Clothing or Costume?

A lot of people have personal style inspiration in the form of celebrities, characters on film, or even people they know.

An interesting point had been brought up the other week by my friend Matt Spaiser, who writes The Suits of James Bond. On his review of Anthony Sinclair's Special Order Suits, he indicates, "I don’t feel like James Bond when I wear this suit; I feel like myself, and that’s the only thing I should feel when I wear a suit." Someone later asked in the comments what brand or type of suit does, to which he replied somewhat humorously, "No clothes can make any man feel like James Bond. That comes from the guilt of killing for a living and excessive drinking."

From when I actually cosplayed as James Bond in Casino Royale. It only took nine years!

A lot of people have personal style inspiration in the form of celebrities, characters on film, or even people they know. Rarely have I seen someone copy another's style exactly in every way. Both Matt and I have gotten style influence from the James Bond series of films. They first captured my attention some 12 years ago and swayed my menswear purchases the more I researched the clothing of Sean Connery. This was of course before Matt compiled all his research into the blog he's been writing for almost seven years, so some of my research was incomplete or downright inaccurate. But still, I thought this was a good look. The knitted ties (which I would later find out were mostly grenadine), simple dark solid suits, and solid light coloured shirts all caught my attention.

I don't think the 19-year-old me comprehended what being 007 would actually entail.

Later I also started researching Pierce Brosnan's suits as the same character. Eventually, I decided to take a chance on a mid-grey three-piece three button suit from Baron Boutique. (Because many had still argued at the time that three button suits were better for someone 6' or taller. I later found that to be pure bunk.) I ordered it with what they called a "British cut" and no pleats, no belt loops, no cuffs, double vents in back. I didn't know that self-supporting trousers were a thing yet, so it didn't have side adjusters either. It was actually a half decent suit, though my self measuring could have really used some improvement. Ah well. I still felt like James Bond when I put it on. Sort of. Maybe. Not really. I don't think the 19-year-old me comprehended what being 007 would actually entail, besides the glamorous aspects of drinking strong cocktails, driving cool cars, and saving the world. I completed the look with a white Roundtree & Yorke (Dillard's house brand) double cuff shirt and a narrow black knitted tie by Polo Ralph Lauren, found at TJ Maxx for a bargain. I had no preconceptions these had the luxury of the Sea Island cotton shirts or silk knitted ties from Turnbull & Asser, but it brought me a step closer to feeling like a "BAMF".

I didn't want to be James Bond. I wanted his confidence.

This didn't stem from dressing like a character I enjoyed seeing on screen. It came from simply being well dressed. Or, at least, better dressed than most people in a Florida college town. I didn't want to be James Bond. I wanted his confidence.

Admittedly I did use the suit to cosplay as him at the midnight premiere of Casino Royale. Kind of. Even many die hard Bond fans don't know the finer details of his clothing the way an obsessive clotheshorse would, so I passed as wearing The Goldfinger Three-Piece Suit just fine. In reality, it is a rather informal two button three-piece suit made in light grey glen plaid. Appropriate for sipping mint juleps on a ranch in Kentucky, but not recommended for more serious affairs -- something replica suit owners should take into account. My friend who went with me threw together something halfway resembling Daniel Craig's tie-less dinner suit from the poster. He found a black, single button peak lapel sport coat and black trousers that matched close enough at the local Goodwill, adding an ordinary white business shirt and his beat up black dress shoes. I reminded myself that to him this was just a costume and years ago I might have done the same thing.

The glen plaid suit from Goldfinger. This is ideally worn for very informal situations during the day.

Fast forward a decade and I've finally settled into my personal sense of style. I own several silk knit and grenadine woven ties of varying widths and colours. These often get me favourable comments or questions of what kind of tie they are. I also have a couple of cocktail cuff shirts. Nobody really notices the unique cuffs, my double cuffed shirts and cufflinks get more attention, but they're like a secret handshake with menswear aficionados. Most of my suits are conservative in colour and style. My shoes are usually black and quite classic in design. But I've also taken inspiration from various other sources, including people I've met in real life and on menswear forums. Patterned wool ties evoke the Duke of Windsor, especially when tied in a larger four-in-hand knot, but they do not feel hopelessly old-fashioned. Occasionally I'll even don a collar bar like Fred Astaire or Cary Grant. But never do I feel uncomfortable or costume-y when I wear things influenced by other people.

Most of all, you should still feel like you.

