Robert Redford as Jay Gatsby, romantic millionaire and shady bootlegger
New York City, Summer 1925
Film: The Great Gatsby
Release Date: March 29, 1974
Director: Jack Clayton
Costume Designer: Theoni V. Aldredge
Well, it’s the arbitrarily-chosen second week of June, which means it’s time for the third semi-annual Car Week!
I’m kicking off this week by focusing on a very iconic car in both literature and film – Jay Gatsby’s big yellow Rolls-Royce tourer, a symbol of the era’s destructive opulence.
Since the suit in this post is a little dated (too 1970s, not enough 1920s), I found some shirts from Paul Fredrick that can add a fashionable and affordable Gatsby-like flair to your summer wardrobe.
What’d He Wear?
A dark wool three-piece suit doesn’t exactly evoke summer, but it is Gatsby’s choice of attire when taking Nick Carraway for a casual Saturday lunch. The caramel-colored suit mentioned both in the book (and used in the 2013 film) would have been more appropriate and comfortable, but it is perhaps a reflection of the more insecure Gatsby as portrayed by Redford that he would want to appear businesslike even on a hot summer day.
While “no brown in town” was still occasionally considered, Gatsby’s brown suit is excusable due to:
a) It’s a Saturday.
b) He’s coming from the more suburban Long Island.
c) He can buy and sell anyone who tells him otherwise.
Gatsby’s three-piece suit is lightweight dark brown wool with gray chalk striping. As with all of Redford’s suits in the film, the most ’70s part of the suit is the jacket with its wide notch lapels. While single-breasted, two-button jackets were not uncommon in the 1920s, Boardwalk Empire and the 2013 Gatsby film more correctly fitted their jackets with slimmer lapels, suppressed waists, and higher button stances. The lounge coat worn by Redford is much more of a product of the 1970s than the 1920s.
The jacket has flapped hip pockets and a welted breast pocket, where Gatsby wears a white linen handkerchief folded with an emerging point. The edges are stitched, most noticeably along the lapels when Gatsby is talking with Nick inside the restaurant.
The jacket also has 4-button cuffs, which appear to be functioning “surgeon’s cuffs”.
Gatsby never removes his jacket, but he wears it open throughout the sequence to keep his vest (waistcoat) exposed. The waistcoat is double-breasted with a straight cut bottom and a low-fastening 6×3 button stance. The double-breasted waistcoat is very evocative of the Roaring Twenties, and let’s say it makes up for the more disco-era jacket.
There are four welted pockets on the vest, best seen when Redford slips his hands into his trouser pockets and swings the coat back to show more of the vest. Gatsby wears his gold watch in his lower left pocket, strung across the middle of the vest with a thin chain.
Gatsby’s trousers are double reverse-pleated, fastening high on his waist under the vest as a three-piece suit’s trousers should. The trousers have a very roomy fit, though far less baggy than the mid-1920s fad of “Oxford bags”, which would coincidentally be avoided by a more conservative “Oxford man” like Gatsby. There are side pockets on the seams, which Redford frequently uses for his hands, and the slightly flared bottoms are plain-hemmed with no cuffs.
The bottom of the trousers are best seen in production stills or behind-the-scenes photos, although Redford posed for the photos wearing a pair of light brown plain-toe oxfords. In the film itself, Redford wore a pair of dark brown and white two-tone wingtip bluchers, likely with a pair of dark brown silk dress socks.
Gatsby maintains his brown motif throughout the outfit. His shirt is a pale ecru with contrasting white collars and cuffs. The contrast collars are large with a spread wide enough to accommodate his Windsor-knotted tie. The shirt buttons down a front placket.
Gatsby’s shirt has rounded single cuffs, also white, which he fastens together with ornate large gold oval cuff links with a dark green stone, similar to the ring he later buys Daisy and wears on his own pinky.
His tie is dark brown silk with tan geometric squares and small floral dots. The Windsor knot is a bit large for the era, but the deco-style shapes on his tie are appropriate for a fashion-forward young man like Gatsby.
Gatsby’s hat is a cream fedora that is lightweight felt rather than the more traditional summer choice of a straw Panama hat. It is, however, a more casual fedora with its triple-pleated dark brown ribbon.
