Leonardo DiCaprio as Jay Gatsby, eccentric and romantic millionaire bootlegger
New York City, Summer 1922
Film: The Great Gatsby
Release Date: May 10, 2013
Director: Baz Luhrmann
Costume Designer: Catherine Martin
Car Week is wrapping up with a yin to Monday’s yang. The first post this week looked at the big yellow Rolls-Royce tourer from the 1974 adaptation of The Great Gatsby and the suit Robert Redford wore while driving it. The car was practically as close as the one mentioned in the novel, but the suit was too dark and too contemporary to be accurate with the suit in the novel.
Today’s post looks at the more recent 2013 adaptation directed by Baz Luhrmann and starring Leonardo DiCaprio in the title role. The film nicely brought to life the “caramel-colored suit” that Fitzgerald wrote about in the novel, but the Rolls-Royce of the novel is now an anachronistic supercharged Duesenberg. I can’t complain too much since the scenes of Gatsby driving his Duesy are some of the most exciting moments in the movie.
He saw me looking with admiration at his car.
“It’s pretty, isn’t it, old sport?” He jumped off to give me a better view. “Haven’t you ever seen it before?”
I’d seen it. Everybody had seen it. It was a rich cream color, bright with nickel, swollen here and there in its monstrous length with triumphant hat-boxes and supper-boxes and tool-boxes, and terraced with a labyrinth of wind-shields that mirrored a dozen suns. Sitting down behind many layers of glass in a sort of green leather conservatory, we started to town.
– The Great Gatsby, Chapter 4
What’d He Wear?
We hadn’t reached West Egg village before Gatsby began leaving his elegant sentences unfinished and slapping himself indecisively on the knee of his caramel-colored suit.
– The Great Gatsby, Chapter 4
Fitzgerald uses plenty of colorful details to paint pictures of his characters. Throughout the novel, Gatsby stands out from the crowd in his caramel, white, and – ultimately – pink suits. Baz Luhrmann’s 2013 adaptation embraced each of these costuming details so exactly that Leonardo DiCaprio often looks as though he stepped straight out of 1922. (And if you watched the 3D version, it looks as though he steps right off of the screen.)
Other than an anachronistic wristwatch, which has watch aficionados throwing fits, every aspect of Gatsby’s attire is very period-correct thanks to costume designer Catherine Martin and the film’s partnership with Brooks Brothers. Brooks Brothers was a logical choice for Gatsby’s suits given Fitzgerald’s association with the brand even before his best-known literary period. An excerpt 2012 article from Blouin that announced the film’s costumes links Fitzgerald and Brooks Brothers through one of his early stories:
A few pages into “May Day,” the F. Scott Fitzgerald short story published in 1920 in the literary magazine the Smart Set, one Yale grad announces to another Yale grad that he wants to go buy some new clothes, and he wants to buy them at a place in New York City called Rivers Brothers.
“Over in Rivers’ he chose a dozen neckties, selecting each one after long consultations with the other man,” Fitzgerald writes. “Did he think narrow ties were coming back? And wasn’t it a shame that Rivers couldn’t get any more Welsh Margotson collars? There never was a collar like the Covington.”
The Rivers Brothers store the Yale grad is talking about did actually exist in real life. It was Brooks Brothers on Broadway and East 22nd Street. Fitzgerald mentioned the store — it’s an obvious reference, a brook, a river, etc. — because of his affinity for the clothes. Before he went off to World War I, he had Brooks’ make him up a uniform.
The suit that Gatsby wears when picking up Nick for their midtown lunch is the perfect weekend summer suit for the 1920s gentleman. Luckily for Brooks Brothers, the current trend of slimmer lapels, collars, and ties was also popular in the early 1920s, so they could create a very period-accurate suit for Gatsby that would sell in the modern market.
