Leonardo DiCaprio as Jay Gatsby, eagerly romantic millionaire and bootlegger
Long Island, New York, Late Summer 1922
Film: The Great Gatsby
Release Date: May 10, 2013
Director: Baz Luhrmann
Costume Designer: Catherine Martin
Today marks the 90th anniversary of the original publication of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s masterpiece The Great Gatsby by Charles Scribner and Sons on April 10, 1925. Now considered to be a literary classic and a top contendor for the mythic “Great American Novel”, the story explores themes of the decadent excess, romantic idealism, and degrees of social change that defined America in the Roaring Twenties. Sadly for Fitzgerald, the novel was best appreciated in retrospect; it sold only 20,000 copies its first year, and Fitzgerald died of a heart attack in 1940 believing that his masterpiece was rejected and forgotten. At his funeral, Dorothy Parker wept and muttered “the poor son-of-a-bitch”, echoing Owl-Eyes’ epitaph for Gatsby himself.
If only Fitzgerald hadn’t had that last candy bar*. The Great Gatsby experienced during World War II, likely as people were nostalgic for the “good old days” before the war. Although it had already been filmed once in 1926, a major movie adaptation starring Alan Ladd was made in 1949. The story then catapulted into public awareness, giving birth to countless stage productions, motion pictures, and high school essays.
* Fitzgerald was eating a Hershey bar at the time of his fatal heart attack. It didn’t kill him, but – like Mama Cass’s ham sandwich – the story of his death is rarely told without mention of the candy bar.
The first time I read The Great Gatsby was the summer before 7th grade. My sister, four years older than I, was reading it to prepare for her high school English class… she’s that kind of overachiever. Once she finished the book, she tossed it my way and said, “Here. It’s about the ’20s. You’ll love it.” And how. I finished it in two nights while our family was vacationing in Nags Head, and from there on, my interests in literature, the ’20s, and sartorialism shifted into high gear. I changed by AIM screenname (in 7th grade, this was the summation of a person’s worth) from the bland ‘ketchupaintbad’ to ‘Gatsby722’ before finally settling on ‘Speakeasy804′, which I used well into my college years. I got my hands on as much background information as I could, reading all about Fitzgerald’s influence from Petronius’ character Trimalchio and the Long Island parties that Fitzgerald had attended before submitting the book, hoping for a last minute title change to Under the Red, White, and Blue.
I was always intrigued by the 1974 film – bolstered by my fanship of Robert Redford, Francis Ford Coppola, and Lois Chiles – and I approached the news of the Baz Luhrmann adaptation with… let’s call it trepidation. The trailers did little to settle my nerves. Sure, parties were a part of the novel, but the message is one against extravagance. And Fitzgerald himself called the ’20s the “Jazz Age” so you’re scoring it with rap?
Luckily, I gave in and went to see it early in its run with my girlfriend and my sister. The framing of Nick Carraway in a nut house narrating the whole thing threw me off, but once we got to the scene in Myrtle’s apartment, I was hooked. The style drew me in, and I allowed myself to enjoy a non-literal adaptation well-suited for the modern day without losing the period setting. Leo made an excellent Gatsby, and he has been quoted saying that he was drawn to the character because he was:
The idea of a man who came from absolutely nothing, who created himself solely from his own imagination. Gatsby’s one of those iconic characters because he can be interpreted in so many ways: a hopeless romantic, a completely obsessed wacko or a dangerous gangster, clinging to wealth.
For an interesting coincidence, it’s doubly appropriate to post about Leonardo DiCaprio today as April 10, 2015 marks the 103rd anniversary of the Titanic leaving Southampton its fateful maiden voyage. (If I have to explain why that’s relevant to Leonardo DiCaprio, then you’ve been living under a rock for quite some time. Please get out from under this rock.)
What’d He Wear?
“An Oxford man!” [Tom] was incredulous. “Like hell he is! He wears a pink suit.”
