Being James Bond Part II: The Accompaniments

Posted on October 31, 2011

(originally written for

Having established what kind of tuxedo will make you look like a secret agent instead of a formal waiter, here is your guide to the proper 007 shirt, necktie, waist covering and footwear.

Bond’s CIA counterpart Felix Leiter would likely tell you that the only true tuxedo shirt is the wing collar style, but he would be wrong.

Prior to the First World War, black tie mostly borrowed its accessories from the highly formal white tie outfit including a starched-front shirt with a detachable upright collar bent back at the throat to create large, stiff wings.  Then the tuxedo came into its own in the 1930s when it gained unique accoutrements better suited to its semi-formal stature such as a shirt which carried a softer bosom and attached turndown collar.

This shirt became the black-tie norm by the 1950s and remained so until the invention of a 1970s hybrid that replaced the turndown with a shorter collar decorated with unstarched wings that were flaccid and minuscule. Oddly, American men embraced this novelty despite the fact it made long necks appear thinner and chubby faces appear fatter.  The British, however, rejected the modern invention which may partially explain why Bond always gets the girl while Felix gets second billing.

Bond women prefer men who can tie their own neckwear.

Admittedly, the formal turndown collar has recently become much more popular in the US albeit for a sinister reason: the corresponding popularity of the formal four-in-hand.   While this long tie of black silk may appear to be a legitimate update of black-tie neckwear – just as the turndown collar was for the black-tie shirt – in actual fact it presents a number of aesthetic drawbacks compared to the traditional black bow tie.  It leads the eye away from the wearer’s face instead of underscoring it, it has a longstanding association with funeral attire rather than formal wear, and it cuts in half the dramatic white “V” of the exposed shirt front thereby negating the impression of broad shoulders and a narrow waist.  Also, unlike the way that the relatively ordinary turndown collar is largely concealed by a formal bow, the long tie has no similar accompaniment to hide its pedestrianism.

That’s why it’s best to follow 007’s lead and stick with the unimpeachable elegance of the bow tie.  Just make sure it’s always black and it’s always hand-tied; coloured and clip-on neckwear has no place in the wardrobe of an elite secret agent.

As for the vest or cummerbund, Felix would likely view them as redundant relics of the past while Bond would be well acquainted with the merits of these traditional black-tie waist coverings.  A distinctive trait of true formal attire is the concealment of its working parts such as the trouser waistband and bottom edge of the shirt bosom which are discreetly hidden by either accessory.  More relevantly, a tuxedo does not have the benefit of the business suit’s long tie to cover the lower portion of shirt that often peaks out beneath the jacket’s closed button.  This exposed patch of white fabric interferes with the vertical emphasis of the black suit and negates its impression of height and stature.  A black cummerbund or waistcoat prevents this shortcoming by discreetly filling the gap.

Don’t try this at home.

Ironically, the American trend towards bare-waisted formality received a huge boost in popularity in 2006 when Daniel Craig appeared in an open dinner jacket and uncovered waist on the poster for Casino Royale.  However, bear in mind that this depiction was deliberately constructed to project a rough-edged reinterpretation of the Bond character.  Unless you’re planning to also duplicate the unbuttoned shirt and undone bow tie shown in the poster, you’d be wise to imitate Craig as he appears in the film instead wherein he hides his shirt bottom by buttoning his jacket and keeping his trousers properly perched at his waist.

The final requirement for being dressed to kill is a good pair of formal shoes.  If not patent leather, they should at least be polished to a mirror-like gloss.  And while they don’t have to be pumps they must still have a streamlined elegance to them; everyday dress shoes such as brogues or monkstraps simply won’t cut it at the Monte Carlo baccarat tables.

This concludes your mission briefing.  You now possess the training necessary to pass as a debonair super spy with a penchant for martinis that are shaken, not stirred.