Robert Redford as Jay Gatsby, enigmatic millionaire and eager romantic
Long Island, NY, late summer 1925
Film: The Great Gatsby
Release Date: March 29, 1974
Director: Jack Clayton
Costume Designer: Theoni V. Aldredge
So today is the day that Baz Luhrmann is releasing his interpretation of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s great American novel The Great Gatsby. Saving any comment on that for the end, it only seems appropriate to look at some of the iconic suits that Robert Redford donned for his portrayal of Gatsby almost forty years ago.
By the early to mid 1970s, men’s suits were beginning to revert back to styles popular during the height of the Roaring Twenties: bright three-piece suits with wide lapels, double-breasted waistcoats, and flared legs. Some credit the fact the coke-and-disco fueled ’70s were a replication of the booze-and-jazz fueled ’20s and that the style would naturally gravitate towards excess. Others point to the award-winning costumes made by Theoni V. Aldredge for 1974’s The Great Gatsby.
I wasn’t around then, so I certainly can’t comment first hand, but plenty of evidence seems to point to Aldredge’s costumes influencing much of men’s style in the mid-’70s. In fact, GQ magazine even published a popular cover featuring Redford as Gatsby in the very pink suit covered here, declaring that The Great Gatsby was “the movie that’s influencing what you wear”. I guess that settles that argument.
Although the suits were a bit too ’70s-y – as most period films in the ’70s ended up facing – there’s no doubting that there are plenty of great suits throughout The Great Gatsby, with BAMF Style hero Robert Redford receiving the most memorable of them.
For any of the six people out there unfamiliar with the story, The Great Gatsby was a novel published in the 1920s by F. Scott Fitzgerald with themes of love, loss, wealth, power, etc. It has been called “the great American novel” by more than one person who would know what they’re talking about, so if you haven’t read it, maybe you should consider picking up a copy. Try getting one with an original cover before all the ones with Leo’s face plastered over the front will be dominating book shelves.
By this point, Gatsby has spent the majority of the story yearning after past love Daisy, showing off his immense new-found wealth to win her heart. Their romance has one last test, set in late summer, when Gatsby is forced to accompany Daisy and her husband Tom into New York for a day in the city.
So if you’re looking for something to wear for “the hottest day of the year”, I present…
What’d He Wear?
“Oxford [man] like hell… he wears a goddamn pink suit,” decries Tom Buchanan, the brutish but sharp-dressed rival for Daisy’s affection. The eventual truth proves that maybe Tom isn’t so wrong in judging a book by its cover.
However, where Tom channels the cold, hard business world with his sharp grays and blues, Gatsby – the optimistically but tragically romantic westerner – shows up in various pastels and earth tones throughout.
As Tom’s quote implies, one of the two iconic suits in the both the 1974 film and the original Fitzgerald novel is the pink suit that Gatsby wears for the book’s climax, the fateful trip into the city on “the hottest day of the year,” resulting in a shouting match and death… for some.
Aldredge clearly based her suit for Gatsby in this scene off of traditional “Oxford baggies” worn by young men in the ’20s. This one has more of a 1970s flair, as a more period-correct suit would have likely had more trim peak lapels, but Redford still looks the part perfectly.
The material appears to be a soft linen, which would make sense given the repeated mentions of the day’s extreme heat. To Tom’s dismay, the color is a light pink.
The single-breasted jacket has very wide notch lapels and padded shoulders. It has white buttons, fastening with two in the front and featuring three decorative buttons on each cuff. The rear is ventless, as many recreational suits of the period were. A white linen handkerchief is bunched into the breast pocket. The ventless jacket also features straight hip pockets with wide flaps.
The most notable part of Gatsby’s pink suit is the double-breasted waistcoat. It has six buttons, three rows of two, which are white like the jacket. It is cut straight across the bottom, unlike Tom and Nick’s vests. There are four welted pockets – two on the chest, two lower. An adjustable strap is fastened across the rear lining, which is light blue silk to match the jacket’s inner lining.
He also wears a gold pocketwatch, tied to a thin gold chain worn through his vest and kept in his vest pocket.
Gatsby’s trousers are light pink like the rest of his suit, with double forward pleats and cuffed bottoms. There is an open pocket on each side and two pockets in the rear. The left rear pocket closes with a buttoning flap, and the right rear pocket is jetted and left open.
An emerging style of the era was belt loops on pants, rather than suspenders. Gatsby wears a white belt through the loops of his trousers. Belts were not commonly worn with three-piece suits, even after they became more common with other suits, but Gatsby could be considered a trail blazer.