Gatsby’s suit is a three-piece basketweave wool suit in a light caramel shade of brown, as Fitzgerald stipulated, with a light blue windowpane overcheck. Blue is a motif throughout the outfit, with the windowpane and the blue striped silk lining calling out the shirt and tie that Gatsby matches with his suit.
The suit jacket is single-breasted and fastens high on his torso with the three-button front, of which Gatsby often fastens the top two, correctly leaving the third button open as he swings the jacket’s lower quarter behind him to create a dashing figure when he places his hands in his trouser pockets. All buttons, including the four functioning “surgeon’s cuff” buttons, are brown horn.
The jacket has natural shoulders and roped sleeveheads. It fits comfortably snug around Gatsby’s torso with a suppressed center to create the desired 1920s look of a slim waist and accentuated long legs. There is a long single vent in the back. The jacket has peak lapels with edge stitching and slanted gorges. The welted breast pocket is embellished with a tan silk handkerchief puffing out from the top.
The jacket’s hip pockets are slanted, an appropriately appropriated feature from the traditional country hacking jacket. However, these pockets are jetted without visible flaps while most hacking jackets have flapped pockets to keep the contents contained while on horseback.
Gatsby smartly wears his jacket buttoned unless he is driving, when he wears it open and exposes the waistcoat underneath. This vest is high-fastening with a five-button front and a notched bottom. Typically, vests with notched bottoms have a decorative button that is meant to be left open, but this vest’s lowest button is above the notch and, thus, meant to be worn fastened. The vest also has welted lower pockets which are best seen in behind-the-scenes photos since Gatsby never removes his jacket when wearing this suit in the film.
Gatsby’s suit trousers rise high with the waistband appropriately concealed by the waistcoat. They have a flat front and frogmouth front pockets, where Gatsby often places his hands. The trousers have a full cut throughout the leg down to the plain-hemmed bottoms which have a full break over his shoes.
As he should with a three-piece suit, Gatsby wears suspenders (or braces!) with his trousers. The suspenders, thanks to some behind-the-scenes photos of DiCaprio on set, have been confirmed as tan with a wide dark brown center stripe and silver adjusters.
Gatsby’s two-tone shoes are brown-and-tan longwing derbies The trouser break prevents us from seeing his socks, but we can assume they are a light shade of brown based on the trousers.
Gatsby’s shirt, which is nicely accented by the windowpane check of the suit, is a light blue shirt made of a lightweight material, possibly a linen blend. The shirt buttons down a front placket and has a large attached spread collar – fastened with a silver pin – and double (French) cuffs. Although the collar leaves are pinned to have the effect of a tab collar, it is indeed a spread collar; a tab collar would have a manufactured tab built into the collar which this shirt clearly does not.
The collar pin was a very popular device in the 1920s which lifted the tie knot to give it a very presentable arc. Although some pins would pierce or grasp the side of a standard collar, the most correct way to wear a collar pin is with a shirt manufacturer with an eyelet in each collar through which a barbell-like pin with screw-off ends would pass.
Attached collars were just coming into popularity with men around this time. Of the wealthy population, only a very young and nouveau riche man like Gatsby would wear such a sporting new fad. Needless to say, attached collars became the norm by the end of the decade and the only men still wearing detachable collars with everyday suits were old, stuffy businessmen like Mr. Potter in It’s a Wonderful Life.
The tie being held in place by Gatsby’s collar pin is a salmon silk tie with blue gradient stripes highlighted by thin white stripes. The thicker stripes follow a left-down-to-right direction, but there are thinner stripes crossing it in the alternate direction, creating a plaid effect. A gold version of the tie is still available from Brooks Brothers’ Gatsby Collection, described as “gold ombre plaid”. It was woven in England and measures 58″ long and 3¼” wide with a self loop on the rear. This gold tie, which would be just as fitting, has been marked down to $59.10 from $98.50 at the time of this writing.
