The Great Gatsby: Three Suits in Three Adaptations
Jay Gatsby, romantic millionaire and shady bootlegger
Long Island, NY, Summer 1922
Played by Robert Redford in…
Film: The Great Gatsby
Release Date: March 29, 1974
Director: Jack Clayton
Costume Designer: Theoni V. Aldredge
Clothes: Ralph Lauren
Played by Toby Stephens in…
Film: The Great Gatsby
Release Date: March 29, 2000
Director: Robert Markowitz
Costume Designer: Nicoletta Massone
and played by Leonardo DiCaprio in…
Film: The Great Gatsby
Release Date: May 10, 2013
Director: Baz Luhrmann
Costume Designer: Catherine Martin
Clothes: Brooks Brothers
With its now famous tale of doomed romance, debauchery and death, and the failure of the American dream against a backdrop of riotous parties and scandalous adultery, The Great Gatsby was destined for the screen from the moment it hit shelves in the spring of 1925 at the height of what its author, F. Scott Fitzgerald, coined “the Jazz Age.” The following year, a silent film—now essentially lost—was released. In the decade of fickle fads from dance marathons to swallowing goldfish, interest waned in Fitzgerald’s magnum opus and the troubled author struggled between inconsistent work and alcoholism for his remaining years.
Nearly a quarter century later, Alan Ladd starred as Fitzgerald’s protagonist in what would be the first major adaptation still accessible to today’s audiences. Right from the start, the filmmakers recognized the essential role that style played in telling the story and enlisted the services of legendary costume designer Edith Head. John Farrow was set to direct, but disagreements over who would play the flapper Daisy Buchanan led to Elliot Nugent taking the helm instead… perhaps making it poetic justice that John’s daughter Mia Farrow would play Daisy herself 25 years later. Producer and co-screenwriter Richard Maibaum was encouraged by Ladd’s real-life Gatsby-like qualities to make the film, despite Fitzgerald’s all-but-forgotten reputation by the late 1940s. Though it was somewhat dismissed by contemporary reviewers, Maibaum felt satisfied by Charles Beckett assuring him that he singlehandedly inspired a revival in the life and works of F. Scott Fitzgerald… though tragically a decade too late for the author to ever recognize his cultural impact.
Hollywood dusted off the famous novel yet another quarter-century later with its star-studded adaptation scripted by Francis Ford Coppola (fresh off of his success with The Godfather) and directed by Jack Clayton. Robert Redford and Mia Farrow played the two stylish, star-crossed lovers with Sam Waterston, Lois Chiles, and Bruce Dern rounding out the cast. Howard da Silva, who had starred as Gatsby’s eventual killer George Wilson in the 1949 film, returned here as the wise, cautious gambler Meyer Wolfsheim who Fitzgerald had based on the real-life Arnold Rothstein. Despite the lavish production value, period-perfect music, and stunning costumes designed by Theoni V. Aldredge, reception was ultimately lukewarm.
Of course, another quarter-century passed before Fitzgerald’s written work was again adapted for the screen, this time by A&E Television Networks for a made-for-TV production starring Toby Stephens as Gatsby, Mira Sorvino as Daisy, and the ageless Paul Rudd as narrator Nick Carraway. No doubt restrained by its budget and production limitations, the 2000 A&E adaptation still puts in a solid effort at bringing Fitzgerald’s work to life though is perhaps ultimately underwhelming. Of note are the unique costumes designed by Nicoletta Massone, whose experience with related material includes her Emmy award-winning work for Zelda, a 1993 made-for-TV movie starring Natasha Richardson and Timothy Hutton as Zelda and Scott Fitzgerald.
This time, Hollywood split its usual wait time in half before taking on the story again with the grandiose auteur Baz Lurhmann directing a talented cast of Leonardo DiCaprio, Carey Mulligan, Tobey Maguire, Joel Edgerton, Isla Fisher, Jason Clarke, and Elizabeth Debicki in an energetic retelling that—if not overly faithful to the source material—did more to awaken young interest in the classic story than legions of exasperated high school teachers.
If you’re interested in comparing the four versions from a scholastic perspective, please enjoy this essay by Dr. Anna Wulick. If you’re interested in comparing some of the significant suits across the most recent adaptations, read ahead!
What’d He Wear?
With the majority of its action set from the late spring through early September of 1922, The Great Gatsby is among my pantheon of classic summer reads, though it may also have something to do with me discovering the book during a beach vacation before I entered the seventh grade. Having just watched The Sting for the first time and discovering my personal interest in classic menswear and style, I was particularly thrilled by Fitzgerald’s passages describing Gatsby’s wardrobe and how clearly it represented his newfound status among the West Egg elite.
