Classic Style and the Suit’s Ideal Proportions

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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 But most suits from the 1940s would now look outdated.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.

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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.

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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.

Sean Connery’s Unique Shirts in Goldfinger

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Anthony Sinclair’s release of a Goldfinger-inspired shirt with rounded double cuffs motivated me to take a closer look at the actual shirts that Sean Connery wears in Goldfinger. Terence Young, the director of the first two Bond films Dr. No and From Russia with Love, established the look of Bond’s wardrobe. Goldfinger, however, had a new director, Guy Hamilton, and some of the wardrobe choices were different. Knitted silk ties replaced grenadine ties, the tailored clothes were more country than city since most of them came from Connery’s previous film Woman of Straw, and the shirts were different. Turnbull & Asser most likely did not make the shirts for Goldfinger like they did for all of Sean Connery’s other Bond films. Shirtmaker Frank Foster is a possibility, though Dr. No is Connery’s only Bond film he says he made shirts for.

Click on the photo to enlarge. Notice the faint broken stripe on the cuff.

Click on the photo to enlarge and see the faint broken stripe on the cuff.

Instead of just solid white, light blue and cream shirts like Connery wears in his other Bond films, Connery wears mostly striped shirts in Goldfinger. The dress shirts with both the off-white and black dinner jackets have a fancy white-on-white satin stripe pattern. With his suits, Connery’s shirts are all white with a faint broken grey stripe. The stripe almost disappears in most shots, but it’s visible in close-ups. And yes, the shirt with the famous light grey glen check suit is not solid white. It too has the faint broken stripe. The shirt that Sean Connery wears with his brown hacking jacket has the same broken stripe, but on ecru instead of on white.

The shirts in Goldfinger have a classic English spread collar with approximately a 2 3/4″ point length and 3/8″ of tie space. The spread is around 5″ wide. The collar is made with a stiff sewn interfacing but isn’t worn with collar stays.

Goldfinger-Shirt-Rounded-Double-CuffGoldfinger is Sean Connery’s only Bond film that he does not wear cocktail cuffs in. Instead, he wears double cuffs (French cuffs) throughout the film. The double cuffs on the shirt he wears with his suits and hacking jacket have a rounded corner whilst the double cuffs on the shirts he wears with black tie have a large mitred corner, cut about halfway to the fold of the roughly 2 3/4″ deep cuff. Both the rounded corner and the mitred corner have the benefit of sliding more smoothly though the jacket sleeve than a square double cuff, which can snag on the inside of a jacket sleeve. Different style double cuff corners may possibly indicate different shirtmakers, though the cuffs appear to both be the same size and the link holes are in the same position. The link holes on all the double cuffs are around a 1/4″ off centre towards the fold, making them about 1 1/4″ from the fold. The cuffs are attached to the sleeve with shirring.

Notice the mitred corner on the double cuff

Notice the mitred corner on the double cuff of Sean Connery’s dress shirt in Goldfinger‘s pre-title sequence

The plackets on the shirts in Goldfinger are slightly different than the plackets on the shirts in Connery’s other Bond films. See the image at the top. The placket is a little wider and stitched further from the edge than on the Turnbull & Asser placket. It isn’t identical, however, to the plackets that Roger Moore wears on his Frank Foster shirts in his James Bond films, which are stitched very close to the centre. The placket on the Goldfinger shirts is identical to the placket that Roger Moore wears on his shirts in the two-part episode of The Saint titled “Vendetta for the Saint”, and that shirt was most likely made by Frank Foster.

Goldfinger-Dress-ShirtThere’s more to the Goldfinger shirts than meets the eye. It’s too bad that only the dress shirt with the off-white dinner jacket in the pre-title sequence is the only shirt in the film we see without a jacket or waistcoat over it. The shirt has a much trimmer and cleaner fit through the body and the sleeves than the Turnbull & Asser shirts Sean Connery previously wore in Dr. No and From Russia with Love. Whilst the shirts in From Russia with Love have darts to shape the shirt through the waist, this shirt has a cleaner fit without darts.

Sea Island Cotton

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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.