Gatsby wears a snazzy pair of round gold-rimmed cuff links that are briefly glimpsed while he is driving. The face of the links is green enamel with a silver “S” shape that almost resembles a snake. In conjunction with its provisions in the film, Tiffany released a pair of “JG” monogrammed cuff links in 18 karat gold with a green enamel face. AskMissa.com describes the links: “For $4,800, the green enamel and 18 karat gold monogram cuff-links are perfect for any professional who wants to make a statement in style. The cuff-links would also make an impeccable wedding gift for a groom.”
Although they aren’t the same links as seen in the film, they are certainly something he would wear, and I would buy them if I was ever the person to consider $4,800 a worthwhile expenditure for cuff links. However, if you really want a nice pair of cuff links for your Gatsby suit, I received a gift once of a pair of cuff links found on Etsy using excerpts from the book. One link (which I wear on the right wrist) says “Gatsby” and the other link says “old sport”, cased in round glass with bronze rims. They’re excellent and fitting tributes to one of my favorite books. As the owner of Bookity, the Etsy shop that sells the cuff links, states: “They add a literary touch to any outfit!”
Gatsby’s outfit employs the opposite principle of Sean Connery’s minimalist gray Diamonds are Forever suit covered yesterday. Where Bond skipped any sort of accessories, Gatsby goes all out. If Gatsby can have an accessory, he wears it. Collar pin, cuff links, sunglasses, ring, wristwatch – you name it, and he’s got it on. Still insecure about both his penniless history and his current shady sources of income, Gatsby embraces the trappings of wealth. Despite this, his accessories remain elegantly simple and avoid the ostentatious connotations that have doomed men with gaudier taste.
Gatsby sports a stylish straw boater for his drive into the city. The boater had become popular during the early years of the century and often “straw hat day” would signify the start of summer when men switched from their warmer homburgs and fedoras to boaters. It was seen everywhere from resorts to the city and could be appropriately paired with anything from a blazer to black tie, although it received its name as a reflection of its early popularity among seaside vacationers.
Gatsby’s boater in particular has a wide navy blue ribbon with a lighter blue stripe around the top and the bottom. Each light blue stripe is bracketed by a very thin yellow stripe. Brooks Brothers offers a similar Italian-made straw boater in their Great Gatsby collection, but the ribbon is slightly different. It is still dark navy but there are six thin white stripes across the middle. The hat was originally $198 but has been reduced to $79.20 as of this week, so this might be the time for you to get that well-made boater you’ve always secretly (or openly) wanted.
Gatsby also wears the same ring throughout the film. It is a large silver pinky ring with a flat square-cut black stone, worn on his right hand.
Speculation is still out on Gatsby’s wristwatch, with the fact that it is clearly anachronistic being the only thing watch experts are agreeing upon. The watch is very elegant with a stainless rectangular case and bracelet with a white face and sub-dial. The Jaeger-LeCoultre Reverso, which was introduced in 1931 (nearly ten years after the film’s setting), is a popular guess. As I mentioned in my previous 2013 Gatsby post, it is at least wise to have the fashion-forward World War I veteran wearing a wristwatch, which was quickly becoming more popular than the venerable pocket watch.
Gatsby creates an additional contrast of coolness from Nick by donning a pair of vintage-styled tortoiseshell round-framed sunglasses with brown lenses. I’ve done some investigating to try and figure out the exact type worn in the film, and the most likely brand I could could find was Bottega Veneta.
Going Gatsby with Paul Fredrick
As you may have gathered from Monday’s Gatsby post, I am a fan of the Paul Fredrick brand, especially when it comes to quality tributes to retro clothing without breaking the bank.
If you’re in the market for a suit, it’s gonna be tough to find one like Gatsby’s with the blue overcheck, but Paul Fredrick currently has two suits on its site that modernize looks popular during the Roaring Twenties. Both are three-piece; the jackets are single-breasted with a 2-button front and slim notch lapels, the vests have notch lapels and six buttons, and the trousers are pleated. For $479.50, there is a pale yellow suit with dark brown pinstripes manufacturer from a wool and linen blend, making it an ideal summer suit for your Gatsby-style soiree. Paul Fredrick also has a series of tan-colored suit separates that is are tailored in pure wool and could be worn throughout the year; the vest has pocket flaps for an additional boost of vintage styling.
