Classic Style and the Suit’s Ideal Proportions

Pick-and-Pick-Suit-5

What is the standard to which we compare all suits? What makes lapels narrow or wide, a jacket long or short, or a button stance low or high? Style theorists—and I use this term loosely—talk about timeless suits that we should only be wearing, but what makes a suit timeless? Does this timeless suit even exist? Every decade of the past one hundred years has had its mark on the suit, though people will often cite the 1940s as the golden age of the suit. But most suits from the 1940s would now look outdated. James Bond was not yet around in the 1940s, so it’s not really a decade relevant to this blog.

Throughout every decade there have been tailors and clothing shops that did their best make and sell clothes that are ignorant of trends. From the 1980s to the end of the last decade, the American institution Brooks Brothers hardly took fashion trends into consideration. English shops like Pakeman, Catto & Carter and Purdey haven’t bowed to current fashion trends. But even many Savile Row bespoke tailors have considered and still consider fashion trends. They made narrower lapels in the 1960s and wider lapels in the 1970s, but never went to the extremes of fashion houses. Now, many of them are making trousers with a lower rise than they ever did before, and the drape cut is practically gone. The former Conduit Street tailors like Sean Connery’s Anthony Sinclair and Roger Moore’s Cyril Castle certainly kept up with fashion trends—especially the latter—but they kept classic proportions in the back of their minds and did not let fashion make their suits unflattering to the wearers.

Bilbao-SuitA suit with balanced, classic proportions is generally the most flattering suit, since it considers the wearer’s body first and foremost. Alan Flusser writes about this in considerable depth in his book Dressing the Man. Pierce Brosnan’s suits in The World Is Not Enough excellently illustrate the principles of a timeless suit with balanced proportions, and I will be using the suits from that film to illustrate what makes the suits look so timeless. This timeless look is what I compare all other suits to. The suits in Die Another Day and Casino Royale have similarly timeless proportions, and the suits in On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, Octopussy and A View to a Kill come close.

Pierce Brosnan’s suits in The World Is Not Enough are all classically cut and styled in the Roman cut, which is derived from the English military cut. The charcoal suit in Bilbao and the pick-and-pick suit in Azerbaijan are the most basic of all the suits in the film, and thus they are the best to demonstrate what makes a classic suit. The suit jackets are made in the most classic of all jacket styles, the button three. They are cut for the lapel to gently roll over the top button, but they can still button at the top. The jackets have double vents at a medium length of around 10 inches. Double vents, single vents and no vents are all classic styles, though single vent is the sportiest style and no vent is the dressiest style. A vent length of 8 to 10 inches is the most classic since it is long enough to be useful but not too long as to cause unnecessary flapping about. The exception to vent length is for a longer 12-inch single vent on a hacking jacket since it splits open better on horseback. Besides the double vents, Pierce Brosnan’s charcoal and pick-and-pick suit jacket also have straight pockets with flaps and four buttons on the cuffs, which are the standards for suit jackets.

Pick-and-Pick-Suit-9What is the classic length of a jacket that we compare all other lengths to? The jacket length is ideally one half the distance from the base of the neck to the floor. For people with a longer torso than their legs, the jacket length should be long enough to cover the bum. For most people, the bottom of the jacket lines up with the thumb knuckle. This length keeps the body looking balanced and neither top-heavy nor bottom-heavy. A longer jacket can make a man look shorter, whilst a shorter jacket can give the man leggier, more feminine proportions.

The part of the jacket that changes most with fashion is the width of the lapels. Ideally, the lapel width should be roughly half the distance from the collar to the edge of the shoulder, which ordinarily ends up being between 3 and 3 1/2 inches. This lapel width splits up the chest evenly. Though wide lapels have the effect of making the shoulders look wider, they can make the chest look smaller. Narrow lapels do the opposite. Extremes of either lapel width throw off the balance of the body. Pocket flap depth ordinarily follows lapel width and is around three quarters of the width of the lapel. The best lapel gorge height—where the notch is—is just as important to balance as the width of the lapels.  A gorge that is too low shortens the lapel lines and brings the eye away from the face, but it has the benefit of giving the chest more presence. On the other hand, a gorge that is too high makes the chest look weak, so the right placement is key.

