Sam Waterston as Nick Carraway, impressionable bachelor and bond salesman
Long Island, New York, Summer 1925
Film: The Great Gatsby
Release Date: March 29, 1974
Director: Jack Clayton
Costume Designer: Theoni V. Aldredge
Clothes by: Ralph Lauren
Summer officially started yesterday up here in the Northern Hemisphere, signifying a seasonal return to festive outdoor gatherings. Over the last year, I’d read a number of takes from people who were drawing parallels between our current era and the raucous reputation of the roaring ’20s, noting that the decade worth of parties to follow may have been inspired by the scores of Americans eager to socialize again after months in quarantine during the Spanish flu, Prohibition be damned. With vaccination rates continuing to climb and daily COVID diagnoses declining, we may indeed be on the precipice of a roaring 2020s.
Today, thinking of the ’20s often conjures scenes straight out of The Great Gatsby, F. Scott Fitzgerald’s novel of romance, wealth, and tragedy against the backdrop of the Jazz Age… a term Fitz had reportedly coined himself for the title of a 1922 short story collection.
Gatsby had always been one of my favorite novels, from the time I discovered it during a beach vacation the summer before I entered 7th grade. The novel has taken on new meaning with each annual read, whether as part of high school curriculum or just to escape from the adult world into the still-universal drama of a bygone era, but this had been a fortuitous time for my introduction as I had also just watched The Sting for the first time and thus had already begun cultivating an appreciation for interwar style (and Robert Redford movies!) As soon as my family returned home from the beach, I found a VHS tape of what was then the most prominent cinematic adaptation of my new favorite book, wearing it thin as I repeatedly took in Theoni V. Aldredge’s costume design and Nelson Riddle’s pitch-perfect period soundtrack.
Regarding the latter, I took the liberty of extracting some tracks from my LP of Nelson Riddle’s soundtrack album that feature during this first roaring party sequence:
What’d He Wear?
From the page to the screen, Jay Gatsby must be one of the most iconically dressed men in fiction with his eye-catching suits in summery shades of pink and white and that closet full of luxurious shirts that brings Daisy Buchanan to literal tears. Of course, Gatsby is presented as an almost larger-than-life romantic ideal, as seen through the eyes of our far more practical narrator Nick Carraway.
Representing the relative everyman, Nick illustrates a sartorial balance, fashionable enough to fit into Gatsby’s crowd but accessible enough that we can easily see ourselves in his shoes. When the modest-living Nick is invited to his first of his enigmatic neighbor’s lavish garden parties, he arrives neatly dressed in navy blazer, striped tie, and white trousers, the sort of ensemble he likely wore to Ivy League festivities during his Yale days.
Unfortunately for Nick, West Egg ain’t New Haven, and he soon discovers he’s considerably underdressed when compared to the gents dancing around him in tuxedoes and even formal white tie and tails.
While Aldredge’s costuming decision likely rooted from the book (Fitzgerald described Nick’s “white flannels” for this party), it also exemplifies the contemporary ’20s-meets-today approach that helped the style of both Jack Clayton’s 1974 adaptation and Baz Luhrmann’s 2013 adaptation resonate with audiences. A few stylistic anachronisms here and there are a small price to pay when contemporary-minded costuming can transcend The Great Gatsby from a potentially inaccessible period drama to a more universal story.
Nick’s decision to wear this shirt with a blazer and straight tie reinforces that he accepted Gatsby’s delivered invitation to what was admittedly described as “a little party” with a more collegiate attitude, as even tuxedoes were still considered part of a more semi-formal dress code at this point in the early ’20s. It also more easily transfers the viewer into Nick’s point of view, as the average audience member in 1974 would have been considerably more likely to attend a party in a blazer and tie than a tuxedo.
Nick’s navy wool single-breasted blazer has broad notch lapels with sporty edge swelling, rolling to the two gilt buttons positioned at his waistline. The width of the lapels and the long double vents are more contemporary concessions to ’70s fashions, though hardly egregious ones. The soft shoulders are consistent with traditional American tailoring, and each sleeve is finished with three gold buttons at the cuff. The sporty patch pockets on the left breast and hips dress down the blazer.