It's far easier to copy and pull off outfits that are office or dinner appropriate than it is to dress like Indiana Jones on one of his expeditions, as just one example. There is certainly nothing wrong with owning exact replicas of the leather jacket, bush shirt, and "officer's pinks" trousers, not to mention the stylish fedora. There are a number of looks one can fit those into. But wearing them all together may come off as cosplay instead of something appropriate for everyday attire. Indiana Jones' adventure gear is so recognizably iconic and specific to the character's lifestyle that it doesn't really work on the average person, especially in the city. On the other hand, his professor-ly outfits are far less recognizable and much more wearable in an everyday context. Those suits will hardly get a second glance unless you're in a very dressed down area of the world. This is the essential difference between clothing and costume.
Indiana Jones sure looks cool, but even he doesn't wear this outfit outside his own brand of "archaeology".

I've also noticed some people wearing bits of Doctor Who costumes as a regular thing. Some of them work better than others. For example, the Tenth Doctor suit can just pass as an eccentric lounge suit (I'm not personally fond of four buttons in the 21st century), tweed sport coats like the Eleventh's are always stylish, and the overcoats from the last few look like something one could obtain from a high street shop. Also, one could hardly fault a fan for wearing one of the quirky tie designs with another suit in their wardrobe. It's probably best to leave the frock coats and other purposefully odd designs from the last century's Doctors in the closet though. Again, worn all together these looks are pretty iconic and probably shouldn't be worn outside of an appropriate venue for cosplay. Not to mention, sneakers with a suit aren't especially stylish; it's fine for the character, though.

The Tenth Doctor is one of the most cosplayed characters to this day.
The overcoat or suit could be worn on their own just fine.

Most of all, you should still feel like you. It's okay to get a confidence boost from dressing similarly to someone else you like, but if the clothes wear you and you don't wear them, it can show. Along the same lines, stick with clothing that flatters your body best, don't just choose certain styles and cuts just because they are worn by characters you admire. It may not be screen accurate, but it will look a lot better on you.


  1. Thanks for your thoughts. I'm with ya that certain costume pieces can work by themselves. Jesus Christ though, please never wear sneakers with a suit outside of dressing up as the Doctor! I still see some kids, let alone grown men in their 30s and 40s doing it to this day and it looks god-awful. Not even Chucks or something else simple, just straight up modern New Balances or Nikes. I dunno about a four button suit though because that probably belongs in the 1910s or whenever they were last in fashion.

    Just wanted to ask though, what is cosplay? I googled it but the definition's still vague. Isn't it basically the same thing as wearing a costume for Halloween? Also wanted to ask if you just dislike three button suits or think they don't look good on taller guys?

    1. No disagreement there. But four button suits were actually last fashionable in the 2000s. Not for very long as I recall. Well dressed men were still wearing two or three button. Men's Wearhouse carried a few, mostly black. I almost got one before I started learning better!

      I could have worded it better, but what I meant was that three button suits are not a requirement for taller people. But for jackets I typically favour a two button or three button with the lapels rolled down to the second button. I think it looks nice to have a long V of shirt showing. That said, I wouldn't mind fashion swinging back to a "true" three button done well, that is with a slight roll at the top button.

      Cosplay is basically dressing as a particular character, such as Captain Jack Sparrow and not just "pirate captain". It's also typically done in more open spaces, like a pop culture convention that runs all day, rather than someone's Halloween party for a few hours. I've met a lot of people through cosplay and it's probably the ultimate way to express one's fandom.

  2. Nice getup, wrong gun though! Should be Walther P99. Still looks great though. Where'd you get everything?

    1. Sorry for the delay in replying. Yes, I'm aware that it should be a P99. But unfortunately I couldn't find an airsoft version with the suppressor that didn't cost $200 or so. Even this isn't quite right, it's a PPK/S instead of a PPK. Bond uses the latter in the fight with Dryden's contact and on the poster. So... somewhat justified.

      Thanks. The dinner suit is Brooks Brothers Golden Fleece (Madison Fit), shirt is Modena, bow tie The Cordial Churchman, watch Kenneth Cole, cufflinks Express, and shoes Allen Edmonds Carlyle. It's not totally screen accurate, but I focused on getting the closest look I could on a budget.

  3. Budget? That Golden Fleece tuxedo is like $2100! The shoes are $385. You definitely could have gotten the real deal for the shirt if you wanted. :)

    1. I paid much less for both! The tuxedo was old stock, $400 from a trusted seller on Ask Andy and the shoes (Carlyle) were $199 from the Allen Edmonds Shoe Bank. They occasionally have good discounts off the already lower price when the regular online store does, so it's worth checking out every once in a while.


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