Like Gatsby, Paul Fredrick pairs these light brown suits with blue shirts. The examples above use regular dress shirts with white contrast collars as Redford wore with his brown suit in 1974.
While the collar pin worn by DiCaprio as Gatsby is certainly fitting, many modern men are embracing the tab collar as an alternative. The tab collar adds a crisp look for a man and also prevents wearing the collar with a loosened tie. Paul Fredrick has a pale blue cotton dress shirt for $79.50 with tab collars that would be a great modern alternative to the collar pin combination seen in the film.
Paul Fredrick also offers some eye-grabbing casual shirts. If you’re wearing a solid tan suit but still want Gatsby’s windowpane incorporated somewhere in your wardrobe, consider a windowpane shirt. Paul Fredrick currently has fine blue shirts with vibrant windowpane options in Gatsby-esque colors like yellow or pink. Both are only $69.50.
To browse the entire Paul Fredrick dress shirt collection, visit the link and pick out something that fills you with Gatsby’s refreshing optimistic brand of confidence.
Go Big or Go Home
After their invigorating ride into the city, during which Gatsby flashed his simple but definitive “J. Gatsby” business card to get out of a speeding ticket, Nick and Gatsby waltz into a barbershop where they meet Meyer Wolfsheim, played with charming sleaze by Amitabh Bachchan. Bachchan’s Wolfsheim is much different than the more gentlemanly portrayal given by Howard Da Silva in 1974, and it is interesting to compare the wildly opposing interpretations of the character. (Trivia: After more than 180 Indian films throughout his long career, The Great Gatsby in 2013 marked Bachchan’s Hollywood debut.)
Gatsby and Wolfsheim escort Nick through the back room into a large and decadent speakeasy, much different from the “well-fanned 42nd Street cellar” of the book, which was – in my opinion – better represented in the 1974 film. Here, the emphasis is on spectacle rather than the restaurant serving a “succulent hash” and allowing men to huddle in the corner, discussing things of a borderline criminal nature without interruption or intrusion.
“Highballs?” asked the head waiter.
“This is a nice restaurant here,” said Mr. Wolfshiem, looking at the Presbyterian nymphs on the ceiling. “But I like across the street better!”
“Yes, highballs,” agreed Gatsby, and then to Mr. Wolfshiem: “It’s too hot over there.”
“Hot and small—yes,” said Mr. Wolfshiem, “but full of memories.”
– The Great Gatsby, Chapter 4
A highball is essentially any mixed drink of one spirit and one usually carbonated mixer. Simply ordering a “highball” in a modern bar would be even more vague than just ordering “a beer”. However, a highball in the ’20s invariably meant whiskey or brandy with soda.
Although some highballs were served with ice, many only added a few drops of soda or water to a spirit so as not to taint it. Yet, the film shows Wolfsheim, Nick, and Gatsby receiving drinks that could have fallen off of Carmen Miranda’s hat. Perhaps the addition of mint springs, slices of citrus, and half a dozen cherries are a nod to the great lengths that people went to in order to mask the unpleasant and often deadly taste of bootleg hooch during Prohibition.
Anyone who watched Hazel are undoubtedly familiar with Shirley Booth praising various items and people as “a doozy”. If you’re curious as to where this expression came from, look no further than the Duesenberg Automobile and Motors Company, an Indiana-based car company that specialized in building cars that no one could afford. Just under 1,200 Duesenberg cars were produced during the company’s 1921-1937 manufacturing lifetime, half of which during the Great Depression. For the sake of perspective, the average American physician made less than $3,000 each year. In 1932, a Duesenberg Model J chassis cost around $9,000 with completed models costing anywhere between $13,000 and $19,000.
