The Great Gatsby: Sam Waterston’s White Linen Suit

Sam Waterston as Nick Carraway in The Great Gatsby

Sam Waterston as Nick Carraway in The Great Gatsby (1974)


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


“Do you ever wait for the longest day of the year and then miss it? I always wait for the longest day of the year and then miss it,” laments Daisy Buchanan—somewhat redundantly—to her cousin Nick Carraway over a visit that kicks off the romantic drama of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby. (The summer solstice today makes this the longest day of the year, so take note, Daisy!)

Set 100 years ago across the summer of 1922, The Great Gatsby begins with Nick joining the Buchanans, Daisy being his second cousin once removed and Tom one of his former classmates at Yale. The wealth disparity is represented in the fictionalized areas of Long Island where they live, Nick describing his home “at West Egg, the—well, the less fashionable of the two” when compared to their elaborate mansion located among “the white palaces of fashionable East Egg… across the courtesy bay.”

The novel merely has Nick driving around the sound to arrive for dinner, while the movie follows Sam Waterston’s Nick across the bay in a small boat, fumbling for his nearly-drowned hat while his narration relays his father’s time-tested advice to check one’s privilege prior to criticizing anyone.

Both the novel and Jack Clayton’s 1974 adaptation, arguably the most prominent cinematic retelling until Baz Luhrmann’s 2013 spectacle, begin with this “warm windy evening” among old friends, immediately introducing most of the central players in Fitzgerald’s drama aside from the eponymous Gatsby, who only merits a mention as Daisy’s golfer pal Jordan Baker establishes that Nick, new to West Egg, “must know Gatsby,” eliciting an intrigued curiosity from Daisy.

The Great Gatsby (1974)

After a “golden afternoon” with the Buchanans, Nick motors away from their dock—and its familiar green light—as he returns to West Egg, under the watchful eye of his mysterious neighbor.

The mention of Daisy’s prior love doesn’t derail the evening, as she obsesses about candles and the two remaining weeks before the longest day in the year. A phone call likely from Tom’s “woman in New York” pulls the Buchanans from the table, but even that doesn’t deter Nick’s romantic reflection that:

It had been a golden afternoon, and I remember having the familiar conviction that life was beginning over again with the summer. By the autumn, my mood would be very different.

What’d He Wear?

Weeks before the enigmatic Jay Gatsby would dress in a white suit, silver shirt, and golden tie, his neighbor Nick had already pulled together an impressive all-white suit when calling on the Buchanans at home. (It should be noted that costume designer Theoni V. Aldredge received one of The Great Gatsby‘s two Academy Awards.)

Nick’s “summer whites” may be a bit flashy for our grounded narrator, but this seasonally appropriate shade visually communicates the character’s cheery optimism at the start of the story, a significant contrast to the somber charcoal woolen three-piece he wears for the movie’s funereal fall-set finale. Even during this roaring decade, such a suit would have been inappropriate for the office, so Nick likely embraced the opportunity to deviate from the more staid blues and browns of his workplace wardrobe to wear something more bright and celebratory for his reunion with Tom and Daisy.

Sam Waterston as Nick Carraway in The Great Gatsby

Nick blends in among the white linens and muted tones of Daisy’s sun-drenched parlor.

Nick’s bleached linen suit is slightly warmer than stark white, closer to an “eggshell” white than even ivory or cream. The single-breasted, two-button jacket blends sporty ’20s-inspired details with contemporary ’70s tailoring, the latter most significantly represented by the wide notch lapels with their welted edges.

Apropos the suit’s informality, the jacket has patch pockets: one on each hip and one over the left breast, which Nick dresses with a dark pocket square. All three pockets are detailed with a horizontal yoke across the tops with double sets of pleats that could expand the pocket as needed. A horizontal yoke extends across the back of the wide-shouldered jacket, with the seams softly gathered at the top of each sleeve. The sleeves are finished with four white buttons at the cuffs.

Sam Waterston as Nick Carraway in The Great Gatsby

Nick cautiously motors his small boat across the Long Island Sound, the pleated back of his jacket allowing for an appropriately wider range of motion as he helms.

Early 20th century tailored sportswear was often characterized by “action back” jackets, typically crafted from systems of strategically placed pleats that allowed wearers a greater range of movement, specifically arm movement, for outdoor sports like shooting and golf. As detailed by Ethan Wong’s blog A Little Bit of Rest (formerly Street x Sprezza), this could range from simply a fully cut back restrained at the waist by a self-belt to the intricate “bi-swing” back with a deep pleat behind each shoulder that would expand as the arm was extended.

Nick’s “action back” jacket consists of the aforementioned yoke back with an inverted pleat down the center, designed to “open” as Nick extends his arms… a functionality he swiftly illustrates while attempting to regain control of his motorboat and then lunge to fish his hat from the water. A half-belt sewn around only the back of the jacket suppresses the waist so that the wearer can benefit from the upper fullness without the jacket appearing too baggy. Below the belt, a long single vent extends down to the hem.