Recovering himself in a minute he opened for us two hulking patent cabinets which held his massed suits and dressing-gowns and ties, and his shirts, piled like bricks in stacks a dozen high.
“I’ve got a man in England who buys me clothes. He sends over a selection of things at the beginning of each season, spring and fall.”
He took out a pile of shirts and began throwing them, one by one, before us, shirts of sheer linen and thick silk and fine flannel, which lost their folds as they fell and covered the table in many-colored disarray. While we admired he brought more and the soft rich heap mounted higher — shirts with stripes and scrolls and plaids in coral and apple-green and lavender and faint orange, and monograms of Indian blue. Suddenly, with a strained sound, Daisy bent her head into the shirts and began to cry stormily.
“They’re such beautiful shirts,” she sobbed, her voice muffled in the thick folds. “It makes me sad because I’ve never seen such — such beautiful shirts before.”
—The Great Gatsby, Chapter 5
Unlike some authors, Scott Fitzgerald went to great lengths to include colorful, specific descriptions of his central character’s suits, communicating to his readers that Jay Gatsby’s clothing is a significant part of how he has reinvented himself. Unfortunately, Fitzgerald doesn’t go into quite the obsessive detail of a style blogger so, aside from color—and in some cases, fabric—there’s no way to truly discern which adaptation most accurately depicted Fitzgerald’s vision for the character. Thus, all we can do is look at each of Gatsby’s suits individually in their respective contexts and examine how accurately each adaptation’s costume reflects fashions of the 1920s, how much it works in the context of the scene, and how much it flatters the particular actor portraying the character.
Given how much fashion is intertwined with the rise and fall of West Egg’s most famous inhabitant, it’s no surprise that major cinematic adaptations of The Great Gatsby always attract major clothiers to provide costuming for its handsome hero from the Ralph Lauren tailoring and Turnbull & Asser shirts bedecking Robert Redford in the 1970s to costume designer Catherine Martin’s much-publicized collaboration with Brooks Brothers in 2013 to not only dress Leonardo DiCaprio for the screen but also to release an exclusive, Gatsby-inspired line available for public purchase.
Brown in Town
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
Perhaps the least flashy of Jay Gatsby’s suits described by Fitzgerald, the millionaire wears this when he asks Nick Carraway to lunch to first truly acquaint himself with our humble narrator… and dredge up the nerve to ask him to host the reunion with Daisy, his former love.
It’s worth noting that, particularly in the 1920s, it was still likely an “old money” mindset that one would wear brown only for country pursuits and never to town, even on weekends. Either out of ignorance for this arbitrary standard or a willful rejection of the “rules”, Gatsby—both in the book and the color screen adaptations—is always depicted wearing a brown suit for his lunch with Nick in midtown Manhattan.
Of the three color adaptations of The Great Gatsby, only Robert Redford seems to wear all suits that are variations of the same cut: single-breasted jacket, double-breasted waistcoat with wide lapels, and pleated trousers.
Redford’s brown suit for his drive to town with Nick (Sam Waterston) is his first non-formalwear that gets any prominent screen time, and it’s an elegant introduction to the collaboration of costume designer Theoni V. Aldredge and Ralph Lauren’s tailoring. (Read more about the unraveling of Aldredge and Lauren’s tumultuous association during the production in Jason Dike’s September 2015 article for High Snobiety.)
Perhaps less summer-appropriate than its successors, Redford’s three-piece suit is made from chocolate brown wool with muted gray-blue chalk stripes. The single-breasted jacket has wide notch lapels that roll to a two-button front left open throughout the scene to reveal the beautifully cut double-breasted waistcoat with its low six-on-three button stance, sweeping peak lapels, straight-cut bottom, and gold pocket watch chain extending across his torso. The double reverse-pleated trousers rise appropriately high enough to conceal the waistband under the waistcoat and are finished with turn-ups (cuffs). Though promotional stills featuring Redford in this suit plainly show a pair of solid walnut brown oxfords, the screen-worn shoes are clearly dark brown and white spectator wingtip derbies.
Redford wears a pale ecru cotton shirt with a large white contrast collar and single cuffs fastened with large gold cuff links embellished with green stones, evoking his fascination with the green light on the end of Daisy’s dock. The dark brown silk necktie is patterned with tan geometric squares and floral-shaped circles, tied in a wide Windsor knot. He completes the look with a cream felt fedora with a brown pleated “puggaree” ribbon.
While bold and fashionable, the outfit with its extreme collar, lapel, and tie widths would be hard to mistake it as anything other than a stylish 1970s interpretation of 1920s trends. You can read the full BAMF Style post about this outfit here.