Pick-and-Pick-Suit-6

The button stance has a big effect on the look of a jacket and a man’s perceived height and strength. The button stance is at the button that fastens, which is the middle button on a jacket with three buttons and the top button on a jacket with two buttons. A button stance that is too high makes a man look taller by extending the perceived leg length at the expense of a smaller-looking chest. A low button stance does the opposite. Pierce Brosnan’s button stance in The World Is Not Enough has the perfect balance and is about an inch lower than midway from the top of the jacket to its hem. The button stance should also correspond to the natural waist, which is typically about an inch above the navel. The body bends at the waist and placing the button stance there helps the jacket move better with the body.

A jacket’s shoulder width and amount of padding should be balanced to the person and not be too wide or narrow, or too built-up. But this is one thing that can vary within the realm of classic style. Pierce Brosnan’s shoulders on his Brioni suits in The World Is Not Enough are straight, built up with a lot of padding and slightly extended past his natural shoulders. But the shoulders are not overdone and actually balance his build. Something less dramatic could work just as well and look equally classic. The fullness of the chest and amount of waist suppression have the most allowance to vary within classic style, as long as they aren’t so tight that they put stress on the jacket or so loose that the jacket looks sloppy. Brosnan’s suit jackets in The World Is Not Enough have a clean chest with a gently suppressed waist.

Pick-and-Pick-Suit-8Just as the amount of fullness or tightness in the body of the jacket can vary within the realm of classic proportions, the amount of fullness and tightness in the trouser legs can vary too. Naturally, the fullness of the trouser legs should be in proportion of the fullness of the jacket. A jacket with a full chest needs to be balanced by trousers with a full thigh. If the jacket tapers a lot at the waist, the trousers shouldn’t be baggy. Just like a jacket should not be so tight that is pulls, the same goes for trousers. Other than that, anything goes for the width of trouser legs. Pierce Brosnan’s suit trousers in The World Is Not Enough fit neatly through the thigh and taper gently to the turned-up hem, which mimics the clean but not dramatic cut of the jacket. The front of the classic suit trousers can have pleats or darts (like most of Pierce Brosnan’s suit trousers in The World Is Not Enough), or be plain.

There is, however, a proportionate standard for the trouser rise. Like the jacket’s button stance, the trouser rise needs to work with the shape and movement of the body. There is a reason why classic suit trousers rise to the natural waist, like Pierce Brosnan’s suit trousers do. The waist is the narrowest part of the body and should be emphasised. Placing the trouser waist there does just that. The trousers have nowhere to fall down when they are at the narrowest part of the body. And by wearing trousers at the waist instead of at the hips, the legs look longer. The trouser rise should also correspond to the jacket’s button stance so that the shirt and tie don’t show below that jacket’s fastened button. It makes the suit look more fluid and the whole body look taller and slimmer.

Bilbao-Suit-5

There is still plenty of room for creativity in a suit with balanced proportions. Just because a suit follows this classic formula doesn’t mean it has to be boring. The silhouette, the most defining aspect of a suit’s design, can vary considerably and still be balanced. Though Pierce Brosnan’s suits in The World Is Not Enough have straight, padded shoulders, the shoulders are just as proportionate and as classic as the natural shoulders on Roger Moore’s Douglas Hayward suits. Smaller stylistic details can also make a big difference. Sleeveheads can be roped or flat. The shape of the gorge can curve in different ways or not curve at all. The amount of belly in the lapels can vary. The quarters and pocket flaps can be more rounded or more squared for much different looks.

Though fashion notoriously messes with the suit’s classic proportions, tailors may also alter these proportions to better suit people with extreme body types. For instance, a very tall man may benefit from a lower gorge (lapel notch) so he looks more grounded, and a short man can benefit from a higher gorge that lengthens the lapel lines. A man with a large head can benefit from extended shoulders so his head looks more balanced with the rest of his body. A short man can benefit from a shorter jacket length that will make his legs look longer. But any of these taken to the extreme like fashion has often done over the years is ultimately not flattering.

