How To Dress in Great Gatsby Style
THE GREAT GATSBY AND THE AGE OF MENSWEAR STYLE
The Great Gatsby captured an era when style mattered – more than substance, more than truth, more than love. Published in 1925, this exquisitely crafted classic, the quintessential novel of the Jazz Age, laid bare the America of the Roaring Twenties, a time of consumerism and growth (at least for some), when fortunes were made and wealth was meant to be displayed and enjoyed.
The story of mysterious millionaire Jay Gatsby and his doomed pursuit of society beauty Daisy Buchanan, marked the pinnacle of F Scott Fitzgerald’s short but dazzling career and gave a glimpse into a world of decadent parties on Long Island where established and new monied classes rubbed shoulders and young folk languidly rebelled against prohibition and establishment constraints.
The Great Gatsby contains many references to the fashions of the era, especially menswear fashions. Fitzgerald himself was a notoriously stylish man, a lover of fine tailoring and with a distinctive flair for accessorising. The novel uses clothing to symbolise not just era and character, but pretensions, delusions, hopes and dreams.
Like wealthy British men of the 1920s, rich Americans had extensive wardrobes, often with suits for all occasions and an increasing number of leisurewear options as sports and the motor car grew in popularity. The Americans loved British style – reflected when Gatsby notes he has a man in England who buys his clothes – but younger American men took a more relaxed approach to 1920s dressing, favouring easier shapes and a less buttoned-up attitude. Ivy League students studying in the UK brought back Oxford bags, but made them their own by switching in sporty shirts and jackets, spectator shoes, contrast waistcoats, stripes and chevron designs, for an altogether more casual and athletic take.
The style icon status of The Great Gatsby has been cemented by two notable big screen adaptations, the 1974 film starring Robert Redford and featuring designs by Ralph Lauren, and Baz Luhrmann’s lavish 2013 version with Leonardo DiCaprio. Both films reflect the new elegance and sophistication of men’s fashion in the 1920s but each does so in a way that unapologetically reflects the time in which the films themselves were made. And take a leaf here because this is the way to go when introducing 1920s style into your own wardrobe. It’s less a case of period pastiche, more a case of evoking something of the essence of the era, its quality of cut and co-ordinated head-to-toe approach, its thoughtfulness, its surprising touches of boldness. Contemporary shapes and fabrics will keep it all current and playful. With its emphasis on heritage, superior tailoring and strikingly unusual prints and accessories, Cordings is a first port of call when introducing a dash of Gatsby style. Here are some pieces to consider:
THE PALE SUMMER SUIT
When Gatsby nervously dresses for his first clandestine reunion with lost love Daisy Buchanan, he wears a “white-flannel suit, silver shirt, and gold-coloured tie” – an oddly ostentatious choice and clearly designed to impress just as a peacock unfurls his fan of glistening, mesmerising feathers. Pale coloured suits denoted money and class not least because, in the 1920s, it was costly to make fabrics lighter in both weight and colour. For their incarnations as Jay Gatsby, Robert Redford and Leonardo DiCaprio wore killer white suits. DiCaprio’s was worn with a waistcoat in a darker contrast tan shade – a nice touch to consider for this summer’s special event dressing. Cordings linen suiting is substantial yet supple and light in Italian linen, perfect for evoking that cool Gatsby Long Island look.
WEEKEND NEW YORKER
For a slightly more ‘summer in the city’ look, try Cordings cotton fine drill suiting, which comes as a three-piece for a fully co-ordinated look. For a modern take, wear with a simple blue Oxford shirt, tie optional, or emulate a little of that Ivy League sporty style of Daisy’s husband, Tom Buchanan, and wear as a two-piece with a white polo shirt.
MORE THAN A DASH OF PINK
In Chapter 7 a resentful Tom Buchanan makes scornful reference to Jay Gatsby’s pink suit – a bold shade for the 1920s and one that marks Gatsby out as singular in both dress and demeanour. Cordings is famous for its vast array of coloured trouser options, including pale pink and bright pink, for men who prefer to dress with flair and individuality. The lightweight gabardine trousers are made for summer in strong but soft gabardine with 2% elastane to keep their pristine shape. To hint at an elegantly dapper Gatsby co-ordinating style, pair a pale pink pair of gabardine trousers with Cordings linen shirt in the same shade.
One thing we do know about Jay Gatsby is that he loves shirts. “I’ve got a man in England who buys me clothes,” he tells Daisy and our narrator Nick Carraway and then takes from his wardrobe a pile of shirts, throwing them “one by one, before us, shirts of sheer linen and fine flannel … shirts with stripes and scrolls and plaids in coral and apple-green and lavender and faint orange, with monograms of Indian blue”. Today, even Gatsby would be spoilt for choice at Cordings – Oxford shirts, tattersall shirts, linen shirts, poplin shirts, brushed cotton shirts and more. The poplin cotton blue and pink check shirt is an excellent option – cool, smart and subtly eye-catching.
Flannel was the everyday fabric of choice for wealthy men at their leisure in the 1920s, when much suiting would be of wool, even for summer. With its milled and slightly raised finish, flannel allowed for a more casual attitude, while maintaining their air of well-dressed smartness. Cordings flannel trousers in soft grey offer that same light but tailored appeal and they travel beautifully. Team with a crisp poplin shirt and an easy blazer, old sport.
In the 2013 Baz Luhrmann adaptation of The Great Gatsby, Tobey Maguire as Nick Carraway wears a green knitted cardigan for hosting a ‘casual’ meeting between Jay Gatsby and Daisy. A knitted waistcoat makes for a more practical modern-day summer knitwear option, worn over a cotton shirt and accessorised with a plain knitted tie for a smart-casual take on weekend dressing.
Ties have always allowed a way for men to customise their outfits to reflect their personality, their old-school connections or their bold aspirations. Jay Gatsby’s gold tie with silver shirt hints at trying too hard, but there’s no doubting the timeless and impressive appeal of a gold tie, worn with either a light or dark-toned suit. Cordings gold flock of birds print tie is made in Italy in pure silk to add a dash of simple statement luxury to co-ordinated tailoring. Pocket hanks should co-ordinate beautifully with both suit and tie, as F Scott Fitzgerald himself used to do – not necessarily exactly matching, but toning beautifully, exuding sophisticated elegance.