Although it sounds exactly like the tragic opulence that Jay Gatsby would invest in, the Duesenberg was an anachronistic (albeit impressive-looking) choice for Gatsby’s ride in the 2013 film. The first mass-produced Duesenberg was the Model A, which hit production in 1921. Gatsby is set during the summer of 1922, which would make an early Model A possible, but the filmmakers instead placed Gatsby in a Model SJ, the supercharged version of the Model J that was produced only during the latter years of the Depression. Not only that, but Gatsby’s particular model is one of less than a hundred reproductions made in the 1980s – a 1983 Duesenberg II SJ “La Grange” Phaeton.
As I stated, I’m not downplaying how impressive the car looks and sounds in the film. When Gatsby fires up the car’s eight cylinders and shifts through the three-speed gearbox on his way into New York, it’s an exciting sequence that allows us to get as swept away as narrator Nick.
After production wrapped of the Duesenberg Model A in 1927, the company was looking for their next luxury model. Thirteen “Model X” Duesenbergs were made over the next year, but it was the Model Y prototype that really opened the doors for the next model – the Duesenberg Model J.
The Duesenberg Model J debuted at the New York Car Show on December 1, 1928 as a silver and black LeBaron sweep panel dual cowl phaeton. The car was very well received, and Duesenberg set a goal of 500 sales per year. If we learned anything from The Great Gatsby, it’s that the 1920s were a fun, fast, and very temporary era of dangerous indulgence that would all come crashing down.
And… the Stock Market Crash of 1929. Duesenberg stood by helplessly as people stopped buying cars and began stealing pennies and eating moldy bread from the gutters of the city streets. Poor Duesenberg had only sold 200 of their insanely expensive cars! Luckily for them, some people were still making money by further disenfranchising the poor, and another hundred orders for Model Js were filled in 1930.
In May 1932, Duesenberg decided “Fuck it, this depression will be over soon,” and added an even more exclusive option to the Model J – a supercharged engine. Supercharged cars were given the Model SJ designation. Only 36 of the 529 Model Js built were Model SJ cars, but heck they were impressive.
The Duesenberg Model J engine, already an impressive 420 cubic inch straight-eight producing 265 horsepower, was enhanced with a Duesenberg centrifugal supercharger. The supercharged Model SJ now had an output of 320 horsepower. When the Model J debuted four years earlier with a top speed of 119 mph, it was the fastest and most expensive American production car available. The introduction of the Model SJ quickly took that honor, hitting 104 mph in second gear and a top speed nearing 140 mph when in third.
Early models were equipped with a four-speed manual transmission, but it couldn’t handle the powerful eight-cylinder engine so Duesenberg replaced it with an unsynchronized three-speed gearbox. Despite its prestige, the unsynchronized gearbox quickly became outdated as all other American manufacturers switched to fully synchronized in mid-decade. However, the Model SJ could still get 0-60 mph times of eight seconds and reach 100 mph in only seventeen seconds.
The Model SJ is cosmetically distinctive from the standard Model J because the exhaust pipes were extended through the side panel of the hood in order to make room for the large supercharger.
Although the bodies were all customizable, as they should be for the sort of person who could afford to buy one, all Model J and SJ cars were built on one of two chassis versions. The standard wheelbase length was 142.5 inches, but a longer wheelbase model could be ordered with a length of 153.5 inches. Some could even be ordered with an extended 160 inch wheelbase, but those were very rare. The coachwork could be custom ordered from either the U.S. or Europe, with Duesenberg’s chief body designer Gordon Buehrig designing most of the Model J coachwork. All in-house Duesenberg bodies were made by the La Grande bodymaker. Depending on the custom coachwork and the wheelbase, a Duesenberg could weigh anywhere between two and a half to three tons.