Pick-and-Pick-Suit-4Classic proportions aren’t just about the suit. We all know that the width of one’s tie should match the width of a jacket’s lapels. However, the shirt collar also needs to be in proportion with the lapel and tie width. The shirt collar point length can match the width of the lapels, though in practice the collar points are typically a little shorter than lapel width. It is more important that the collar match the shape and size of one’s head rather than the jacket’s lapels. Pierce Brosnan’s collar has roughly 2 3/4 inch points, but his lapels are around 3 1/2 inches wide. The size of the cuffs should correspond to the size of the collar. Brosnan’s cuffs are around the same 2 3/4 inches deep as his collar points.

It’s not just the point length of a shirt collar that can match the jacket’s lapels. The angle of a shirt collar’s spread should roughly correspond to the jacket’s gorge height and angle. A narrower point collar points to a lower notch whilst a wider spread collar points to a higher notch. Pierce Brosnan’s moderately wide spread collars in The World Is Not Enough roughly follow the angle of the lapel gorge and end at around the same height of the lapel notches. But more important than matching the gorge angle, the collar spread should inversely match the width of the face. Pierce Brosnan’s face, however, is neither wide nor narrow, so he can look good in almost any collar. The height of a collar is determined by the length of one’s neck and has no relation to the proportions of other parts of the outfit.

When some of the suit jacket’s proportions are tailored to best suit the person wearing the suit, and the suit, shirt and tie are well-designed to be in proportion with each other like Pierce Brosnan’s are in The World Is Not Enough, the entire of the outfit will be classically proportioned and most flattering. The clothes in The World Is Not Enough escape the clutches of fashion trends and look just as great today as they did fifteen years ago.

For more about the classic proportions of a suit, read Alan Flusser’s book Dressing the Man.

The Royal Oxford Shirt

Royal-Oxford-Shirt

Pierce Brosnan wears a royal oxford shirt with his charcoal suit in the opening scene in The World Is Not Enough

The royal oxford shirt should be more popular than it is. Though Bond has primarily worn poplin shirts throughout the series, Pierce Brosnan wears royal oxford shirts from Turnbull & Asser in Tomorrow Never Dies and The World Is Not Enough. All oxford cloths are basket weaves, from the finer pinpoint to the heavier standard oxford cloth, but the royal oxford is a more elaborate weave than the others and has a diagonal effect along with the basket weave look. Whilst royal oxford is the dressiest of the oxford cloths, it can be effectively made into both dressier and sportier shirts. Pierce Brosnan usually wears his with double cuffs, but in The World Is Not Enough he wears a royal oxford shirt with button-cuffs and an open collar with his herringbone linen suit.

Royal-OxfordRoyal oxford is just below poplin in formality and can be worn for the same purposes, whilst twills and other oxfords are all progressively lower in formality depending on the size of the texture. Unlike poplin, royal oxford irons very easily and doesn’t crease so readily. The floated yarns in the weave mean that it wrinkles less, but they also make royal oxford a softer cloth. If you’re used to non-iron shirts but want something more luxurious, a regular royal oxford shirt may be the best shirt to get. Royal oxford is also a heavier cloth than poplin, but the weave is open so it breathes very well. It is one of the most versatile shirtings whilst also being one of the most practical.

Valentin Zukovsky: The Warm Grey Dinner Jacket

Zukovsky-Dinner-Jacket

Valentin Zukovsky, played by Robbie Coltrane, wears one of the more flamboyant warm-weather dinner jackets of the Bond series in The World Is Not Enough. White and other light-coloured dinner jackets are most appropriately worn in the tropics and in summer months in certain other parts of the world (not Great Britain), but Azerbaijan is not tropical and this film takes place during the winter. Zukovsky isn’t the only person in the casino wearing warm-weather black tie, but nobody else is wearing a dinner jacket quite like his. It’s a warm grey four-button double-breasted jacket with one to button. Light-coloured dinner jackets are ordinarily made without facings, but the satin silk lapels, hip pocket jetting, breast pocket welt and covered buttons make Zukovsky’s dinner jacket a rather flashy one. The cuffs button four and the jacket doesn’t have a vent. He wears the dinner jacket with black trousers.

