James Bond has worn linen throughout his cinematic career - from dinner jacket to drawstring pants - keeping cool when the heat is on. The fabric, derived from the fibres of the flax plant, is one of the world’s most ancient textiles. The discovery of dyed and twisted flax fibres in a prehistoric cave in Georgia suggests that linen-like cloth may have been produced over 30,000 years ago, making it the oldest known manmade material.
Intended cultivation of the flax plant began between 4,000-5,000 BC
In ancient Mesopotamia, linen fabric was rare and highly prized due to its labour-intensive production, and only worn by the ruling classes. The significant cost of linen derives not only from the difficulty of working with the thread, but also because the flax plant itself requires a great deal of attention. The cloth was used as a form of currency in ancient Egypt, and also for mummification as linen was a symbol of light, purity and wealth.
Linen production in ancient Egypt
In the late 17th century, the linen industry in Ireland was developed, following the arrival of highly-skilled Huguenot weavers who had escaped religious persecution in France. By the Victorian era, Belfast had become the centre of the world's linen production, and the success of the industry saw the city's population double between 1841 and 1871, then double again over the next three decades.
Flax workers in Ireland (1942)
There was dramatic growth in the use of linen as a household textile between the 17th and 19th centuries, prompting homeowners to install linen-presses (linen cupboards) to store the products. In the 1970s, only 5% of global linen production was for apparel - by the turn of the millennium it was over 70%, and its increased use is evident in the evolving wardrobe of the world's favourite secret agent.
Sean Connery in Dr No (1962)
In the early Bond films, Sean Connery wore lightweight mohair suits by Anthony Sinclair whenever he needed to beat the heat. Linen has a well known tendency to wrinkle, so its use may not have been appropriate for the sharp-suited spy at the time - given his need to look unruffled. It wasn't until his fourth outing as Bond that Connery introduced linen to his wardrobe, but only in the form of trousers that he paired with a short-sleeved camp-collar shirt - a look that he replicated two years later in You Only Live Twice (1967) just before he retired from the role.
Linen trousers appear in Thunderball (1965)
In 1969, there was a new film (On Her Majesty's Secret Service) with a new Bond (George Lazenby) and a new tailor (Dimi Major) creating a new look. This was evident in the opening sequence - Bond's trademark dinner suit remained... but he wore it over a ruffle-fronted shirt. To further endorse the fact that things had changed, the first lounge suit he is seen wearing is not in the established 007 shades of blue and grey, but cream - and linen!
Lazenby in Irish linen (1969)
Lazenby's life as Bond was short lived, and Sean Connery made a comeback in Diamonds Are Forever (1971). Anthony Sinclair also returned to tailor his clothes, and was tasked with creating an outfit that would be suitable for the heat of the Las Vegas desert. A cream Irish linen was selected - almost identical to that used by Major for George Lazenby's suit. Irish linen suiting fabrics have a relatively dense weave and are usually heavier in weight than those produced in other countries. This extra “body” is generally favoured by bespoke tailors.
Connery in the Las Vegas desert (1971)
When Roger Moore was cast as Bond for Live and Let Die (1973) it was difficult to imagine that he would follow his predecessors and wear a linen suit that could crumple and be at odds with his super-smooth image. His tailor, Cyril Castle, cut some wonderful clothes for the film, and when it came to linen he used a cloth that was blended with other fibres (probably silk and wool) to produce a blazer that retained the cool qualities of linen but had a softer drape and less wrinkling.
Roger Moore with a smoother look (1973)
Linen has an extraordinary ability to absorb and expel moisture, making it an exceptionally cool fabric to wear. It is the most sensible cloth for a gentleman to select if he is obliged or chooses to dress in a suit or jacket in a hot climate. Roger Moore accordingly plumped for a white linen dinner jacket during the India scenes in his penultimate Bond film, Octopussy.
White linen for Black Tie in Octopussy (1983)
Linen is often chosen as a more casual alternative to formal summer suitings. During Pierce Brosnan's Bond era, the actor donned beige linen suits in three of his four appearances as 007, and on each occasion he wore them without a tie - further illustrating their casual nature. The linen suit is missing from his wardrobe in Tomorrow Never Dies, but (perhaps being Irish) he cannot escape his love of the cloth, and wears a navy linen shirt in the motorcycle chase scene.
Brosnan in linen (1995-2002)
Brosnan's character had moved away from British tailoring and employed Italian manufacturer Brioni to produce his clothes. Therefore, the soft, lightweight, open-weave linen that he wears is undoubtedly Italian - some irony for an Irish Bond. However, as comfort became an increasing necessity for the 007 wardrobe, it was highly likely that Brosnan's successor would adopt the use of linen.
Casino Royale (2006)
When Daniel Craig hit the screen in Casino Royale (2006), he didn't disappoint Bond fans - or lovers of linen. The traditional opening "gun-barrel" sequence was given a change of format. Rather than being a standalone segment, it was part of the film's plot. It was also the first time Bond had been filmed in the pre-title sequence in anything other than a formal lounge suit or dinner suit... he is wearing an open-neck shirt and casual navy blue linen suit.
Bond and linen scale new heights in Madagascar
The Casino Royale wardrobe provided Bond with a number of linen garments. In addition to his navy blue suit there was a somewhat more refined version made in what appears to be a high quality sky-blue/grey linen fabric and, of course, the drawstring linen pants that he wore in the unforgettable free-running chase scene in Madagascar.
A refined version of the classic linen suit
In SPECTRE (2015), Daniel Craig presented another linen look for 007, with a mid-brown unstructured jacket that perfectly suits the qualities of the fabric. The addition of a necktie harks back to Bond's earliest adventures in flax-based cloth, and clearly shows that when the combination is right, it is possible to look both relaxed AND elegant in linen... even in the stickiest situations.
James Bond: relaxed and elegant in linen
Mason & Sons offer a complete collection of linen fabrics - from lightweight Italian cloth to the heavier, more substantial Irish qualities - all of which can be tailored into suits, blazers or trousers. Linen, or linen-blend shirts, ties and pocket squares can also be made to complete the look.
Elliot & David Mason in "Conduit Cut" linen suits