Robert Redford as Jay Gatsby, enigmatic millionaire and eager romantic
Long Island, New York, Late Summer 1925
Film: The Great Gatsby
Release Date: March 29, 1974
Director: Jack Clayton
Costume Designer: Theoni V. Aldredge
Clothes by: Ralph Lauren
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 styled in a manner contemporary to ’70s fashion, there’s no doubting that there are plenty of great suits throughout The Great Gatsby, with BAMF Style hero Robert Redford outfitted in 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.
Redford’s suit appears to be constructed from a soft, lightweight linen, a reasonable fabric given the repeated mentions of the day’s extreme heat. To Tom’s dismay, the color is a solid light pink
The single-breasted, ventless jacket has wide notch lapels—a ’70s-influenced detail, for sure—and padded shoulders. The white buttons—two to fasten on the front and three decorative cuff buttons—dress down the suit. The hip pockets have wide flaps and the welted breast pocket is dressed with a white linen pocket square.
Gatsby’s pink suit is lent additional character by the unique double-breasted waistcoat (vest), a period detail of all of his suits that keeps the outfit looking just as interesting even after Gatsby has removed the jacket the next morning. It has six buttons—three rows of two, all to fasten—which are white for consistency with the jacket, and the cut is straight across the bottom. The back is lined in slate-blue silk, matching the jacket’s inner lining, with an adjustable strap across the bottom.
Gatsby’s waistcoat has four welted pockets; he keeps his gold pocket watch in one of the lower pockets and loops it across the waistcoat with a gold chain.
Gatsby’s matching light pink suit trousers have double forward pleats and turn-ups (cuffs) on the bottoms. In addition to the side pockets, there are two back pockets, with a button-closed flap over the left back pocket only.
Belt loops were emerging as a popular alternative to suspenders (braces) on men’s dress trousers during the roaring ’20s, and Gatsby embraces this modern trend by forgoing suspenders in favor of a summer-friendly white belt that coordinates not only with his shoes but also the white buttons on his suit jacket and waistcoat.
Gatsby wears a pair of natty white lightly napped leather cap-toe oxfords with red brick soles, colloquially known as “bucks” for their buckskin origins. This classic approach to casual footwear originated in the South during the late 19th century but was popularized by stylish Ivy Leaguers during the Jazz Age. “Bucks have enjoyed continual renaissances, mainly because they make ideal partners for dark jeans and khakis,” describes Esquire‘s The Handbook of Style, providing a modern context and adding to “consider them a semi-dress-up alternative to sneakers.” Gatsby wears his bucks with thematically harmonious cream-colored dress socks.
Gatsby wears a white cotton shirt that is uniquely styled with period-influenced details like a large club collar and single cuffs, both of which quickly (and realistically) succumb to “ring around the collar” as the sweaty day approaches its 24th hour. The shirt’s attached club collar echoes the fancier detached club collars of a previous era. (In an interesting continuity error, Gatsby is suddenly wearing a gold collar pin with this outfit as he and Daisy drive into New York; the pin isn’t seen again before or after this brief vignette.)
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 silk foulard tie is sky blue with a repeating pattern of ornate yellow floral crests and squares. He wears it in a large Windsor knot that adequately fills the substantial tie space between the rounded leaves of his shirt’s club collar.
Gatsby doesn’t scrimp on accessories, sporting not only Robert Redford’s usual silver ring that has adorned the third finger of his right hand since the late ’60s but also a large gold pinky ring with a dark green stone, perhaps evoking the light on Daisy’s dock that has motivated him thus far.
Gatsby wears a white newsboy cap while driving, an appropriately sporty hat for a dashing young millionaire looking forward to a summer afternoon.
The newsboy cap was common headgear during the roaring ’20s, decidedly more casual than the homburg or fedora but slightly more formal than the standard flat cap due to its rounder, fuller shape and eight-panel crown that centered with a button on the top.
In the 2013 adaptation, Leo wore a pink linen three-piece summer suit designed by Catherine Martin and likely executed by Brooks Brothers. You can read more about this pinstripe suit, accessorized with a straw boater and vintage-inspired sunglasses, in this post.
Go Big or Go Home
It’s no stretch to say that Jay 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. As Tom Buchanan later tells Nick, 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 00-7th 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 jacket with wide notch lapels, welted breast pocket, wide straight flapped hip pockets, padded shoulders, 3-button cuffs, ventless back, and slate-blue silk lining
- Double-breasted vest with wide peak lapels, 6 white button front, straight-cut bottom, 4 welted pockets, and slate-blue silk lining with adjustable rear strap
- Double forward-pleated trousers with belt loops, side pockets, button-flapped rear left pocket, jetted rear right pocket, and turn-ups/cuffs
- White cotton shirt with wide attached club collar, front placket, and single cuffs
- Large rounded gold cuff links with a dark brown oblong center stone
- Light blue silk necktie with a yellowish floral crest pattern throughout, tied in a Windsor knot
- White leather belt with single-prong buckle
- White napped leather cap-toe oxford bucks with brick-red rubber soles
- Cream ribbed dress socks
- White newsboy cap
- 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…
Check out 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 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.