Gatsby wears a white shirt with the suit, which quickly (and realistically) succumbs to “ring around the collar” as the day goes on. It has large, attached club collars and white buttons fastening down a wide front placket. Interestingly, the film has a strange continuity error when Gatsby’s collar are seen fastened by a gold collar pin during the drive into town. The pin isn’t seen at all before or after the drive.
Through the single cuffs of his shirt, Gatsby wears a set of large rounded gold cuff links with a dark brown oblong center stone. Gatsby keeps his cuff links in as long as he can, even after unbuttoning his gauntlet buttons from the heat, perhaps to maintain his “illusion of richness” as a way to make himself comfortable without sacrificing the apparent indulgences of his new wealth.
Gatsby’s tie is silk with a light blue ground. A yellowish floral crest pattern repeats throughout the tie, which is tied in a Windsor knot.
On his feet, Gatsby wears a pair of white laced plain-toe leather oxfords with dark brown soles. He wears a pair of light cream ribbed dress socks with them.
Unlike some other BAMF characters, Gatsby doesn’t scrimp on accessories. In addition to the usual Redford silver ring, worn on his right ring finger, Gatsby also has a large gold pinky ring with a dark green stone on his left pinky.
Gatsby wears a white newsboy cap while driving. The newsboy cap was a common piece of casual headgear in the 1920s, slightly more formal than the flat cap with its rounder, fuller shape and panels leading to a button on top. According to Wikipedia, the newsboy cap was also known as: Apple Cap, Applejack Hat, Baker Boy, Cabbie, Eight Panel, Eight Piece Cap, Fisherman’s Cap, Lundberg Stetson, Newsy Cap, Pageboy, and – interestingly enough – the Gatsby Cap. It was one of the few accessories that could be found on any male, from street urchin boys to business tycoons.
Gatsby’s white version is an appropriate cap for a sporting young millionaire looking forward to a summer day in the country.
Keep in mind that, if you’re going to be wearing this three-piece suit in the summer, you have to make sure you “always look so cool” despite sweating your ass off.
In the 2013 adaptation, it looks like Leo will wear a slightly toned-down, more period-accurate version of this suit. It is also single-breasted with a 2-button front, but features slim peak lapels and white pinstripes. Underneath, he will wear a white shirt with a narrow tab collar and a tie with wide burgundy and salmon stripes. He accessorizes with a straw boater and vintage amber-tinted sunglasses. There is also a waistcoat to match the rest of the suit. No belt, instead replaced by blue patterned suspenders.
Go Big or Go Home
It’s no stretch to say that Gatsby is one of the greatest literary dreamers and that his failure to grasp the true American dream, despite an everlasting hope, is one of the greatest stories of all time. Fitzgerald seemed to recognize his own romantic immaturity by embodying it in Gatsby, who lives in excess and flashiness despite not truly caring about it, as he explains to his neighbor Nick, “I don’t care much for parties.” In many ways, Gatsby is the young sixth grade boy who goes out of his way to be class clown just to get a girl’s attention. Are the ends really worth the means, especially if the ends are never obtained?
But that’s enough of the high level stuff, let’s look at the details of Gatsby’s life.
It is this sequence that most prominently features Gatsby’s beautiful but deadly luxury car, a bright yellow 1928 Rolls-Royce Phantom I Springfield Brewster “Ascot” tourer. Not necessarily a car just to get from A to B.
He pulls up to the New York hotel with the ’20s jazz standard “It Had to Be You” playing, part of Nelson Riddle’s excellent soundtrack for the flick.
Gatsby does all the things popular in the ’20s; he smokes, drinks, and cuckolds. We see him smoking a cigar in the first scene at the Buchanans’ and, later on Nick’s porch, Gatsby kindly splits his last Chesterfield cigarette with Nick.
However, and this CANNOT be encouraged – Gatsby litters. After he splits his last cigarette with Nick, he simply tosses the empty Chesterfield pack away. Shame on you, Mr. Gatsby. You deserve what’s coming.
What to Imbibe
At the hotel in New York, a waiter brings in glasses for mint juleps, complete with mint sprigs and crushed ice. Luckily enough for us, I just wrote about these on Tuesday for the 007th of May (and well-timed for the post-Kentucky Derby week, if I may say so myself), so if you want to read about those, head on over to my last post. Unfortunately, for our characters, these go untouched until Tom makes himself one using the whiskey he brought along.
Now, in the book, the characters indulge in gin rickeys while lounging at the Buchanan home. Reportedly, the gin rickey was a favorite drink of Fitzgerald.