Sam Waterston and Bruce Dern in The Great Gatsby

Still dressed for polo, Tom escorts the white-suited Nick into the Buchanan estate. Note the “action back” details of Nick’s jacket below the horizontal yoke, including the inverted center pleat, the half-belt, and the micro-pleats resulting from the latter.

The suit has a matching single-breasted vest (waistcoat) with six white buttons and four welted pockets. Nick wears his gold pocket watch in the lower right pocket, with its gold chain strung “single Albert”-style through a hole adjacent to the fourth buttonhole down.

Sam Waterston as Nick Carraway in The Great Gatsby

Nick may have worn the white linen suit’s flat front trousers orphaned with his navy blazer for his first of Gatsby’s famous parties, as they share design details like the side pockets, back pockets (including the scalloped button-down flap over the left), and bottoms finished with turn-ups (cuffs).

The trousers’ belt loops would have been a relatively new phenomenon on men’s tailoring at the time; in fact, it wasn’t until 1922—the same year that The Great Gatsby is set—that Levi’s began adding belt loops to their famous 501 jeans. Nick even foregoes suspenders (braces) to hold up his trousers with a white belt, defying the oft-stated sartorial practice of not wearing belts with waistcoats so gents could avoid any unsightly bulges caused by belt buckles.

Sam Waterston as Nick Carraway in The Great Gatsby

“So, we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past…”

There’s no sartorial wisdom or “rule” insisting on white shoes with a white suit, as certain shades of brown leather can make for very handsome and harmonious footwear, but Nick sticks to his summery palette by sporting a pair of cap-toe oxfords with all-white leather uppers, worn with ivory cotton lisle socks. (The non-sueded leather finish and the black leather soles—rather than brick red rubber soles—inform us that these are simply white oxford shoes, not the Ivy-beloved “white bucks”.)

Sam Waterston as Nick Carraway in The Great Gatsby

Nick precariously balances himself as he reaches for his drenched Panama hat.

As of June 2022, the only cap-toe oxfords with white uppers and black leather soles appear to be the Stacy Adams "Gala" oxfords in white patent leather, available for less than $70 from:

Amidst the bleached layers of his suit, Nick infuses color with his multi-striped shirt and yellow paisley tie. The white cotton shirt is narrowly striped in a repeating pattern of blue, fuschia, and yellow stripes, the latter coordinating with his yellow tie, which is busily printed in a close all-over arrangement of burgundy, cream, gold, and sage-green paisley shapes. The shirt’s large point collar echoes the width of Nick’s jacket lapels, both of which may be concessions to the ’70s production but are still compatible. Nick’s high-fastening waistcoat results in little of the shirt seen beyond this sizable collar, but we can also see its button-fastened barrel cuffs.

Sam Waterston as Nick Carraway in The Great Gatsby

The wide-brimmed white straw Panama hat that Nick labors to rescue from the Long Island Sound has a full “optimo crown,” characterized by a flat top with a raised center ridge from front to back. The wide black grosgrain band has a cross-hatched charcoal stripe around the center, bordered on top and bottom with a lighter gray stripe.

Sam Waterston as Nick Carraway in The Great Gatsby

  • Levine Hats Co. Men's Casa Blanca Optimo Crown Panama Straw Dress Hat (Amazon, $109)
  • Montecristi "Optimo" Subfino Genuine Panama Hat (eBay, $129)
All prices and availability current as of June 20, 2022.

How to Get the Look

Sam Waterston as Nick Carraway in The Great Gatsby

Sam Waterston as Nick Carraway in The Great Gatsby (1974)

At the outset of The Great Gatsby, Nick Carraway dresses to match his attitude at the start of summer, attired in pure white from head to toe in wide-brimmed Panama hat, sporty linen suit, and leather oxfords.

  • Eggshell-white linen tailored sport suit:
    • Single-breasted 2-button jacket with wide notch lapels, pleated patch pockets on breast and hips, 4-button cuffs, and half-belted “action back” with inverted center pleat and single vent
    • Single-breasted 6-button waistcoat/vest with four welted pockets
    • Flat front trousers with belt loops, side pockets, set-in back pockets (with left-side scalloped button-down flap), and turn-ups/cuffs
  • White multicolor-striped cotton shirt with large point collar and button cuffs
  • Yellow tie with burgundy, cream, gold, and green paisley all-over print
  • White leather belt
  • White leather cap-toe oxford shoes with black leather soles
  • Ivory cotton lisle socks
  • White straw Panama hat with optimo crown and black center-striped band
  • Gold pocket watch on gold chain

Do Yourself a Favor and…

Check out the movie and read the book.

The Quote

In my younger and more vulnerable years, my father gave me some advice that I’ve been turning over in my mind ever since. “Whenever you feel like criticizing anyone,” he told me, “just remember that all the people in this world haven’t had the advantages that you’ve had.”

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