Robert Redford as Jay Gatsby, enigmatic millionaire and eager romantic
Long Island, NY, midsummer 1925
Film: The Great Gatsby
Release Date: March 29, 1974
Director: Jack Clayton
Costume Designer: Theoni V. Aldredge
According to tradition passed down to us from generations of snobs, Labor Day is the last socially acceptable day for Americans to wear white prominently. If you’re scrambling to get your white in before your country club bars you for showing up in October with your favorite ivory sport coat, follow Gatsby’s example to make a solid impression.
In his 1925 book, F. Scott Fitzgerald describes Gatsby’s attire as:
…Gatsby, in a white flannel suit, silver shirt, and gold-colored tie, hurried in.
After not seeing the love of his life for five years, Gatsby chose this loud outfit to get her attention back. Gatsby never lets on why he chose such a loud outfit (although his pink suit proves he obviously has a penchant for them), but it’s very likely that the last time he saw Daisy he was wearing the only clothing he had then, an army uniform.
To win back his materialistic love, Gatsby chose an outfit that screams, “I have tons of money and can afford to actually wear something like this.” If you have tons of money and can afford to wear this as well, be my guest. I tried to pull it off after reading the book in seventh grade to mediocre results.
What’d He Wear?
Although not flannel as described in Fitzgerald’s passage, Redford’s white suit (actually more of an off-white) appears to be a lightweight wool. Linen would probably be the best option for a hot summer (especially in the non-air-conditioned 1920s) and was used for Leo’s suit in the Baz Luhrmann adaptation earlier this year.
The cut is almost exactly the same as the “goddamn pink suit” Redford wears later in the film, although that suit actually is linen. Like the pink suit, the style is very much a 1970s adaptation of the ’20s rather than a straight ’20s look as used in the more recent film. This is most evident with the jacket. Instead of being a athletic cut jacket with slim peak lapels and narrow pocket flaps, Redford’s jacket has very large notch lapels and pocket flaps. The swelled edges on the lapels are also a ’70s detail.
The jacket is ventless and closes in the front with two white buttons. When Gatsby wears the jacket closed – very briefly – it still has generous room despite the front darts to fit. The three buttons on each cuff are white to match the others. Gatsby completes the look by doffing a handkerchief – in the same metallic blue as his shirt – in the jacket’s welted breast pocket.
The vest/waistcoat is a very 1920s-looking garment and the most unique part of the suit. It is double-breasted with peak lapels and, despite three rows of two buttons to fasten, still has a very low neckline. The white buttons match those on the jacket. The vest is cut straight across the bottom.
There are four pockets – two on each side – with Gatsby keeping his pocketwatch in a lower pocket, draping the chain across the front of the vest without looping through any of the buttonholes.
Gatsby’s trousers are wide, but not nearly as roomy as the overly-faddy “Oxford bags” popular in England at the time. As an Oxford man, Gatsby wisely avoided adopting this fad for his own wardrobe. Since he wears the vest closed the whole time, we don’t see if the pants are held up with a belt or suspenders, but if they are the same as the pink suit pants, they have belt loops whether he uses them or not. The bottoms are cuffed with a half break.
If the shirt is the same as one of the colorful “beautiful shirts” in his massive closet, it’s made by famed British clothier Turnbull & Asser, a brand also favored by James Bond.
Gatsby’s shirt is not as strictly silver as Fitzgerald called for but is more of a metallic blue, possibly silk or a silk blend. It has a long ’70s-style point collar, fastened under the tie with a silver pin. It closes down a front placket with white buttons and has French cuffs. As mentioned, the handkerchief in the jacket’s breast pocket is likely the same cloth as the shirt.
The “gold-colored tie” is present, thickly tied under Gatsby’s neck. The color is more of a mustard gold and is a luxurious silk, something that the wealth-driven Daisy would’ve certainly appreciated.
On his feet, Gatsby wears a pair of white leather plain toe oxfords, probably with a pair of white or off-white dress socks. We don’t see the socks, so I can’t provide an example, but white dress socks should never be substituted with white athletic socks. Gatsby would’ve looked very silly if he crossed his legs and Daisy saw an And 1 logo on his calf.
Only some of Gatsby’s accessories are present, including the pocketwatch and Redford’s standard silver ring, worn on the third finger of his right hand. The ornate gold ring with the green stone, later worn on his left pinky, isn’t seen yet but Redford doesn’t shy away from wearing it in the production photos.
Production photos show Gatsby wearing a white newsboy cap with this outfit, but we never actually see him with it in the film so… oh well.
In the 2013 adaptation, Leonardo DiCaprio wears a slightly more period-correct outfit, with an off-white linen two-piece suit and a contrasting dark brown waistcoat. The shirt is actually pretty similar to Redford’s, worn with a gold striped tie. Major differences include the brown & white two-tone spectator shoes and wristwatch favored by DiCaprio’s Gatsby rather than the all-white shoes and pocketwatch sported by Redford.
DiCaprio’s linen suit may be more practical for wearing in mid-summer, but who ever said Gatsby was a practical person?
Go Big or Go Home
Gatsby’s come a long way since Daisy first told him off for being a “poor boy” trying to marry a “rich girl”. He has some more conservative suits in his collection, like the dark brown number he wears when he takes Nick to lunch, but what about that suit screamed wealth? No, Gatsby is dressing to impress, so he pulls out all the stops. Most importantly, white is Daisy’s favorite color, so how could she not fall instantly for a man wearing an all-white suit?
Things may not ultimately end well for Gatsby, but he teaches us all a lesson about love – if you’re going to pursue the girl of your dreams, don’t be afraid to make an ass of yourself (such as wearing a white three-piece suit on a rainy day). Just pop the Dom Perignon and drink with her while you can, savoring every moment.
How to Get the Look
Like the pink suit, I doubt this is something you’ll be able to find off the rack. Your best luck is to make friends with an excellent tailor who has a penchant for ’20s recreations.
- Off-white three-piece suit, consisting of:
- Single-breasted suit coat with wide notch lapels, 2 white button front, 3 white button cuffs, welted breast pocket, wide straight flapped hip pockets, padded shoulders, ventless rear, and white silk lining
- Double-breasted vest with wide peak lapels, 6 white button front (3 to close), straight-cut bottom, and 4 welted pockets
- Double forward-pleated trousers with open side pockets with cuffed bottoms
- Metallic blue silk long-sleeve dress shirt with white buttons down front placket, French cuffs, and a large point collar (fastened by a silver pin)
- Mustard gold silk necktie
- Gold cuff links
- White leather plain toe balmoral/oxford shoes with dark soles
- White dress socks
- 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
- Metallic blue pocketsquare matching the shirt
Do Yourself a Favor and…
Klipspringer has been here since a party I threw in April. I didn’t even realize he was here until two weeks ago.
Ideally, we’ll all have a house some day big enough where someone could be living there for two months before you even notice.