Update: Thanks to Hal, a terrific commenter on this blog, I now know that this sort of pleated ribbon is known as a “puggaree”. A more casual summer hat with a puggaree ribbon can also be spotted in The Rum Diary.
Gatsby’s single accessory is the same plain silver ring that Redford always wears on his right ring finger.
Although there’s no doubting that it is luxuriously sharp, I’ve levied a bit too much unfair criticism at the suit for being a product of its time rather than of its setting. Of course, much like Brooks Brothers with the more recent adaptation, Ralph Lauren had a duty to itself as the film’s costumer to make sure that men would flock to their stores to dress like Gatsby rather than just watching the film and saying “Oh, look how period-accurate that is… it’s too bad I can’t wear it these days,” likely while Jim Croce plays somewhere in the background. Since it’s 1974.
Modernizing the Shirt (with Paul Fredrick)
The suit is very luxuriously cut; even if the suit is slightly too warm for a summer afternoon, the very ’70s shirt and tie combination can be very distracting. If you’d like a sleeker, more summer-friendly shirt and tie combination, Paul Fredrick has some great items in its 2014 summer collection.
Although aspects of the shirt in the film are too dated for comfort, the concept of a contrast collar shirt with a summer business suit is perfect for a man like Gatsby who needs to walk the line between conservative business dress and his flashy “new money” status. Paul Fredrick currently offers a number of eye-popping colored shirts with white contrast collars, all in comfortable 2-ply cotton and available for only $69.5-$79.50.
One perfect example with a brown suit would be the gray and tan striped shirt with a white spread contrast collar and French cuffs. A striped shirt adds an extra level of panache, although one should be careful when wearing it with a pinstripe suit. The example shirt is paired with a dark paisley silk tie, a very popular pattern among the 1920s elite that has been enjoying a modern resurgence.
Even with more conservative colors like gray or tan, a contrast collar shirt can stand out. Gatsby, whose pink suit is prominent in both the book and the films, is not a man who would necessary be bound to conservative colors, however. If you’re looking to get even more attention, Paul Frederick offers two Gatsbyesque shirts in melon orange with either an alternating satin stripe or a gradient herringbone stripe. Shirts like these show confidence and are perfect for a gentleman’s summer collection. Even the color “melon” evokes memories of biting into a refreshing cantaloupe on a hot day.
For an even more authentic 1920s experience, Paul Fredrick even offers a club collar, which is the formal name for the rounded collars you’ve seen on your great-grandparents wedding photos. When worn well – as it should be – the club collar presents a very classic and confident appearance. The particular shirt shown is mint green with a wide herringbone stripe.
Finally, let’s say you’re not into the whole contrast collar thing, but you still want an eye-popping shirt for summer that you can wear when you want to punch up a business suit. Paul Fredrick has a terrific yellow shirt with a wide satin stripe and straight collars. With button cuffs rather than French cuffs, this is more of a casual shirt that would look just as good with a pair of casual trousers as it would with a three-piece suit.
The entire Paul Fredrick dress shirt collection can be found here. As the owner and wearer of several Paul Fredrick shirts, I can personally confirm that the shirts are very comfortable and exude a look of modern luxury that can make any man look and feel just a little more like Jay Gatsby. (Without the tragic ending, of course.)
At the end of the day, you’re going to want a shirt collection that Daisy Buchanan would bury her face in, totally in awe of the fact that she’s “never seen such beautiful shirts.” Luckily for modern Gatsbys, Paul Fredrick can provide just that.
Go Big or Go Home
After a car ride consisting of tall tales in various degrees of height, Gatsby and Nick arrive at a small midtown Manhattan restaurant for lunch. The restaurant is more of saloon than the traditional “old money” eatery where a millionaire would take a friend to impress him. The room fills with smoke, and the tinkling piano in the corner plays “Beale Street Blues” as Nick is pulled further into Gatsby’s questionable orbit. Nick’s dubiety reaches its height when he notices Meyer Wolfsheim’s cuff links and he is proudly told that they are the “finest specimen of human molars.”