I hadn’t gone twenty yards when I heard my name and Gatsby stepped from between two bushes into the path. I must have felt pretty weird by that time, because I could think of nothing except the luminosity of his pink suit under the moon.
Those are the only descriptions that F. Scott Fitzgerald gives of Gatsby’s notorious pink suit in Chapter 7 of The Great Gatsby, and yet both major film adaptations have grasped it. Costume details in novels are rarely paid much heed when they hit the big screen, but there is something so essential about the fact that Gatsby wears a pink suit for what is arguably the story’s climax.
The pink linen three-piece suit sported by Robert Redford in the 1974 film is a fine example of updating period tailoring for the times. While undeniably ’20s-inspired, Redford’s suit ultimately looks like a product of 1974. Forty years later, Catherine Martin and her costume team created a near-perfect replication of a 1922 suit for Leonardo DiCaprio’s Gatsby.
The Suit and Accessories
Gatsby’s Brooks Brothers suit is soft light pink woven linen with a subtle and widely-spaced white pinstripe. Although the suit is pink enough to provide fodder for Tom’s famous “Oxford man” scoff, it’s not so glaringly pink that a fashionista like Daisy doesn’t take him seriously. Let’s start with the jacket.
Gatsby’s suit jacket is single-breasted with a low 3-button stance. When he rises, he fastens only the top button, typically draping the rest of the jacket behind his arm to place his hand in his pocket. It’s a very dignified, practiced pose, and it is very telling of a man who wants to exude elegance and class. Both the front and cuff buttons are made of white plastic.
The jacket’s peak lapels have a long slanted gorge but a short gorge seam; there is also a buttonhole on the left lapel. The designers were in luck when creating the jacket as slim, single-breasted, peak lapel suit coats are back in style just as they were 90 years ago.
Gatsby’s suit coat has soft shoulders and roped sleeveheads. Each sleeve is very long and mostly covers the shirt cuff beneath it. The most distinctive aspect of the sleeves are the Edwardian-style turnback cuffs, which were still en vogue in the early 1920s. The turnback cuff has never regained its popularity on suit cuffs, although James Bond notably wore them on his first dinner jacket in Dr. No. Just above the sleeve cuff, Gatsby has two functioning “surgeon’s cuff” buttons.
Many aspects of Gatsby’s suit coat also evoke a country hacking jacket, which makes sense as Gatsby was planning to spend the afternoon at the Buchanan residence rather than out in the heart of New York City. Both the long single rear vent and the rear-slanting flapped hip pockets are characteristics commonly seen on a hacking jacket. (For another 007 example, Sean Connery wore a brown tweed hacking jacket in both Goldfinger and Thunderball.) In addition to the slanted hip pockets, Gatsby’s suit coat also has a welted breast pocket that slants forward.
Gatsby’s suit has a matching vest (or waistcoat) with five white plastic buttons – like those on the jacket – that button down to a wide notched bottom. The vest was made to fit exactly so that DiCaprio can wear all five buttons fastened rather than leaving the bottom one open.
Unlike the Redford suit from the ’74 movie, this vest is single-breasted with no lapels. I’ll get around to a full contrast of those later. DiCaprio’s waistcoat has four welted pockets – two on top, two on bottom.
Finally, we get to Gatsby’s pants. The flat front suit trousers rise just above his natural waist, still considerably low for the era. The frogmouth pockets are placed lower on the trouser fronts so that Gatsby can easily place his hands in them without interrupting the vest bottom. Below the hips, the trousers have a straight leg cut all the way down to the medium break, plain-hemmed bottoms. They are roomier throughout the hips and seat to account for the suspenders.
The suit trousers are another sign that the design team was doing their homework. Gatsby wears his trousers with suspenders, as most three-piece suit trousers should be worn. To account for the suspenders, the trousers are fitted with buttons along the inside of the waistband rather than using the less-accurate and less-attractive clips. Since he would only be wearing suspenders, the trousers seen in the film have no belt loops.
