Swellboy on... Bond’s sartorial blunder

The secret agent’s off-the-cuff style falls a little short of double-o heaven

Image: Brijesh Patel

Thanks to my interest in watches and my friends at Omega I was fortunate enough to be asked to the royal world premiere (RWP) or was that the world royal premiere (WRP) of Skyfall. By now you will know that it is a superb film, and that I need hardly add my praise to the Everest of plaudits placed at the feet of director Sam Mendes, Javier Bardem, Ralph Fiennes, Dame Judi Dench and the bloke who played Freddie in The Hour, who is the new Q.

It recalls, for me at least, the oeuvre of Terence Young, who launched the franchise and created the perfect blend of Cold War paranoia and West End swagger in his Bond. This 50th-anniversary film is a pitch-perfect evocation of our world of grandstanding politicians trying make names for themselves by heading parliamentary select committees, cyber terror, the orotund tones of Huw Edwards tolling out the news of some recent disaster, and all the rest of it.

The WRP or RWP was a full dress affair, only slightly less splendid than the opening ceremony of the Olympic Games (in which Omega is also involved), and the red carpet was not so much a carpet as a crimson highway that necessitated the closing of the road behind the Royal Albert Hall and the carpeting of much of the Queensgate area.

If I have one cavil, it is sartorial. I edited and contributed to a book about Bond called Dressed to Kill: James Bond, The Suited Hero, and I am rather sorry that I do not have any more copies, as they go for a fair few quid on eBay. Anyway, early on in Skyfall Bond’s hand pokes through a door, and we catch a glimpse of the cuff of his coat, on which the final button is undone. This is an affectation that I find very annoying, in much the same way as the related practice of leaving the label of the suit’s maker sewn onto the sleeve. I daresay it is meant to signify that the wearer is in the habit of bespeaking garments himself, but I find that in practice it is usually affected by Americans keen to show that they have a tailor or are suburban dandies (living in Shepherd’s Bush I suppose I should really undo my cuffs, but cannot quite bring myself to).

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In my opinion, the only time it is permissible to unbutton your sleeve is if you are a doctor circa 1923, about to perform some intricate surgery in the presence of ladies in the withdrawing room of Downton Abbey after Sunday lunch, when to remove one’s coat would be a solecism. On such an occasion, it is perfectly acceptable to unbutton the sleeve of one’s coat (at least the first two buttons, as the remainder should be sham anyway) to facilitate the easy washing of hands in a tin basin held by a maid in full uniform, before getting busy with scalpel and forceps.

However, these days most surgery tends to take place in operating theatres and not in country house drawing rooms, and the surgeons wear styleless gowns and hideous hats (indoors would you believe) rather than tweed suits – which brings me to the subject of the number of cuff buttons that Bond was sporting.  

I could not help noticing that the sleeve of Bond’s suit had three buttonholes – of course, this was all over in a flash so I may not be sure – but given that Bond was in a city and wearing a dark suit, four buttons would have been more appropriate, while in the country three strikes a suitably rural note. To be fair, I break these rules all the time by wearing tweed in town with a four-button cuff – I like to live dangerously. And I suppose that, in his defence, Bond was in Istanbul, and as such abroad, and maybe as an English gentleman he viewed “abroad” as being similar to the country. Perhaps he felt that by wearing a dark suit with a three-button cuff he was doing justice to the built-up surroundings, while acknowledging that he was “out of town” – ie not in the West End of London.

Honestly, with all these things to worry about, it is amazing that Bond ever gets out of the house in the morning, let alone finds the time to save the world and get the girl.

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