René Mathis: Draping Knitwear

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Along with Jeffrey Wright’s Felix Leiter, Giancarlo Giannini’s René Mathis is one of Daniel Craig’s Bond’s best-dressed allies. When Bond visits Mathis at his new Tuscany Villa in Quantum of Solace, Mathis is stylishly dressed in an open-collar button-down shirt with a jumper tied around his neck. The pale blue button-down shirt is most likely made of a linen and cotton blend, since it’s lightweight and slightly rumpled. The button-down collar has an stylish roll for a casual look, and the inside of the collar band contrasts in ecru. The shirt has a placket, button cuffs and a mitre-cut breast pocket. The mitre-cut breast pocket is a rectangle, open at the top, with the bottom corners angled off.

Mathis-Villa-2Mathis wears a light blue-grey cashmere jumper like a scarf around his neck with the arms tied in front and the body draped over his back. It may be worn for a little warmth, but it’s probably worn primarily for style. He may have tied the jumper around his neck so he can conveniently don it if the weather becomes too cold, but since he’s at home he could just as easily leave it anywhere he wants to. Mathis wears flat-front navy linen trousers with a light brown suede belt and light brown leather slip-on shoes. The belt and shoes nicely complement the navy trousers, and the contrast is stylish for a casual outfit. This type of contrast, however, would not be appropriate for a suit. Mathis’ metal sunglasses are the Ray Ban Caravan model.

There’s more of Mathis’ clothing to come later.

Button Cuffs

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The button cuff, also known as the barrel cuff, is certainly the most forgettable of all shirt cuffs. They lack the personalisation that double cuff have from cufflinks and the flare of the cocktail cuff. But they are, nonetheless, worth discussing. They’re certainly the most versatile, since they can be worn casually and with a suit. They don’t, however, go well with anything more formal than a suit. Button cuffs can have one, two or three buttons and rounded, mitred (angle cuff) or square corners. The ordinary button cuff has one button with rounded corners. Because the cuff can pivot on a single button, the rounded corners look best on top of each other when the cuff pivots. Rounded corners follow the cuff’s pivot. George Lazenby wears rounded one-button cuffs in On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, Roger Moore wears them in Octopussy and A View to a Kill, Timothy Dalton wears them in The Living Daylights, and Pierce Brosnan wears them on a few shirts in GoldenEye. One-button cuffs are typically shorter than other cuffs, around 2 to 2 1/2 inches, though Roger Moore’s cuffs from Frank Foster are around 3 inches long. Moore’s cuffs are also more rounded, which, when combined with the larger size, make the cuffs look quite elegant.

Daniel-Craig-One-Button-Square-CuffSquare corners look better on cuffs with multiple buttons, since the multiple buttons prevent the cuff from pivoting and ensure the edge will always be continuous. When a square-cornered one-button cuff pivots, the corners end up awkwardly juxtaposed on top of each other. Bond, nevertheless, occasions wears a square one-button cuff. Pierce Brosnan’s blue shirt in Tomorrow Never Dies and Daniel Craig’s black shirt in Casino Royale have square one-button cuffs.

Timothy-Dalton-One-Button-Mitred-CuffMitred one-button cuffs fit somewhere between the rounded and square cuffs. They look more elegant than square one-button cuffs, but they don’t have the rounded corner to follow the pivot of the cuff. Roger Moore’s black shirt in Moonraker, TImothy Dalton’s formal shirts in Licence to Kill, and Daniel Craig’s floral shirt in Skyfall have mitred one-button cuffs.

Roger-Moore-Two-Button-Mitred-CuffAdding a second button to the cuff usually means that the cuff will be larger. The second button also keeps the cuff more rigid, which makes the two-button cuff slightly dressier than the single-button cuff. When the cuff has a square corner, the rigidity that the second button provides ensures that the edge of the cuff will always stay continuous around. Roger Moore wears a brown striped shirt with square two-button cuffs in Live and Let Die. A mitred corner is another elegant option for the two-button cuff, and Roger Moore wears mitred two-button cuffs on his formal shirts throughout For Your Eyes Only. Like how Roger Moore’s rounded cuffs are extra round, his mitred cuffs have a deeper cut to exaggerate the style.

Pierce-Brosnan-Three-Button-CuffThree-button cuffs aren’t as popular as one- and two-button cuffs, but they are Turnbull & Asser’s signature cuff style. Considering how Turnbull & Asser made so many shirts for James Bond, the cuff only appears once in the series. Pierce Brosnan wears them on the blue royal oxford shirt he wears with his cream suit in The World Is Not Enough. The three-button cuff doesn’t behave any differently than a two-button cuff, but it needs to have a square edge. A rounded or mitred edge would require extra length beyond the button, which would make a three-button cuff excessively long.