Gatsby’s suspenders (call them braces if you must, Englishmen) are blue with short light blue diagonal stripes crossing down from left to right.
They have silver adjusters, a black triangular leather crosspatch in the back, and black leather hooks in the front and back.
Gatsby’s lightweight silk dress shirt is striped in white and pale pink. Although not yet fashionable in 1922, his large, soft turndown collar is attached to the shirt and fastened into place with a silver pin under the tie knot. It buttons down a front placket and closes around each wrist with a button cuff.
His collar pin is a “barbell” style with two spheres on each side of the collar where it pokes out. As he’s not a hooligan, Gatsby would have had this shirt ready-made with holes for the barbell pin… something one would hardly find off-the-rack these days. But that’s what good bespoke shirt-makers are for, isn’t it?
Gatsby continues the pink into his silk tie, consisting of thick burgundy and salmon pink stripes crossing down from left to right. The tie was one of the few items from the outfit that Brooks Brothers offered an exact replica of… although it has since stopped manufacturing and selling it.
Gatsby wears a maroon silk pocket square in his suit jacket’s breast pocket that perfectly calls out the maroon in the tie. While some consider anything but a white pocket square to be rakish rather than elegant, Gatsby’s choice is certainly bold and stands out more than a white handkerchief would against such a light-colored suit.
Gatsby’s two-tone spectator shoes are also very distinctive. These wingtip balmorals have a tan leather toe cap and heel cap with a chocolate brown vamp. The 4-eyelet throat and laces are also tan. The soles are hard brown leather.
What makes the shoes especially notable is their color reversal; typically, the other parts of the shoe are the darker color. Even the earlier spectator shoes worn by Gatsby in the film follow this pattern. Instead, we’re seeing the lighter tan on the outer parts like the caps and the darker brown on the inside vamp.
With several sock color options at his disposal, Gatsby opts for a pair of tan dress socks with a broken brown stripe down each side. Some may argue that pink socks would have been a better choice to continue the leg line from trouser to shoe, but this isn’t The Birdcage.
Gatsby certainly knows how to accessorize for the day out. The popular men’s summer hat for the first few decades of the 20th century was unquestionably the stiff straw boater. Gatsby’s hat has a wide dark blue grosgrain ribbon that has two thinner light blue stripes – one across the top, one along the bottom. It’s the same boater he wore with his caramel brown suit when driving Nick into the city to meet Wolfsheim a few months earlier.
To battle the sun, Gatsby also whips out the dark brown tortoiseshell-framed Bottega Veneta sunglasses from the same earlier scene. The appearance of sunglasses here is not anachronistic; sunglasses had been around in some variation for a few decades prior and began to boom in the early 1920s as movie stars were seen wearing them (either to avoid detection by fans or due to the harsh lights of early Hollywood studios).
Gatsby’s mysterious stainless wristwatch is glimpsed on his left wrist throughout the scene. Though disproved to be the anachronistic Jaeger-LeCoultre, the watch still remains to be identified. According to a post on Watches In Movies, it was custom-made for the production. Hopefully that settles the debate, but it’s surprising that it hasn’t received more attention. The details appear to be a stainless rectangular case with a white dial and a stainless bracelet with a deployable clasp.
The scene offers a fine view of Gatsby’s bulky silver pinky ring that adorns the little finger on his right hand throughout the movie. The dark surface features a black “starburst” design that shines differently in varying light.
Brooks Brothers’ “Gatsby Collection”
Brooks Brothers developed their “Gatsby Collection” in tandem with the film’s release, also creating a “Fitzgerald Fit” to allow the fads of the 1920s to seamlessly meet the 2010s. Brooks Brothers was also known to be a preferred brand of Fitzgerald’s, so it makes sense that they would team up.