Peter Lorre Le ChiffreFlashy clothes like this satin-faced warm-weather dinner jacket are typically left for the villains, and Zukovsky’s dinner jacket is remarkably similar to the dinner jacket that Peter Lorre’s Le Chiffre (right) wears in the 1954 “Casino Royale” television adaptation. Whilst Zukovsky isn’t exactly a trusted ally, he certainly isn’t a villain either. The flashiness of his dinner jacket, however, indicates that he’s not a man that Bond can put his trust in.

Zukovsky-Dinner-Jacket-2Some larger men can look good in double-breasted jackets since the two columns of buttons break up their breadth. The dinner jacket’s low buttoning give it flattering long lines whilst wider shoulders give the body better proportions. Even though the shoulders are wide, they aren’t built up as not to give Zukovsky extra bulk. The shoulders droop more than they should, but apart from that the dinner jacket fits fairly well. The front is cut with an extended dart, a style that is used by many Neapolitan tailors. The extended dart along with the natural shoulders could indeed mean that was made by a Neapolitan tailor, but tailors often use a separate cutting system for a corpulent man.

Zukovsky-Dinner-Jacket-3With the dinner jacket Zukovsky wears traditional black tie accessories. The white dress shirt has a point collar and double cuffs, both with edge stitching. Though English shirtmakers don’t ordinarily use edge stitching, some think it looks dressier than traditional quarter-inch stitching. The front has narrow swiss pleats and two visible black onyx studs. He wears a classic black thistle bow tie. His shoes are black.

Lindy Hemming: Blue and Brown for Brosnan

How much should a man match his clothing for the day? Sean Connery’s James Bond wardrobe follows a simple system: navy ties with navy suits, navy or black ties with grey suits, and brown ties with brown suits. Shirts are white, light blue and cream. And the suitings are simple, in blue or grey with the occasional brown. The literary Bond has an even simpler system of dressing, which always matched a black knitted tie with a navy suit.

Blue-Brown/Charcoal Suit

Lindy Hemming, the costume designer on all four of Pierce Brosnan’s Bond films, developed a system for dressing Brosnan, one with very carefully planned outfits that coordinate in both obvious and subtle ways. Hemming often used limited colour palates but combined the colours in unique ways. She incorporated the not-so-common combination of blue and brown into many of the outfits, and we saw that done in a few different ways. In one method she matches a charcoal suit with a navy and brown tie. We first saw that in Tomorrow Never Dies with the two-piece suit in Hamburg (above left). The diamond-pattern tie also picks up the light blue in Brosnan’s shirt. In the opening scene of The World is Not Enough, we see the blue and brown tie come back in a chevron pattern with the charcoal suit (above right). That suit appears to be solid charcoal but it actually has blue and brown threads in it, which is the reasoning for the tie’s colour. Logically, the suit in Tomorrow Never Dies would also have blue and brown threads.

Blue-Brown/Light Suit

The chevron tie from the opening scene of The World is Not Enough returns later in the film with what appears to be a medium grey suit. But upon a closer look, that suit is made up of blue and light brown yarns (above right). When those two colours in the right tones—opposites—are combined, they balance each other and the overall result looks grey. With this suit later in the film, Brosnan wears a blue tie with light brown ticks, also pulling out the colours in the suit. A white shirt helps to neutralise the suit’s colour, since if he wore a blue or cream shirt, one of the suit’s other colours would have been more noticeable.

Similar to the light blue and brown suit in The World is Not Enough, Brosnan wears a blue and sand Prince of Wales check suit (above left) for his visit to the office in GoldenEye. The blue and sand colours again balance each other and the suit looks almost grey. Here the tie is blue and light brown, to emphasize the two dominant colours in the suit. Though the tie is more blue, though the ivory shirt balances that out with more warmth. And the blue pocket handkerchief coordinates with both the suit and tie.