After Wolfsheim – played by the great Howard Da Silva – leaves the table, Nick nervously (and with some optimism) asks if he was a dentist. With a chuckle, Gatsby slyly informs Nick that Wolfsheim was the man who fixed the 1919 World Series. F. Scott Fitzgerald clearly drew inspiration for Wolfsheim from Arnold Rothstein, the natty New York gambler who indeed was the primary backer in the World Series scandal. The novel, published in 1925, offers an interesting perspective on Rothstein, who was still alive and was in the middle of priming “Lucky” Luciano for eventual gangland stardom. While Luciano’s name was still relatively unknown, Rothstein’s reputation as a criminal mentor must have been familiar enough for a non-crime writer like Fitzgerald to give Wolfsheim and Gatsby the Rothstein-Luciano dynamic. As Wolfsheim tells Nick:
I made him. I made the pleasure of his acquaintance just after the war. He was so hard up, he had to keep on wearing his uniform because he couldn’t buy regular clothes. But I said to myself, “That’s the kind of man you’d like to bring home, introduce to your mother and your sister.”
With this, Wolfsheim provides Nick’s first real look into Gatsby’s true background. Rothstein’s fame has gone through a recent revival with Michael Stuhlbarg’s excellent portrayal of “A.R.” on Boardwalk Empire, where he indeed plays a mentor in both crime and style to a young “Lucky” Luciano.
When compared to the 2013 version, this quiet saloon lunch meeting seems much truer to me than the more bombastic speakeasy encounter in the more recent film. The men are all cordial, and Gatsby’s business connections are just shady enough without the police commissioner raising an illegal drink to him.
(If you’re curious about the “Rosy” Rosenthal murder that Wolfsheim describes to Nick, there are an abundance of places online where you can read about it, but my favorite is the contemporary account given in Herbert Asbury’s 1928 book, The Gangs of New York, something that would’ve undoubtedly been on Wolfsheim’s bookshelf. Wolfsheim doesn’t exactly get his facts straight, but few stories are ever told without some exaggeration ten years later.)
In an interesting connection, The Gangs of New York was turned into a 2004 film directed by Martin Scoresese and starring Leonardo DiCaprio. Leo, in turn, went on to play Gatsby nine years later. Small world.
How to Get the Look
Gatsby’s millionaire business suit, while flashy, is still the most conservative suit he wears in the film.
- Dark brown chalkstripe wool three-piece suit, consisting of:
- Single-breasted jacket with wide notch lapels, 2-button front, welted breast pocket, flapped hip pockets, and 4-button cuffs
- Double-breasted waistcoat with low-fastening 6×3 button stance, peak lapels, straight-cut bottom, and 4 welted pockets
- Double reverse-pleated high-rise trousers with side pockets and plain-hemmed bottoms
- Pale ecru shirt with front placket and large white contrast collar and single cuffs
- Dark brown silk necktie with tan geometric squares and floral-shaped circles, tied in Windsor knot
- Large gold oval-shaped cuff links with green stones
- Gold pocketwatch on a thin gold chain, worn in left waistcoat pocket
- Dark brown and white two-tone wingtip bluchers
- Dark brown dress socks
- Cream lightweight felt fedora with a dark brown pleated “puggaree” ribbon
- Plain silver ring, worn on right ring finger
Check out Paul Fredrick’s dress shirt collection if you want to put your own spin on a Gatsby look for this summer.
On week-ends his Rolls-Royce became an omnibus, bearing parties to and from the city between nine in the morning and long past midnight, while his station wagon scampered like a brisk yellow bug to meet all trains.
— The Great Gatsby, Chapter 3
Gatsby’s yellow Rolls becomes very crucial to the story, a symbol of the era’s opulence and later used to destroy its most optimistic dreamer.
In Chapter 7, after Myrtle’s accident, the car is given additional description:
“It was a yellow car,” he said, “big yellow car. New.”
Much mention is made – by almost every character – of just how yellow Gatsby’s car is. Since the novel is set in the summer of 1922, we should look to the two major Rolls-Royce models in production then: the grand Silver Ghost or the smaller and more consumer-oriented Rolls-Royce Twenty.