The limited time collection featured several pieces from the movie, including a variation of the iconic pink suit. The suit on sale isn’t an exact replica; most obviously, only a two-piece version was offered for sale. The jacket was indeed single-breasted with wide peak lapels, although it only had a 2-button front, side vents rather than a single vent, and all pockets were straight rather than slanted. The cuffs were missing the distinctive turnback, although they were “left unfinished for preparation of functional buttonholes”.
Most of the Brooks Brothers collection is no longer available, but the trousers can still be found (as of April 2015) online. Like the jacket, the trousers are similar but not exact to the film’s garment; the collection’s trousers indeed have inside suspender buttons, but they also have an exposed waistband button and belt loops.
Redford vs. DiCaprio
This isn’t so much an issue of who wore it better; both Redford’s 1974 suit and DiCaprio’s 2013 suit share little in common other than the fact that both are pink linen three-piece suits with single-breasted jackets. You can read more about several iconic suits worn in three adaptation of The Great Gatsby in this June 2019 BAMF Style post.
Go Big or Go Home
The easiest way to emulate Gatsby is to throw out a brightly-colored suit and call everyone “old sport”. It’s not a good idea out of context, as you’ll inevitably be punched in the face, and – thus – get blood all over said suit, but maybe you’ll be cast in your own production. DiCaprio delivered the line “old sport” 51 times during the film, with Joel Edgerton running a distant second with two occurrences of “old sport”… both in mocking.
What to Imbibe
Although Tom brings the makings for Mint Juleps, the men seem to stick to straight whiskey for the long, hot confrontation at the Plaza Hotel. In this case, it’s a bottle of Bourbon which appears to carry a fictional “Camp Perry” label… although there were so many distilleries that didn’t advertise during the ’20s (for obvious reasons) that Camp Perry may indeed be a true brand of booze from the era.
If reading about a Mint Julep on a hot summer afternoon’s gotten you all geared up to read more about them, head on over to my Goldfinger post where a dapper suited James Bond breaks the well-crushed ice with Pussy Galore.
How to Get the Look
To steal a sartorial statement from Vesper Lynd, there are pink suits and then there are pink suits. Leonardo DiCaprio’s Gatsby wears the latter.
- Light pink pinstripe woven linen Brooks Brothers suit:
- Single-breasted jacket with peak lapels, low 3-button stance, forward-slanting welted breast pocket, rear-slanting flapped hip pockets, 2-button turnback cuffs, and long single rear vent
- Single-breasted vest with 5-button front, four welted pockets, and notched bottom
- Flat front trousers with inside suspender buttons, frogmouth front pockets, and plain-hemmed bottoms
- White and pink striped silk shirt with soft turndown collar and button cuffs
- Silver “barbell”-style collar pin
- Burgundy and salmon pink diagonally-striped silk necktie
- Blue striped suspenders with silver adjusters and black leather hooks and crosspatch
- Brown-and-tan 4-eyelet two-tone leather wingtip spectator oxfords
- Tan dress socks with broken brown side stripes
- Straw boater with a navy blue striped grosgrain ribbon
- Round tortoiseshell-framed Bottega Veneta sunglasses with brown tinted lenses
- Silver pinky ring with dark “starbust” face, worn on right pinky
- Stainless wristwatch with a rectangular white face and stainless deployable-clasp bracelet, worn on left wrist
- Burgundy silk pocket square, worn in jacket breast pocket
Do Yourself a Favor and…
Gatsby scholars would also be intrigued by Maureen Corrigan’s excellent book, So We Read On: How The Great Gatsby Came to Be and Why It Endures, published last year. I received it as a Christmas gift from my sister (as you can see, she and I have a strong Gatsby gonnegtion!), and it’s a marvelous and personal look at how the book is more relevant than ever 90 years later. One of my favorite lines from the book so far concerns this particular scene as Corrigan points out: “Who leaves an airy mansion on the Long Island Sound to drive into Manhattan on the hottest day of the year?”
The only respectable thing about you, old sport, is your money. Your money, that’s it. Now I’ve just as much as you. That means we’re equal.