Who could ever suggest James Bond never puts a foot wrong sartorially? While it tends to be Roger Moore’s seventies incarnation receiving most disdain, this baby blue towelling playsuit worn by Sean Connery in Goldfinger (1964, directed by Guy Hamilton) is commonly remembered as the actor’s one costume disaster. Yet, seen in period context and motion, plus modelled by one of the most handsome gentlemen who ever graced the screen, it might be worthy of reconsideration.
Worn for the film’s first post-credits scene, whereby Bond is introduced, informally, to megalomaniac villain Auric Goldfinger (Gert Frobe), this diminutive, crotch wrangling ‘beach wear’ is not especially typical for the time. Here featuring short sleeves, a trophy neck, patch chest pocket and slanted hip pockets, attached belt with gold buckle and zip front, this style of garment was actually more popular during the 1950s.
Originally derived from one-piece bathing costumes donned by men in the Victorian era (incidentally they only became one-piece as separate shorts were often pulled down by water), Bond’s terrycloth ensemble is intended for parading around poolside and appearing halfway decent in hotel lobbies. Due to the absorbent nature of the fabric, swimming would have encouraged unsightly ‘sagging’.
For women, the playsuit was championed mostly by American designer Claire McCardell, who came to prominence during the Second World War as French fashion exports faltered under German occupation. She enjoyed working with hitherto unused cotton gingham, generally in a more fitted style than Bond’s example and often with a halterneck. Bond slips his playsuit over trunks. We largely have Tarzan to thank for this form of male bathing suit, or certainly for its acceptability in public. When Johnny Weissmuller wore a pair of trunks for Tarzan the Ape Man (1932), the world became excited much the same as they would two years later when Clark Cable left his vest at home for It Happened One Night.
Bond has no compunction showing his chest around Miami Beach. His friend and CIA contact Felix Leiter (Cec Linder) on the other hand, wearing a single breasted grey suit and summer trilby, looks overdressed. This occurred with Bond himself to some extent in Dr. No (1962) when he trailed Quarrel in Jamaica. That said, if James Bond’s identity is determined by the clothes he wears, at this point in Goldfinger he clearly affords a more relaxed air. He is ‘on holiday’ after all.
What is just so typically ‘Bondian’ about the 007 playsuit is what he manages to achieve in it. Outsmart Goldfinger within minutes of discovering who he is and then steal the man’s girl, Jill Masterson (Shirley Eaton), with little more than some cheeky chat and the touch of towelling on bare skin. That this does not end well for Jill, precipitating one of the most famous death reveals of all time, is a turning point that will come to define the series. Just three movies in, however, the shock factor is still real.
The film incorporates some intriguing costume notes for the main cast too, the omnipresent hint of yellow on Goldfinger himself; check waistcoat, cardigan, golden revolver, for example. Or robust, and implicitly lesbian in the orginal novel, Pussy Galore (Honor Blackman) always in trousers, even when supposedly seducing Bond (actually the other way round); the familiar association of female homosexuality with masculine dress.
Undoubtedly James Bond in a towelling playsuit is not his finest hour, but nor is it his most shameful. If Moore can get away with a singlet vest and western cut leisure suit variation in Live and Let Die (1973), then Connery is allowed the odd costume revolt during his generally faultless tenure. Moreover, he does wear it well. Possibly a little tall for the length of shorts as they make the actor’s legs appear rather skinny, plus unzipping and stepping out of the garment for Bond’s (thankfully unseen) pre-coital seduction would not be his most typically macho moment. Yet, confidence oozing like charisma scented aftershave, he just about gets away with it.
This post is in honour of The Incredible Suit’s daftly brilliant ‘BlogalongaBond’ initiative, which you can read all about HERE.
© 2011 – 2013, Christopher Laverty.