If Redford’s otherwise fashionable suit wasn’t quite summer-appropriate, the costume team of the 2000 A&E television production took heed and was sure to dress Toby Stephens in a lighter-toned suit with a large-scaled fawn-and-beige plaid pattern that is just informal enough for a Saturday afternoon lunch in town.
With its high-fastening single-breasted suit jacket and matching six-button waistcoat, Stephens’ suit looks more like it was made to resemble an authentic menswear offering from the early 1920s. The three-button jacket has short notch lapels, welted breast pocket, jetted hip pockets, and two-button cuffs. The waistcoat has four welt pockets, and the trousers are flat-fronted with turn-ups (cuffs) on the bottoms over his dark brown shoes.
Stephen’s cream cotton shirt has a semi-spread collar, front placket, and buttoning cuffs at the ends of sleeves that are slightly too long. His silk tie is block-striped in cream and dark brown with a thin dark brown stripe shadowing above each wider dark brown stripe.
Unlike its predecessors, Leonardo DiCaprio’s first prominently featured lounge suit in 2013’s The Great Gatsby seems to hit the “caramel-colored” description right on the nose, adding a subtle light blue windowpane check to the basket-weave summer-weight wool suit. The suit also establishes this Gatsby’s predilection for peak lapels on a single-breasted jacket, a trend that began in the 1920s when it “masterminded the metamorphosis of the male torso,” according to Alan Flusser in Dressing the Man. “By rigging a single-breasted jacket with a double-breasted rever, this lapel treatment virtually neutralized the double-breasted edge in formality. This option offered particular relief in the summer months, since single-breasted styles eliminated the warmth of the DB’s overlapping fronts.”
Additionally detailed with functioning four-button “surgeon’s cuffs” (as was Redford’s brown suit) and slanted besom hip pockets, the three-button jacket is worn both fastened and open, the latter revealing DiCaprio’s matching five-button single-breasted waistcoat and the flat front and frogmouth-style pockets of his trousers, which are plain-hemmed over his brown two-toned derbies.
DiCaprio’s light blue shirt nicely calls out the coordinating windowpane of his suiting. He wears the collar pinned with a silver barbell-style pin, pushing forward the knot of his salmon silk tie with its blue-and-cream criss-crossing stripes. Like Redford, he wears gold cuff links with green faces, though DiCaprio’s green is enamel. A tan silk pocket square puffing from his jacket’s welted breast pocket contrasts just enough to make an impact.
DiCaprio’s Gatsby completes the look not just with a natty straw boater bedecked with a navy striped ribbon but also a pair of vintage-inspired Bottega Veneta sunglasses with round tortoise frames. You can read the full BAMF Style post about this outfit here.
White Suit for a Romantic Reunion
The flowers were unnecessary, for at two o’clock a greenhouse arrived from Gatsby’s, with innumerable receptacles to contain it. An hour later the front door opened nervously, and Gatsby, in a white flannel suit, silver shirt, and gold-colored tie, hurried in. He was pale, and there were dark signs of sleeplessness beneath his eyes.
—The Great Gatsby, Chapter 5
Gatsby wants Daisy to see his success upon their first encounter, and there would be few garments more fitting to counter her last image of him in his drab U.S. Army uniform tunic than a resplendent white suit with underpinnings in silver and gold, the elements most representative of success.
Before we explore the respective white suits worn by Redford, Stephens, or DiCaprio, let’s take a step back to 1949 when Alan Ladd’s Gatsby was preparing for his reunion with Daisy (Betty Field) in the humble home of Nick Carraway (Macdonald Carey). The black-and-white film would have made this an ideal opportunity to dress Gatsby in white without having to worry about losing the effect of Fitzgerald’s intended color.
Yet, Edith Head dressed Ladd in a dark double-breasted jacket, probably navy, with white flannel trousers, spectator wingtip shoes, and striped tie. The reason for Head’s decision is lost to history; maybe Ladd refused to wear an all-white suit, maybe no heed was given to the clothing description in the novel, or perhaps Head determined that Gatsby would look most debonair in this high-contrasting sophisticated summer look.
And then there’s Robert Redford. Cut almost the same as his brown striped suit, this white linen three-piece suit shows the major impact that color can have as the white suit almost jumps off the screen, demanding the viewer’s—and Daisy’s—attention.
The details are the same as we’ve seen before, with the single-breasted, notch-lapel suit jacket worn (both open and closed) with the double-breasted waistcoat and pleated trousers with turn-ups.
