Sean Connery is globally recognized as the original, quintessential James Bond. His expansive career included far more contributions to film than just his six appearances as 007. Although his role as the world’s most famous spy made him a sartorial pin-up for many aspiring gentlemen, let’s give Sean Connery the recognition he deserves as a style icon. You either “have it” or you don’t. Sean Connery “had it.”
Connery, born in 1930 in Edinburgh, Scotland, had a humble upbringing. At the age of 16, he joined the Royal Navy. During his service, he acquired two tattoos, of which his official website states "...unlike many tattoos, his were not frivolous — his tattoos reflected two of his lifelong commitments: his family and Scotland. One tattoo is a tribute to his parents and reads ‘Mum and Dad,’ and the other is self-explanatory, 'Scotland Forever.'"
Connery had a deep sense of self-image, engaging in modeling for a local art school and bodybuilding competitions. Seeking to supplement his income, Connery began assisting backstage at the King's Theatre in late 1951. It was during a bodybuilding competition held in London in 1953, however, that one of the competitors mentioned auditions being held for a production of South Pacific. Connery landed a small part as one of the Seabees chorus boys. By the time the production reached Edinburgh, he had been given the part of Marine Corporal.
Connery was also an avid footballer, having played for Bonnyrigg Rose in his youth. While on tour with South Pacific, Connery played in a football match against a local team that Matt Busby, manager of Manchester United at the time, happened to be scouting. According to reports, Busby was impressed with his athletic ability and offered Connery a contract to play immediately after the game.
Connery said he was tempted, but recalled, "I really wanted to accept because I loved football. I realized that a top-class footballer could be over the hill by the age of 30, and I was already 23. I decided to become an actor and it turned out to be one of my more intelligent moves."
Connery continued acting in smaller theaters and television productions until his breakout role as Bond. Sean Connery’s James Bond set the template for subsequent Bonds’ ambiance and attire. Just about everything that Sean Connery wore as James Bond is emulated today to represent timeless, gentlemanly Bond style. He led with his shoulders and his wicked grin. He also had charisma and charm.
Connery played Bond for 11 years, despite loathing how it defined and constrained him as an actor. Although he did not enjoy the off-screen attention the role gave him, the success of the Bond films brought Connery offers from other notable directors. He left the franchise and came back twice, first in 1971’s “Diamonds are Forever,” then in 1983 in the off-brand “Never Say Never Again.”
Like Bond, the man himself had impeccable style, which would inform the wardrobes of generations of men. Connery’s Bond outfits were tailored to fit his brawny frame just so. He wore many suits in the Bond movies, which were the work of Anthony Sinclair, a talented tailor from London’s Savile Row.
Perhaps it was his Scottish roots shining through, but Connery was quite an aficionado of men’s jackets. From traditional tartan to classic tweed, it seems he rarely donned a jacket he didn’t wear well. One fine example is the famous hacking jacket featured in Goldfinger.
While Connery’s outfits might have appeared simple and sober. The intangible value in Sean Connery was his powerful presence both on and off-screen. Ultimately, it was his charisma that did all the talking. His attire wasn’t loud, and so therefore he wasn’t drowned out by it. Instead, it merely complemented his image of confidence and, like a decanter for wine, gave him a vessel that allowed him room to expand on his raw talents as an actor.
Connery contributed to the construction of a particular style of mid-century masculinity. One that was more relaxed than the pre-war version. His style was often at odds with modern menswear, which is littered with logos and layered with fussy accessories. Elegance lies in simplicity, which is much more elusive. Timeless simplicity ages better as well, versus attempting to keep up with whatever flair is fashionable for the day.
It would be a mistake to assume that Connery somehow naturally was (or became) James Bond. It took work to get to the point where he could put on a tuxedo and holster a Walther PPK to embody one of literature’s most famous protagonists.
According to Bond historians, the seeds of Connery’s performance came from early Bond director and consummate English gentleman, Terence Young. It is said that, given his very modest upbringing, Young took the unpolished Scotsman under his wing and taught him how to be credible as a man of the world.
To reflect on Connery is to reflect on changing conceptions of manhood. Mischievous and cantankerous from youth to old age, Connery never mellowed in the way that he theoretically should have with the advantage of age and wisdom. Not to say he wasn’t a man to hold company with, but given the advantages his career offered his fame and wealth, the man himself never bent.
He was a member of the Scottish National Party (SNP), a centre-left political party campaigning for Scottish independence from the United Kingdom. He reportedly supported the party financially, and advocated for their purpose through personal appearances.
Connery enthusiasts have full conversations reciting lines he was known for, leaning into the actor’s glottal vowels, trilling r’s, and slight lisp. “He pullsh a knife, you pull a gun!” in his 1987 Oscar-winning performance in “The Untouchables,” for which he won Supporting Actor. This was deserved recognition for an understated and often underappreciated acting style.
Connery was the “it man” for how to speak, how to carry oneself, how to seem at home in a fine restaurant or a high-stakes casino, how to order drinks and which drinks to order. Connery absorbed and exuded it all. When the cameras rolled, he emanated a palpable gravitas that represented not only the spirit of Bond on the page, but established the characteristics of the first borderline antihero in a long-running, hit franchise.
Few Scots have achieved his level of fame. His passing in 2020 was the end of a long love affair with an elusive man of talent, grit, style and grace. What made Sir Sean Connery’s legacy all the more remarkable is that he refused to court it. He simply let his aura do the talking.
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