The Six Bonds by Tozani at deviantART
As some of my semi-regular readers may have noted, I have spent some time at Matt Spaiser's elucidatory labour of love, The Suits of James Bond, which digs deep into the filmic wardrobe of the universe's least surreptitious superspy
One subtle thread woven through Spaiser's articles is a soft rehabilitation of Roger Moore's finery, burdened as it is by the dull witterings of clothing ascetics and loathers of the 1970s who lack either the patience or the distance to appreciate its sheer breadth, harping instead on the received wisdom of polyester, platforms and pornography moustaches that characterise many retro memories. And this re-examination may have reached its apotheosis in a recent discussion sparked by Sir Roger's Golden Gun-era safari shirt jacket, leading to this screed (and some very well reasoned follow-ups) by commenter PDGB that I, for one, feel should gain a little bit of traction in this crazy milieu of ours. I certainly encourage any interested parties to read his further responses for an excellent defence of Lazenby:
Can we get beyond the “out-of-character” argument, and just agree each to prefer our favourite Bond without making claims for his relative authenticity? The “out-of-character” argument presupposes that there is some secure basis for saying what is *in* character for Bond. If Fleming’s Bond is the benchmark, most of the material Matt has covered would have to be ruled out of court, since Bond’s tastes, so far as they can be reconstructed from the novels, are more idiosyncratically conservative than anything we've seen in the Eon Films.
In fact, it does not seem to me that claims for Fleming’s ultimate authority are the ones most often put forward in comments on this blog. Much more often, some kind of appeal is made to a nebulous notion of “Britishness” or “Englishness,” and to a notion of “proper” tailoring and taste. It might be worth bearing in mind that the lounge suit as a species of outfit is less than 150 years old, and as regular daywear for all classes above so-called blue-collar workers its pedigree is shorter still. Any talk about the “correct” width for lapels or shoulders, “correct” number of buttons on the cuff, “correct” rise for trousers, etc., or more generally for what constitutes “classic” tailoring does not refer to some dateless, platonic absolute, but to a set of conventions which has been in much more continuous flux than arbiters of taste like to admit in the short time that these conventions have been in play.
Is Connery’s Bond sartorially closest to Fleming’s? Yes. Is his tailoring the most conservative seen on screen, in terms of its reliance on the conventions of British tailoring? Again, yes – notwithstanding “concessions” to contemporary trends that tend to be overlooked more often than Moore’s, Lazenby’s or Craig’s. But this doesn’t make Connery the most in-character of the Bonds unless, again, Fleming is taken as the benchmark. Nor am I sure that the best defence of Moore’s “in-character-ness” is any supposed lineage his clothes may have in British domestic or colonial sartorial traditions (though I'll come back to this, apropos the specific topic of the original post). The best way to judge him, surely, is in terms of how the franchise worked during the 1970s. Seventies Bond is a post-Flint, post-Steed, post-Solo Bond – a figure dancing the line between the straight and the parodic. Moore has remarked on the absurdity of the fact that everyone seems to know who Bond is, even though he’s a secret agent. Given this baseline absurdity, why would Bond need to dress inconspicuously? And given the overtones of spoof, which begin in earnest with Diamonds Are Forever, we can expect the odd double-edged sartorial joke, partly at Bond’s expense, such as Connery’s ludicrously out-of-place white dinner jacket in the early casino scenes in DAF.
Screen Bond has always been exponentially more of a fantasy figure than Literary Bond—and that’s saying something—but the nature of the fantasy has altered over time. It has tended to change with lead actor, and has generally entailed some sartorial shift, whatever continuity there may be between performers. If there’s a Screen Bond who’s out of character with the other Screen Bonds in sartorial terms it’s surely Dalton, purely because of the abrupt move away from bespoke. But every Bond has worn clothing which can be dated in some way to the moment of production, and in my view the character's dress is none the worse for that.
Finally, one point about Moore’s “safari shirts” and jackets in particular. If we want to talk about being “in character,” then I think this kind of epauletted garment maintains an entirely reasonable aesthetic link with Bond’s military past.