The 1974 film, however, is set in the summer of 1925 to fit the date of the novel’s publication and allow some leeway for songs and fashions that became popular in mid-decade. This also means Gatsby’s car was upgraded to the later model, specifically a 1928 Rolls-Royce Phantom I Springfield Brewster “Ascot” Tourer. While 1928 is still three years too late for the film’s declared setting, it can’t be very easy to find a beautiful, shining yellow Rolls convertible from the era. Plus, the Phantom I was introduced in 1925.
Now, let’s break down the insanely long make and model of the car. The Rolls-Royce Phantom I was the company’s replacement for the venerable Silver Ghost and became their second 40/50 hp model. At the time, it was known as the “New Phantom” and was built both in Derby, England and Springfield, MA to cover both English and American customers. Gatsby’s model was built in Springfield. (After the introduction of a third 40/50 hp model in 1929, this new third model received its “Phantom II” moniker and a New Phantom like Gatsby’s was then on known as a “Phantom I”.)
While the car is undoubtedly a Rolls-Royce, only the chassis and mechanical parts were actual made by Rolls. In England, owners could select a body to be made and fitted by a coachbuilder such as Barker, Park Ward, Thrupp & Maberly, Mulliner, or Hooper. In the states, an American customer like Gatsby was limited to ordering a body from Brewster & Company, a firm owned by Rolls-Royce. Of Brewster’s car 26 different body designs, the “Ascot” convertible tourer was selected by Gatsby. The specific chassis number of Gatsby’s tourer is #S304KP, and it is one of 24 Brewster “Ascot” Tourers built.
As the April 1974 issue of Motor Trend insists, “Gatsby had to own a Rolls-Royce, in particular an American-made Rolls-Royce. Well-appointed Hispano-Suizas, Isotta-Franchinis, even Packards and Lincolns would have been respectable, but Gatsby, in his rush to attain everything that was thought to be the best, required himself to have a Rolls.”
1928 Rolls-Royce Phantom I Springfield Brewster “Ascot” Tourer
Body Style: 4-door convertible
Layout: front-engine, rear-wheel-drive (RWD)
Engine: 468 cu in (7668 cc) OHV inline-6 with a single Rolls-Royce carburetor
Power: 108 bhp (80.5 kW; 109 PS) @ 2300 RPM
Transmission: 3-speed manual
Wheelbase: 146.5 inches (3721 mm)
Length: 219 inches (5563 mm)
Width: 72 inches (1829 mm)
The Phantom I (“New Phantom”) was produced in both England from 1925 through 1929 and in the U.S. from 1926 through 1931, even though the Phantom II replacement model had been introduced in 1929. A total of 3,509 Phantom Is were produced with 2,269 English models and 1,240 American models.
Other than the body manufacturers, there were many differences between the English and American Phantoms.
The standard wheelbase was 143.5 inches, but most luxury cars of the era also offered a longer wheelbase (LWB) option. In the United States, this length was 146.5 in., while the UK model offered a grand 150.5 in. wheelbase. For comparison’s sake, most modern cars have a wheelbase ranging from 105-120 in.
Semi-elliptical springs suspended the front axle with cantilever springs on the rear axle, standard on both models and similarly framed as the Silver Ghost. Some of the earlier U.S. models lacked front brakes, but most Phantom Is were fitted with four-wheel brakes with a Hispano-Suiza servo-assistance system.
The transmission also differed across the pond, with 4-speed transmissions standard in the UK and U.S. models receiving a center-change 3-speed transmission. Both transmissions utilized a single dry plate crutch, and the gearbox connected through a rubber coupling to the clutch and through a torque tube enclosed drive to the rear differential, a carryover from the earlier Silver Ghost designed to reduce vibration.
British Phantom Is retained oil lubrication through up to fifty Enots nipples, which would attach to a special Enots oil pressure gun for attention at intervals of 500, 1,000, and 2,000 miles. The American Phantom I was more streamlined with a Bijur centralized oiling system that connected all of the oiling points, oiling them with a single pump stroke. The U.K.-built Phantom I kept the Silver Ghost’s tank-located fuel gauge, but some American models began placing a fuel gauge on the dashboard, as most cars have today.
