheap, knitted silk, black tie exactly centred with a rolled gold pin. His ready-made black trousers, held up by a cheap black plastic belt, were rather loose in the fork, because Japanese behinds are inclined to hang low, but the black plastic sandals and dark blue nylon socks were exactly the right size. A much-used overnight bag of Japan Air Lines was slung over his shoulder, and this contained a change of shirt, singlet, pants and socks, Shinsei cigarettes, and some cheap Japanese toilet articles. In his pockets were a comb, a cheap, used wallet containing some five thousand yen in small denomination notes, and a stout pocket knife which, by Japanese law, had a blade not more than two inches long.” (Chapter 9)
Bond is now Taro Todoroki. The black tie of kitted silk is the only part of this outfit that we generally associate with Bond’s wardrobe. According to Fleming, the rest is all characteristic of a Japanese traveller.
“Then he slipped on his dark-blue tropical worsted trousers, white sea-island cotton shirt, socks and black casual shoes (he abhorred shoe-laces).” (Chapter 2)
“Bond had equipped himself at Lillywhites with clothing he thought would be both appropriate and sensible. He had avoided the modern elasticized vorlage trousers and had chosen the more comfortable but old-fashioned type of ski-trouser in a smooth cloth. Above these he wore an aged black wind-cheater that he used for golf, over his usual white sea-island cotton shirt. He had wisely reinforced this outfit with long and ugly cotton and wool pants and vests. He had conspicuously brand-new ski-boots with powerful ankle-straps. He said, ‘Then I’d better take off my sweater.'” (Chapter 11)
“Then he had a quick shower, complicated by having to keep his dressings dry, changed out of his stinking ski clothes into the warmer of the two dark-blue suits he had brought with him, sat down at the writing-desk, and jotted down the headings of what he would have to put on the teleprinter to M. Then he put on his dark-blue raincoat and went down into the street and along to the Odeons Platz.” (Chapter 26)
Like in the film, Bond dresses as Sir Hilary Bray in the novel:
“‘You’ve fixed your laundry tags and so on?’ ‘Yes,’ said Bond dully. ‘I’ve fixed all that. And I’ve got two new suits with cuffs and double vents at the back and four buttons down the front. Also a gold watch and chain with the Bray seal. Quite the little baronet.'” (Chapter 8)
The details listed would suggest that Bond’s regular suits do not have cuffs, double vents or four buttons down the front. Since Fleming was English, “cuffs” would most likely refer to turnback cuffs on the sleeves (which Fleming occasionally wore himself) rather than trousers’ turn-ups. Double vents on single-breasted jackets hadn’t yet become the standard for English tailoring, and even though Sean Connery had already worn double-vented suits in Dr. No a year earlier it probably was not to Fleming’s personal taste. At that time it was still more common for single-breasted jackets to have a single vent or no vent. 4-button fronts would come into fashion later in the decade, but at this time they may still have been seen as old-fashioned and were most appropriate for country suits. Bond’s usual suits probably have a 2-button front like Fleming’s did.