The White Linen Shirt

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In a brief scene in Die Another Day in Cuba, James Bond wears a white linen, long-sleeve camp shirt. White is the dressiest colour for shirts, but when made of linen in a casual style it’s great for dressing down in hot weather because white is best at reflecting the heat of the sun. Long sleeves may seem impractical to wear in the heat, but they protect the skin from the sun when outdoors during the day. For the evening, long sleeves make this a slightly dressier shirt than if it had short sleeves. Nevertheless, Bond rolls the sleeves up his forearm for a more casual look. The shirt has an open breast pocket on the left, which is a great place to keep sunglasses.

White-Linen-Shirt-2The shirt has a camp collar, which is a one-piece collar without a separate collar band. This camp collar is made up of a top-side piece of fabric and an underside piece of fabric, probably with an interfacing fused to the top piece. The top piece of fabric continues down into the inside front of the shirt for a seamless look when the top front of the shirt rolls over. The collar’s underside piece of fabric attaches to the front of the shirt at the base of the neck like an ordinary collar does. The front edge of the shirt has quarter-inch stitching that goes up into the collar. When there is no placket, a shirt ordinarily has no stitching on the front edge for a cleaner look. But since the top side of the collar extends down to the inside front of the shirt, the quarter-inch stitching visually continues the collar into the shirt body, and it holds the shirt together as well. Unlike how Sean Connery’s camp collars in Thunderball lay flat, Brosnan’s camp collar is designed to stand up and roll over. Also unlike Connery’s camp collars, Brosnan’s camp collars have a button and buttonhole at the top.

The shirt is the only part of the outfit we can see, and we can’t even tell if Bond tucks the shirt in or leaves it out. Bond is likely wearing dark linen trousers and brown suede chukka boots like what he wore earlier in the film with the less sophisticated blue floral shirt.

Sulka Shirts

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Pierce Brosnan wears white poplin, ivory poplin and blue end-on-end shirts as well as a pleated fly-front dress shirt from Sulka in GoldenEye. Originally a New York company, Sulka expanded to have stores elsewhere in the United States, in London on Old Bond Street and in Paris. Sulka closed its last store in 2002. Sulka was amongst the world’s finest men’s clothing shops, and costume designer Lindy Hemming made an excellent choice to dress James Bond in their shirts and ties for GoldenEye.

Sulka-ShirtBrosnan’s shirts have a moderate spread collar, bordering on a point collar. The collar points are about 2 3/4″ long, and the collar has about 3/8″ tie space. Brosnan wears shirts from Sulka with both double cuffs and button cuffs. The double cuffs have the link holes placed slightly off-centre further the fold, which keeps the cuff neater but hides the cufflinks further into the jacket sleeves. The button cuffs are rounded with a single button. The collar and cuffs are stitched 1/4″ from the edge, as they traditionally are. The placket is 1 3/8″ wide and stitched 3/8″ from the edge. The shirts have shoulder pleats under the split yoke in the back.

The Lapidus Cuff

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For The Spy Who Loved Me and Moonraker, Frank Foster made Roger Moore’s shirts with a special kind of cuff: the tab cuff. Foster calls it the Lapidus cuff, after the French fashion designer Ted Lapidus who invented this cuff. The Lapidus cuff is a square barrel cuff with an extended tab to fasten the cuff. Though there doesn’t appear to be any special benefit to the cuff design, the Lapidus cuff pivots in a unique way compared to typical single-button cuffs.

Roger Moore wears his Lapidus cuff shirts with his suits and sports coats in The Spy Who Loved Me and Moonraker, as well as with his dinner suit in the former film. Moore’s Lapidus cuffs are stitched 1/4 inch from the edge all around, but on my own lilac pinpoint example from Frank Foster (see below) the tab portion is stitched on the edge whilst the rest of the cuff has regular 1/4 inch stitching. Foster puts a 25 ligne button on the cuff instead of the typical 16 ligne button, which makes the cuff stand out more than it already would. However, an unconventional shirt cuff is a rather subtle—but also unique—way to make a fashion statement.

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