The “silver shirt and gold-colored tie” are represented almost verbatim with a metallic gray-blue Turnbull & Asser shirt and gold silk tie with the large knot resting atop a silver collar pin keeping the large collar leaves in place. The double (French) cuffs are fastened with a set of gold cuff links that echo the tie, the pocket watch chain, and the gold ring on his left pinky that has a dark green stone.
Poking out of the jacket’s welted breast pocket is a metallic gray-blue pocket square, no doubt cut from the same material as the shirt.
Redford wears plain white oxfords, reflecting the decade that introduced and established white bucks as a summer footwear essential. You can read the full BAMF Style post about this outfit here.
Toby Stephens’ white suit is arguably that adaptation’s most accurate success. Stephens is shown proudly dressing for the day, buttoning the top four of five buttons on his cream summer-weight wool waistcoat before donning the matching three-button, single-breasted jacket with its notch lapels, welted breast pocket, straight flapped hip pockets, three-button cuffs, and long single vent. As on Redford’s suits, the trousers have double pleats on each side of the fly. The bottoms have turn-ups (cuffs) that break over his brown leather derby shoes worn with cream socks.
While the suit itself could be a product of any decade, the light blue cotton shirt showcases the most period detail of the outfit, even if not a perfect reflection of the “silver shirt” described by Fitzgerald. Stephens’ screen-worn shirt is actually a neckband shirt, worn with a detached stiff white club collar held in place with gold studs on the front and back of the neck. The double cuffs are fastened with a set of gold center-ridged rectangular cuff links.
“Is this tie too much?” Stephens’ Gatsby asks. “Nah, it’s very gold,” responds Paul Rudd’s Nick. The shiny gold tie, worn in a four-in-hand knot, appears to be shantung silk.
DiCaprio’s Gatsby wears perhaps the most creative approach to Fitzgerald’s described suit, consisting of an ivory linen-blend two-piece suit with DiCaprio’s usual details of slim peak lapels on a three-button single-breasted jacket and flat front trousers with plain-hemmed bottoms, but the suit is contrasted with a tobacco brown herringbone linen waistcoat. The decision to outfit Gatsby in an odd waistcoat has some historical basis as Alan Flusser describes that “a cursory survey into this American tradition begins in 1928, the Gatsby era, with a linen waistcoat in pastel shades of tan, gray, and blue… apparently in such favor that the trade paper Men’s Wear decreed that ‘the linen “odd” vest is an important item in the wardrobe of every man who makes any pretense whatever at following the fashions.'”
His metallic gray silk shirt with a blue cast to it has a long point collar, again held in place with a steel barbell-style pin, and single cuffs worn with silver “sunburst”-effect cuff links. Rather than a plain gold tie like Redford and Stephens, DiCaprio’s tie is closer to the yellow-orange spectrum and is patterned with double sets of thin red “uphill” stripes. The tobacco brown paisley silk pocket square calls out the vest rather than the shirt or tie. DiCaprio wears the summer-friendly footwear of cream-and-gray spectator shoes.
You can read the full BAMF Style post about this outfit here, which includes a look at the suit’s matching waistcoat worn by Gatsby for his funeral.
“An Oxford man!… Like hell he is! He wears a pink suit.”
“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.
—The Great Gatsby, Chapter 7
His gorgeous pink rag of a suit made a bright spot of color against the white steps, and I thought of the night when I first came to his ancestral home, three months before.
—The Great Gatsby, Chapter 8
White suits can be expected among the rich—particularly the nouveau riche—during the warm season, but a well-executed pink suit is practically a three-legged unicorn. Gatsby is at his most romantic here, and as the summer heat rises on Nick Carraway’s 30th birthday, so do the great lengths to which Gatsby will demonstratively show Tom Buchanan just how much Tom’s wife Daisy means to him… and how little Tom means to her.
As with the white suit, Robert Redford’s Gatsby lets the bold presentation of his solid pink linen three-piece suit do the talking for him with no need for patterns or excessive accessorizing. The single-breasted, notch-lapel suit jacket, double-breasted waistcoat with peak lapels, and pleated, cuffed trousers are all cut and styled as we’ve seen with his other lounge suits, though the buttons on the jacket and waistcoat are all off-white plastic, adding a sporty degree of informality appropriate for the occasion.
Redford’s Gatsby wears a plain white cotton shirt with a large club-style collar, front placket, and single cuffs fastened with gold links with oblong brown stones. His cornflower blue silk tie is patterned with a series of yellow floral crests and tied in a Windsor knot that covers the wide spread between the rounded shirt collar leaves. Redford again sports the white bucks that accompanied his white suit, and he actually wears the white newsboy cap that appeared in promotional material with the white three-piece suit but was never worn on screen with that suit.