Blue-Brown/Navy Birdseye Suit

One suit we see in all four of Brosnan’s is the semi-solid (usually Birdseye) navy suit, which tones the navy down with a white. Hemming probably finds that Brosnan looks better in a muted navy rather than a rich navy (which looks great on someone like Roger Moore), and she accessorises those suit in two different manners. In GoldenEye (above left) and Tomorrow Never Dies (above middle), those suits are worn with ivory shirts. In GoldenEye the tie is navy, gold and cream, whilst the tie in Tomorrow Never Dies is a similar combination of navy and bronze. And there he goes a step further by matching the bronze in his tie with a light brown overcoat. In Die Another Day (above right), Brosnan wears a tie of navy and gold squares with his navy pinhead suit in a brief plane scene. So again, we see that combination of blue and brown tones.

Before Brosnan, James Bond had never matched his clothes so carefully. But like Connery’s Bond wardrobe, we see consistency throughout Brosnan’s Bond films. As a graphic designer I have a great appreciation for the Lindy Hemming’s colour matching, though it makes Bond look like he’s trying too hard. Should James Bond—or any man—match his clothes so carefully?

The Button Three Lapel Roll

The World is Not Enough Button 3

The most traditional number of button for the front of a suit jacket is three. But there are a few different ways the lapels can be cut and sewn to control the way the lapel rolls. On inexpensive, fully-fused suits, the lapels don’t roll and are pressed flat above the top button. This is something that James Bond never wears. The opposite of that style would be the “3-roll-2″ style, where the lapels act just like on a button two suit and roll down to the middle button. The top buttonhole is also finished on the reverse side, since that’s the side that is visible. This style is most commonly seen in American sack suits, but it’s not limited to that cut. Cary Grant famously wore that style in North By Northwest, and Bond wore it in Quantum of Solace (pictured below). Some see it as an affected style since the top button can’t close, but it’s a well-established classic.

Quantum of Solace Button 3

The most common type of button three amongst well-made jackets has the lapel gently rolling from at or just below the top button. Most of Bond’s button three suits are in this style. It looks very elegant with only the middle button closed, but the top can be closed as well. We first saw this style on Bond in On Her Majesty’s Secret Service. George Lazenby fastens both the top and middle buttons (pictured below), and the top button breaks the roll. If he only fastened the middle button, the lapel would roll through the top button. Sean Connery’s button three sports coats in Diamonds Are Forever have similar lapels, but he only fasten the jacket at the middle button. Roger Moore wore a few suits in this style made by Douglas Hayward in the 1980s with a lower button stance, and Timothy Dalton wore a navy pinstripe suit in this style in The Living Daylights. Pierce Brosnan most famously wore this style made by Brioni throughout all of his Bond films (pictured top). Daniel Craig’s Brioni suits in Casino Royale followed in the same 3-button style, though a more fitted cut meant that the lapels spread open a bit wider. Every Bond after Lazenby fastens only the middle button, which is usually—and most effectively—placed at the waist to act as a fulcrum for both visual balance and to match where your body pivots. The latter is especially important for action since a button that is placed too low or too high would be restricting.

On Her Majesty's Secret Service Button 3

Daniel Craig’s suits in Skyfall (pictured below) also have a lapel that rolls from the top button, as you can easily see when the jackets are unbuttoned. But because the jackets are so tight the chest is pulled open more than it looks like it was designed to be. The revers are shown a little bit below the button but not all the way down to the middle button like on the Quantum of Solace suit. If you look at the image of the buttoned suit below you’ll notice that the lapel roll ends at the top button and below that it is just pulled open because it’s too tight.