Let’s investigate this delicious summertime libation…
A Rickey is technically any cocktail with a liquor, carbonated water, and the juice of half a lime dropped into the glass. The first rickey was created with Bourbon whiskey at Shoomaker’s in Washington, D.C. by bartender George A. Williamson and lobbyist Col. Joe Rickey in 1883. Within ten years, gin had replaced Bourbon (not sure why those two would even be in competition) and the gin rickey was the go-to cocktail for society folks enduring warm weather.
In Chapter 7 of the book, Daisy asks Tom to make them all cool drinks. He leaves the room, allowing Daisy to kiss Gatsby in front of their lunch guests, and returns to the room with four gin rickeys.
So how do we make one? Get a tall highball glass. The taller the better, because that means you’ll be having more to drink. Fill it with ice and add two ounces of gin. Given the tensions of the luncheon, it’s likely that Tom dropped in quite a bit more. Top it off with carbonated water, squeeze half of a lime’s worth of juice into the glass, drop in the lime, and voila! Your summer day – and the people around you – just became a little more bearable.
How to Get the Look
Proceed with caution. If you really are a Gatsby, a romantic dreamer who cares only about what your one true love thinks of you, get that well-fitted pink suit and go after your Daisy Buchanan. Just don’t piss off any mechanics along the way…
- Light pink linen suit:
- Single-breasted 2-button suit coat with wide notch lapels, welted breast pocket, wide straight flapped hip pockets, padded shoulders, 3-button cuffs, ventless back, and light blue silk lining
- Double-breasted vest with wide peak lapels, 6 white button front, straight-cut bottom, 4 welted pockets, and light blue silk lining with adjustable rear strap
- Double forward-pleated trousers with belt loops, open side pockets, button-flapped rear left pocket, jetted rear right pocket, and cuffed bottoms
- White shirt with wide attached club collar, white buttons down front placket, and single cuffs
- Light blue silk necktie with a yellowish floral crest pattern throughout, tied in a Windsor knot
- Large rounded gold cuff links with a dark brown oblong center stone
- White plain-toe leather oxford shoes with dark brown rubber soles
- Light cream ribbed dress socks
- White newsboy cap
- White belt
- Gold pocketwatch on thin gold chain, worn in left vest pocket
- Plain silver ring, worn on right ring finger
- Ornate gold ring with dark green stone, worn on left pinky
Do Yourself a Favor and…
Buy the movie.
And, since it’s an American classic, make sure you read the book too.
Your wife never loved you. She’s never loved you, she loved me.
Takes some balls to say, doesn’t it?
I have mixed feelings about the Baz release. I haven’t seen it yet, and it certainly looks good, visually. The casting seems top-notch, with Leo likely turning in another stellar performance and Carey Mulligan channeling the delicate and fickle pixie that is Daisy Buchanan. Also, it seems like the attire will be more period-correct and we will most likely see a couple of DiCaprio’s suits showing up on this blog in the future (like the light brown, white, and pink suits…)
Something just seems… off. Perhaps it’s just the ads, but it seems an awful lot like the focus is on “look how grand his parties are!” rather than “look how much he thought he loved this chick!” And another thing, Fitzgerald himself coined the term “jazz age” and the book is seen to exemplify the “jazz age”. So what the hell is up with a will.i.am soundtrack? I get that Bryan Ferry’s 2012 recording “Love is the Drug” on the soundtrack was made to sound like it was made in the 1920s and blah, blah, blah, but come on? Would it have killed Baz to include some Paul Whiteman or even some Al Jolson just as background music? Advantage Redford version, which featured a stellar (and rare) Nelson Riddle soundtrack that re-recorded hits of the ’20s using very accurate arrangements. Thankfully, I was able to pick up the LP.
Anyway, I’ll know better after I see the flick with my wonderful girlfriend on Saturday. Hoping for the best!
Update: I saw the 2013 version and – once I got used to it – I loved it. It’s not a perfect literal translation (the ’74 version is much more page-to-screen), but it’s a great adaptation and definitely a Gatsby retelling for the modern generation. Also, I was wrong about the music. Some old tracks were certainly included, most notably Irving Aaronson & the Commanders’ “Let’s Misbehave” and a version of “Ain’t Misbehavin'”. Although they were slightly anachronistic, written in 1928 and 1929 respectively, they were certainly welcome. Highlights included Leo and Carey Mulligan’s performances, any scenes featuring cars, the look of the film (and of course the suits), and the more serious scenes towards the end. I realize Baz wanted us to fall in love with his vision of the parties, but enough is enough.
You will definitely see some of Gatsby’s suits, and probably some from Tom and Nick as well, on this blog.