You can read the full BAMF Style post about this outfit here.
Whether for artistic reasons or—more likely—budgetary limitations, the 2000 made-for-TV adaptation dresses Gatsby for the climactic sequence in a striped yellow suit as far from pink as any of the color adaptations have been, though the loudly striped suit still has its intended impact as evident by Tom Buchanan’s line being condensed to “Oxford man! You seen the way he dresses?”
It may not be pink, but Toby Stephens’ suit is no doubt flashy and inspired by fashions of the roaring ’20s with its single-breasted, peak-lapel jacket, matching four-button waistcoat, and double forward-pleated trousers with turn-ups and belt-less waistband meant to be worn with suspenders. The suiting consists of a complex multi-stripe of a white stripe shadowed by hairline navy stripes and bisected with a blue stripe on a yellow ground for a very summer-friendly, confectionery effect.
Stephens even wears another period-appropriate neckband shirt in plain white cotton (avoiding any clashing with the boldly striped suit) and with gold front and back studs holding in place a white detachable semi-spread turndown collar. With the collar attached and round gold “sunburst”-motif cuff links (the same ones we are shown Daisy putting on his uniform shirt cuffs back in 1917) in place on the shirt’s French cuffs, Gatsby wears a navy-and-forest green “downhill” block-striped tie with thin stripes separating each navy and green stripe: white between green and navy, and yellow between the navy and green.
Stephens wears a wide-brimmed natural straw hat with a black band, styled more like a fedora than the straw boater favored by DiCaprio’s Gatsby. He wears both his usual gold ring with the dark green stone and a gold tank watch on a dark brown leather strap. His shoes are dark burgundy leather derbies that are worn with cream socks.
Leonardo DiCaprio’s light pink pinstripe linen three-piece suit by Brooks Brothers was, in my opinion, the pièce de résistance of Catherine Martin’s costume design for the 2013 adaptation, combining the author’s original vision, timeless tailoring, interesting sartorial detail, and contextual significance. The suit is just pink enough to earn Tom’s jealous ire (and our admiration) without making the romantic millionaire look too much like a caricature.
The single-breasted suit jacket again has peak lapels, albeit fuller-bellied ones that roll to a lower three-button stance than his others and which he mostly wears with just the top button fastened. The welted breast pocket, accented with a burgundy silk pocket square, slants toward the center of the jacket while the hip pockets with their shaped flaps slant backward like a traditional hacking jacket. The jacket sleeves are roped at the shoulders and finished at the cuffs with a substantial neo-Edwardian “turnback cuff” and two mother-of-pearl sew-through buttons mirroring the three on the front and the five on the matching waistcoat underneath.
The matching flat-fronted trousers are beltless, worn with blue diagonal-striped suspenders that get plenty of screen time as Gatsby excitedly shares the truth of his origins with Nick later that night. The plain-hemmed bottoms break over his cream-and-brown wingtip oxfords that are worn with tan dress socks. Returning accessories include the stiff straw boater with its navy striped band, the tortoise Bottega Veneta round-framed sunglasses, his stainless steel tank watch, and his ring.
DiCaprio’s Gatsby doesn’t restrict the pink to his suit, wearing a pale pink-and-white striped silk shirt with a soft point collar pinned under a salmon-and-burgundy diagonal block-striped silk tie. You can read the full BAMF Style post about this outfit here.
Who Wore It Best?
Curiously, all three adaptations dress Gatsby’s hand with a noticeable pinky ring though no mention is made of this ring in Fitzgerald’s novel. While pinky rings were not uncommon affectations in the roaring ’20s, what would have inspired all three costume designers to include this for their respective Gatsbys?
Do Yourself a Favor and…
Check out the adaptations and judge for yourself:
- The Great Gatsby (1949), directed by Elliott Nugent and starring Alan Ladd as Gatsby, Betty Field as Daisy, and Macdonald Carey as Nick
- The Great Gatsby (1974), directed by Jack Clayton and starring Robert Redford as Gatsby, Mia Farrow as Daisy, and Sam Waterston as Nick
- The Great Gatsby (2000), directed by Robert Markowitz and starring Toby Stephens as Gatsby, Mira Sorvino as Daisy, and Paul Rudd as Nick
- The Great Gatsby (2013), directed by Baz Luhrmann and starring Leonardo DiCaprio as Gatsby, Carey Mulligan as Daisy, and Tobey Maguire as Nick
You should also absolutely read F. Scott Fitzgerald’s original book!
Happy summer, old sport.
I would guess it was Gatsby’s implied connections to organized crime, as a bootlegger and as an associate of Wolfsheim, that inspired the pinky ring.