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
To celebrate Sam Waterston’s 81st birthday today, I wanted to return to the actor’s breakthrough performance as Nick Carraway, the central character in Jack Clayton’s stylish The Great Gatsby, adapted from F. Scott Fitzgerald’s famous novel of the same name.
Much to the delight of high schoolers looking for shortcuts on their book reports, Gatsby has been more than a half-dozen times on screen (though that lost 1926 silent film isn’t going to help too many kids.) The most recent major production was Baz Luhrmann’s lavish 2013 adaptation, though I consider the 1974 version to remain the definitive telling of the story… as well as the most fashionable, thanks to Theoni V. Aldredge’s Academy Award-winning costume design.
As in Fitzgerald’s novel, the events of this tumultuous summer in Jazz Age-era Long Island are presented through the relatively impartial Nick Carraway, a humble outsider to the lifestyles of the rich and famous as exemplified by his flapper cousin Daisy Buchanan (Mia Farrow), her hulking husband Tom (Bruce Dern), the unapologetically irresponsible golfer Jordan Baker (Lois Chiles), and Nick’s mysterious nouveau riche neighbor, Jay Gatsby (Robert Redford).
What’d He Wear?
Nick dresses in plenty of tan and beige tones, reflecting both his “western” groundedness as well as his neutral personality. As our impressionable conduit into Gatsby’s world, Nick enters as an empty palette, ready to be dazzled by the pink suits, yellow cars, blue lawns, and green lights of the fictional Eggs until tragic turns of events find him “brooding on the old unknown world,” as Fitzgerald wrote.
All of Nick’s screen-worn knitwear are various light shades of brown, beginning with a rich ochre sweater vest while watching Gatsby’s first party from afar, then a tan shawl-collar cardigan after Gatsby has closed his estate for the summer, and finally this lighter tan pullover crew-neck sweater after spending his fateful 30th birthday in the city with Gatsby, Jordan, Tom, and Daisy.
The next morning, Nick couldn’t be further from his earlier admiration of his enigmatic neighbor, whose early visit illustrates the deep contrast between Gatsby’s bright and fussy pink three-piece suit—which looks even more haphazard when worn deconstructed—and Nick’s plain, neutral tones.
As they’re essentially back at “square one” regarding Nick’s opinion of him, it may be significant that Nick is dressed the same way as he was when his story with Gatsby began. He was only a few yards away, tending to his bird-feeder, when one of Gatsby’s many shadowy employees approached him with that portentous invitation to his “little party” that evening.
It makes sense that Nick would be dressed down for these quiet days alone at home, though it’s perhaps unfortunate for Mr. Carraway that decorum of the era dictates that he still be dressed in a long-sleeved sweater and trousers for the “broiling” temperatures of late summer. Still, eschewing the three-piece suits, fussy collars, and decorative ties of the Jazz Age transform Nick into a man essentially “out of time”, aligned with the viewer in 1974—or 2021—who may never wear a pink linen three-piece suit in his life but almost certainly has a broken-in sweater and khakis in his closet.
Nick’s tan sweater is made from a soft wool that suggests cashmere, a curiously warm-wearing choice for such a hot day though the proximity to the “great wet barnyard of Long Island Sound” may have cooled the air to allow for Mr. Carraway to comfortably don cashmere. The sweater’s narrow crew neck is ribbed, echoing the cuffs at the end of each set-in sleeve as well as the untucked waist hem.
Apropos the heat in these waning days of summer, Nick wears a pair of beige gabardine flat front trousers with a full fit through the legs down to the bottoms finished with turn-ups (cuffs). Belt loops were just finding a more permanent place on men’s trousers, and Nick holds his up with a slim dark brown leather belt. The trousers have side pockets and jetted back pockets, the left covered by a pointed button-through flap.
Nick diverges from his outfit’s relative timelessness at the ankle, as he adds some jaunty attitude with his favorite spectator shoes. These rakish two-toned leather oxfords have russet-brown wingtips, five-eyelet lace panels, and heel caps while the brogued quarters and vamps are plain white. He had also worn these shoes the previous day with his ivory linen three-piece suit, and he may be wearing the same black socks.
With such a light outfit—and, specifically, such light trousers—I would have advised Nick to don more tonally appropriate hosiery, perhaps in a matching shade of beige or even a brown if he was insistent on wearing dark socks.
A DiCaprio Connection?
In Baz Luhrmann’s aforementioned 2013 adaptation of The Great Gatsby starring Leonardo DiCaprio, costume designer Catherine Martin chose a very similar outfit for DiCaprio’s Gatsby to change into while taking Daisy (Carey Mulligan) and Nick (Tobey Maguire) on a tour of his expansive mansion. He had started the day in the oft-described white suit, silver shirt, and gold tie, transitioning into this more casual and comfortable ensemble once the cocktails and shirts start flying.
I haven’t read if DiCaprio’s tan sweater and off-white trousers were a nod to Waterston’s costume in the ’74 version or merely a coincidence, though the appearance of such a similar outfit in both suggests that you needn’t swath yourself in pink if you feel like bringing a touch of Gatsby style to your weekend casual garb.
What to Imbibe
Nick drowns his disillusionment in long pulls from a tall glass of Teacher’s Highland Cream, a blended Scotch whisky. More than 30 single malt whiskies are blended to create Teacher’s, though its signature smoky “fingerprint” profile from the peaty whisky produced by the Ardmore distillery in Aberdeenshire in the Scottish Highlands.
The late William Teacher had began distilling whisky more than a half-century before his sons registered the brand in 1884. It would be nearly another fifty years before the brand was legally exported to the United States, first arriving on the American market just after the end of Prohibition in 1933. Given that Gatsby made his millions as a bootlegger, it’s possible that he provided Nick with his “illegal” bottle of Teacher’s.
How to Get the Look
Unlike Gatsby’s romantic dreams, great fashion actually can repeat the past without looking dated. Nick Carraway’s simple tan cashmere sweater and off-white slacks are just as stylish as they would have been in the nearly 50 years since Sam Waterston wore them in The Great Gatsby, and even moreso than when the story was set a century ago during the height of the roaring ’20s.
- Tan cashmere crew-neck long-sleeved sweater
- Beige gabardine flat front trousers with belt loops, side pockets, jetted back-right pocket, flapped back-left pocket, and turn-ups/cuffs
- Dark brown slim leather belt
- Russet-and-white leather five-eyelet wingtip spectator oxford brogues
- Black socks
Do Yourself a Favor and…
They’re a rotten crowd! You’re worth the whole damn bunch put together.