Nick’s white cotton shirt has a substantial collar with an elegant roll that curls back against the body of the shirt at the end of each leaf, resembling the effect of a button-down collar though close-ups of the shirt indicate that there are no buttons. (Though a button-down collar would have been consistent with the outfit’s Ivy attitude; the “polo shirt” with its button-down collar was a then-recent innovation by Brooks Brothers in the early years of the 20th century, and Brooks Brothers’ Ivy associations were illustrated by Princeton alum Fitzgerald in his debut novel, This Side of Paradise, in which Brooks is twice mentioned for its well-regarded wares.)
The silk twill repp tie is “downhill”-striped in the traditionally American direction (as opposed to the “uphill” British club stripes), consisting of navy and white bar stripes with the slightly wider white stripes each bisected by a thin yellow stripe, shadowed on top and bottom by a slimmer navy stripe.
The “white flannels” described by Fitzgerald are represented on screen by Nick’s cream-colored trousers which, when paired with the navy blazer, forms a picture-perfect example of how a well-to-do Jazz Age gent would have dressed for a stylish summer evening.
“With blue and white as the imperatives of nautical dress, navy blazers and white trousers made a dashing sports outfit for the wealthy American man of the 1920s,” writes Alan Flusser in Dressing the Man. “Being class-conscious, he adopted it as another means of distinguishing himself from the masses.”
Addressing Flusser’s latter point, Nick Carraway is decidedly not as snobbish as his East Egg cousins, and his appointment of this celebrated combination may have represented his aspirational ideas about how he could fit in among the set that would attend one of his wealthy neighbor’s opulent parties. Luckily for our struggling bondsman, none of his tuxedoed or tailcoat-ed fellow guests seem to mind the disparity in dress codes.
Nick’s white leather oxfords have hard dark brown leather soles—not quite the red brick rubber outsoles of quintessential bucks—and are appropriately worn with off-white socks that harmonize with his white trousers and shoes, though the break of the cuffed bottoms of his trousers tend to cover his hosiery even amid all the Charleston-dancing revelry.
Nick adopted the same sartorial approach for more subdued afternoon event earlier in the summer as he and Daisy discuss his romantic prospects with Jordan Baker (Lois Chiles). He has a white-piped navy rowing blazer slung under his arm and over the bench.
Assuming that Nick wears the same trousers in both scenes, we see here that they have short forward-facing pleats and belt loops, through which he wears a creamy white leather belt with a gold-finished square single-prong buckle. The side pockets are placed along the seams, and there are two back pockets—a simple jetted besom pocket on the right, while a scalloped single-button flap covers the left pocket.
What to Imbibe
Nick fails to attain the level of drunkenness from his afternoon in the city with Tom and Myrtle, but it’s not for lack of trying with all that Piper-Heidsieck champagne flowing!
The champagne house dates back to the summer of 1785, when it was founded in Reims by Florens-Louis Heidsieck. A decade after Heidsieck’s death, the Piper-Heidsieck partnership was formed that took the house into the future.
Piper-Heidsieck currently celebrates its Jazz Age associations with a limited “Prohibition Edition” bottling, first sold in 2020 to commemorate a century since the enactment of the Volstead Act… which kept the Piper-Heidsieck flowing at soirees like those that would have been hosted by the fictional Gatsby.
How to Get the Look
The Great Gatsby made the fashions of the ’20s contemporary to the ’70s, establishing a timeless code that would translate yet another half-century later with outfits like Nick Carraway’s simple but stylish navy blazer, striped tie, and white trousers and shoes that could be effectively pressed into practice for the roaring 2020s partygoer dressing to impress.
- Navy wool single-breasted blazer with notch lapels, two gilt shank buttons, patch breast pocket, patch hip pockets, 3 gilt-button cuffs, and long double vents
- White oxford cotton shirt with shapely button-down collar, front placket, and button cuffs
- Navy and white “downhill” bar-striped repp tie with thin navy/yellow/navy stripe sets
- Cream-colored forward-pleated trousers with belt loops, on-seam side pockets, jetted back-right pocket, scallop-flapped back-left pocket, and turn-ups/cuffs
- White leather belt with gold-finished square single-prong buckle
- White leather oxford shoes with dark brown leather soles
- Cream cotton lisle socks