Both were built with the same standard 7668 cc inline-six engine from Rolls-Royce, a new pushrod-operater overhead valve (OHV) valve engine that improved upon the side valve version from the Silver Ghost and allowed the Phantom I to reach speeds up to 80 or 90 mph. The engine was constructed with three groups of two cylinders with detachable heads with a 4.25 in. bore and undersquare 5.5 in. stroke, giving a total 467.9 cubic inch displacement. The cylinder heads were upgraded from cast iron to aluminum in 1928, but this eventually caused problems with corrosion.
Gatsby’s American-built Springfield Phantom I Brewster “Ascot” tourer was given orange New York license plates #2R-8-72, dated to 1925. Although Gatsby’s car is given some spectacular driving scenes in the 2013 version, it should be noted that the 2013 film used a reproduction Dusenberg, while the 1974 film used a genuine antique Gatsby-era Rolls.
This car was sold by Bonhams for $238,000 in June 2009. The describtion for the car, lot 224, reads:
From the motion picture Great Gatsby starring Robert Redford, Mia Farrow, Sam Waterson and Bruce Dern,1928 Rolls-Royce 40/50hp Phantom I Ascot Dual Cowl Sport Phaeton Chassis no. S304KP
The site offers further insight into the car’s selection for the film:
Among the cars attracted to screen test for the part in Rhode Island was this Rolls-Royce, owned by Seekonk, Massachusetts collector Ted Leonard.
Leonard had the perfect Rolls-Royce, a 1928 Phantom I Ascot sport phaeton. Although it was a few years later than the early Twenties period of Jay Gatsby’s sojourn among the wealthy of suburban Long Island, it fit Scott Fitzgerald’s prescription: elegant, large, distinctive, fast and powerful…
Selected after a beauty contest cum car show, Leonard’s Phantom was repainted to match Fitzgerald’s description of rich cream and its natural hide upholstery dyed to be the requisite “green leather conservatory”. A brightly finished labyrinth of windshields it already had, including wind wings front and rear, along with Rolls-Royce’s classic radiator and the drum lights favored on Springfield-built cars.
In playing its role the Phantom had to become the instrument of Myrtle Wilson’s death and Paramount, sympathetic to the age and authenticity of the Phantom’s fenders, commissioned a duplicate set in fiberglass, along with a suitably wrinkled right front wing post-accident. Although most of the filming was in Rhode Island and Manhattan, some scenes were filmed at Pinewood Studios’ Heatherden Hall in England and the Phantom was flown across the Atlantic to appear briefly there. It is currently fitted with the movie’s fiberglass fenders but comes with the original steel fenders and even the crumpled post-accident fiberglass fender.
Rolls-Royce records it as originally built with a Town Brougham body and sold to M.L. Logan in January 1929, then to George Hill in November 1929. Later, the factory record notes it having its present Ascot body No. 7180 ex-S240 RM. Confusingly, the factory records S240 RM’s first body as a Pickwick Sedan No. RR-1742, only later – in 1932 when sold by R-R Motors to H.M. Gallop in New York City – acquiring this Ascot body. Copies of the relevant chassis histories from Rolls-Royce accompany the car. Ted Leonard acquired it in the early ’70s, just in time for it to co-star with Robert Redford and Mia Farrow in The Great Gatsby.
Importantly, it is a factory dual cowl Ascot sport phaeton, possibly unique among Brewster Ascot coachwork. It also has a cast iron cylinder head rather than the corrosion-prone aluminum head. It is largely original, with minimal restoration. The chassis appears never to have been apart and much of the upholstery appears to be original – although dyed to conform with its role in The Great Gatsby.
Since its co-starring role in Gatsby it has been maintained in Ted Leonard’s collection and featured prominently and proudly in a number of shows and concours. Finished in Creamy Yellow with Deep Green leather upholstery and a Beige cloth top, the body beltline accent is a stronger Saffron Yellow tone. The six centerlock wire wheels are finished in body color and mount wide whitewall tires. Dual sidemounted spare tires and the luggage trunk tucked tightly behind the tonneau and between the gently flared rear fenders are covered in Beige fabric to match the top. Large drum-style head lights are secured firmly in forks mounted on the front frame rails and matched by a set of drum-style cowl lights. In addition to the Stewart Warner dashboard instruments there is a Chelsea clock and a pair of vacuum-operated windshield wipers.
Do Yourself a Favor and…
I was raised in America but educated in Oxford. That’s a family tradition.