There were only two supercharged Model J cars produced with an extra short wheelbase of 125 inches and a dual-carburetor manifold that produced close to 400 horsepower. These two cars, both built on lightweight open roadster bodies from Central Manufacturing Company in Indiana, were given the moniker of “Model SSJ” and were driven by actors Gary Cooper and Clark Gable, who would race each other through the Hollywood Hills in their exclusive Duesenbergs. Gable’s SSJ, which was lent to him from the company, was one of the last Duesenbergs manufactured before they ceased production in 1937.
1983 Duesenberg II SJ “La Grande” Reproduction
below specs describe a typical 1930s Duesenberg Model SJ
Body Style: 4-door phaeton convertible
Layout: front mid-engine, rear-wheel-drive (FMR)
Engine: 420 cu in (6.9 L) supercharged Duesenberg DOHC straight-8 with single updraft Schleber carburetor
Power: 320 hp (240 kW; 324 PS) @ 4200 RPM
Torque: 425 lb·ft (576 N·m) @ 2400 RPM
Transmission: 3-speed manual
Wheelbase: 146.5 inches (3721 mm)
Length, width, and height varied from coachmaker to coachmaker, but these specs should provide a general idea about the size and power of a supercharged Duesenberg.
Forty years after Duesenberg ended production, Elite Heritage Motors in Elroy, Wisconsin decided it was time to bring back the classic car and the “Duesenberg II” was first offered to customers in 1978, with five body models that were essentially identical to the original Duesies they were copied from. Less than one hundred were made before the Duesenberg II ended production in 2000. Some cars had cost up to $225,000, which was double the price of a new Duesenberg when adjusted for inflation. The engines in the new Duesenberg II are slightly larger with a 460 cubic inch Ford V8 drivetrain and modern interiors.
According to IMCDB, the Volo Auto Museum has a record of the reproduction Duesy II used in the film, VIN #1ETRW22BXDDJ00017, which was originally beige and saddle brown with an automatic transmission. The car in the film is fitted with rear license plate #439-017.
Chapter 7 of the book itself describes the car as “…[a] big yellow car. New.”
Well, the Duesenberg is definitely big and definitely yellow, and it doesn’t get much newer than being built sixty years into the future. I guess it’s a pretty accurate choice after all.
How to Get the Look
Fitzgerald probably had something like this in mind when he first mentioned “his caramel-colored suit” in chapter 4. If you want to dress like Gatsby without wearing anything overly showy (i.e. a pink suit), this is a fine way to ease your way in.
- Caramel brown basketweave wool suit with a light blue windowpane overcheck, made by Brooks Brothers:
- Single-breasted 3-button jacket with peak lapels, welted breast pocket, slanted jetted hip pockets, 4-button “surgeon’s cuffs”, and single rear vent
- Single-breasted vest with 5-button front, notched bottom, and welted lower pockets
- Flat front high-rise trousers with frogmouth front pockets and full break plain-hemmed bottoms
- Light blue linen blend shirt with spread collar, front placket, and double/French cuffs
- Silver barbell-style collar pin
- Green enamel cuff links with round gold rims and a silver “S” design
- Salmon silk necktie with blue gradient and cream criss-crossing stripes
- Brown-and-tan 4-eyelet longwing derby shoes
- Light brown dress socks
- Tan suspenders with a dark brown stripe and silver-toned adjusters
- Straw boater with a navy blue striped ribbon
- Round tortoiseshell-framed Bottega Veneta sunglasses with brown tinted lenses
- Stainless wristwatch with a rectangular white face and stainless bracelet
- Silver pinky ring with a flat square-cut black stone
Gatsby also wears a tan silk handkerchief puffed in his suit jacket’s breast pocket.
Check out Paul Fredrick’s dress shirt collection if you want to put your own spin on a Gatsby look for this summer. Brooks Brothers’ The Great Gatsby Collection is also still available, although many of the more popular pieces have since sold out.
Do Yourself a Favor and…
My life, old sport, my life… my life has got to be like this. It’s got to keep going up.