Skyfall Button 3

A lapel that rolls needs canvassing to give it shape and body, which is why some makers just sew canvas in the lapels and fuse the rest of the front. The amount of roll is controlled by the cut of the lapel, where the lapel is attached to the collar and how the innards of the suit are constructed. And a lapel roll isn’t just limited to the button three jacket. Sean Connery’s button two jackets had elegant rolls, especially starting in From Russia With Love as the lapels got narrower. In comparison, Roger Moore’s button two jackets had more typical, flatter lapels.

The Roman/Military/Equestrian Shoulder

Though not all the same, the Roman shoulder, military shoulder and equestrian shoulder are all strongly structured shoulders with a straight line and generous padding. Though the shoulders may be built up, they aren’t necessarily stiff. The width and amount of padding vary depending on the tailor and depending on the current trends. Characterised by a clean, strong silhouette, the Roman style has its origins in the military and equestrian style on Savile Row. H. Huntsman is a good example of a Savile Row tailor who makes an equestrian style. Roger Moore, Timothy Dalton, Pierce Brosnan and Daniel Craig have all worn this style shoulder in the Bond films.

Most of Roger Moore’s suits in The Spy Who Loved Me and Moonraker come from Angelo Roma. These suits have narrow, straight shoulders with thick padding and roped sleeveheads.

Timothy Dalton wears suits in Licence to Kill with the straight, oversized shoulders that were popular at the time. Though his suit is more characteristic of something from a Milan fashion house, the idea of a straight, built-up shoulder is the same.

Pierce Brosnan and Daniel Craig have both worn suits from Brioni, the most famous Roman tailor. Brioni’s shoulders are very similar to what Angelo made for Roger Moore, though they tend to be wider. When Brosnan started the role in 1995, Brioni’s shoulders were wider and more built up, following the 1990s trends, and by The World is Not Enough had a more classic Roman look (see the top image).

Charcoal Suit in Bilbao

One of the most popular suits during Pierce Brosnan’s Bond tenure is the charcoal worsted serge suit from Brioni he wears in the beginning of The World is Not Enough in Bilbao. The cloth is made up of grey, navy and brown yarns that come together to appear a balanced charcoal. This film has the most suits of any of Brosnan’s Bond films as well as some of the best. This suit is cut full through the body with straight shoulders, a 3-button front and double vents. It has straight, flapped pockets and 4-button cuffs. The trousers have a darted front and turn-ups.

Bond’s shirt is a Turnbull & Asser “Turnbuline” in blue royal oxford. It has a spread collar, placket front and double cuffs. The tie is also from Turnbull & Asser, in a dark blue and light brown large pointed twill pattern that brings out the colours in the suit. Bond ties it in a four-in-hand knot, though it being a very thick tie makes a wider knot. Bond’s shoes are black Church’s monk shoes, and Bond wears a matching black belt. Both have silver-toned buckles.

When meeting with bankers, Bond wears Calvin Klein 718F glasses that act as a detonator.

Skiing in the Caucasus

Whilst a one-piece ski suit isn’t the most stylish way to ski, it might be more practical. Bond wears a dark olive ski jumpsuit in The World is Not Enough made by Omega Outdoor Agencies. It comes Q-Branch-equipped with an inflatable bubble for protection in an avalanche. R demonstrated the bubble for Bond at the lab as part of a ski jacket, but Bond wears it in a jumpsuit instead. Perhaps the gadget works better in a jumpsuit. R describes the ski jacket as follows: “Now note closely please: pockets, poppers and zipper.” The ski suit has the same. It has a zip down the front to the crotch, and a fly covering the zip closes with poppers (snaps). The jumpsuit has two pockets in the chest that are accessed from the sides and two pockets on the side of the hips. The pockets close with zips to ensure everything inside stays put. The waist is tightened with a built-in belt that closes with a metal “seat belt-style” clasp, and the collar tightens with drawstrings. The bottom of the leg has an elasticised lining with zips and Velcro at the sides.

Underneath the jumpsuit Bond wears an insulating black mock poloneck jumper with a zip at the top. The zip may extend all the way down the garment. Bond wears insulated black ski gloves and Calvin Klein 2007 sunglasses with a gunmetal frame.