The Great Gatsby: Sam Waterston’s Beige Linen Birthday Suit
Sam Waterston as Nick Carraway, impressionable bachelor and bond salesman
Long Island to New York City, Late Summer 1925
Film: The Great Gatsby
Release Date: March 29, 1974
Director: Jack Clayton
Costume Designer: Theoni V. Aldredge
Clothes by: Ralph Lauren
Just as the summer began with a look at Nick Carraway’s white linen suit as his portrayer Sam Waterston narrated his arrival at a pivotal dinner with the Buchanans in the 1974 cinematic adaptation of The Great Gatsby, let’s bring it to a close by looking at how Nick dresses when returning to their estate on the climactic afternoon of his 30th birthday, which likely would have been sometime around Labor Day. (The movie updated the setting to 1925, though F. Scott Fitzgerald’s novel was set throughout the summer of 1922, which would have placed Nick’s birthday around 100 years ago today on Monday, September 4.)
Following the growing flirtations—and their implied consummation—between his cousin Daisy Buchanan (Mia Farrow) and his mysterious millionaire neighbor Jay Gatsby (Robert Redford), Nick begrudgingly joins Daisy and her hulking husband Tom (Bruce Dern) as they host Gatsby and Jordan Baker (Lois Chiles) for a tense and sweltering afternoon. As Fitzgerald wrote, the “day was broiling, almost the last, certainly the warmest of the summer… In this heat every extra gesture was an affront to the common store of life.”
The crystallic cinematography of The Great Gatsby captures every bead of sweat, whether inspired by heat, passion, or merely those extra gestures, as they drip down the privileged quartet’s foreheads and necks. The tension sprawls from East Egg and into New York City—specifically a suite at the Plaza Hotel—where the love triangle leaves none unscathed… excepting, perhaps, the always-unflappable Miss Baker. After dismissing his wife and her erstwhile lover from the room, Tom gets to work on opening a bottle of whiskey, offering some to a vacant Nick who, in his increasing cynicism, had failed until now to realize the personal significance of the day:
“…I just remembered that today’s my birthday.” I was thirty. Before me stretched the portentous menacing road of a new decade.
What’d He Wear?
Despite a humbler lifestyle and financial situation than his wealthy neighbors, the Nick Carraway of this adaptation is still a natty dresser who benefits from Theoni V. Aldredge’s Academy Award-winning costume design. Indeed, if not for the famously pink-suited Gatsby stealing the sartorial attention Nick may be the standout fashion icon in any other movie, deftly balancing elegance, flash, and tradition with his army of summer-ready suits, navy blazers, business suits, and spectator shoes.
On the afternoon of Gatsby’s “goddamn pink suit”, Nick dresses for the boiling late summer heat in a beige suit with the irregular slubs and proneness to wrinkle characteristic of linen and raw silk. Even as social norms loosened over the course of the roaring ’20s, sartorial decorum expected gents to sport three-piece suits even in the oppressive heat of late summer, thus Nick and Gatsby are wise to choose the light-wearing linen, doubtlessly keeping cooler than the more conservative Tom in his dove-gray gabardine suit.
Nick’s beige linen suit uniquely contrasts the bleached white linen sport suit he’d worn to dine with the Buchanans at the beginning of summer. At the time, he was unvarnished and impressionable, vulnerably clad in white while still heeding his father’s advice to give people the benefit of the doubt before they had the opportunity to prove him wrong. Now, several months later, Nick remains generally neutral in his light beige, but he’s seen enough irresponsible behavior from the filthy rich that some of his vulnerability has been replaced by cynicism, a philosophical phenomenon that would only gain momentum over the following days.
The beige suit jacket follows a more traditional design than the sporty white suit with its “action-back” belted jacket and pleated pockets. Instead, the single-breasted beige jacket has a plain ventless back, straight jetted hip pockets, and a welted breast pocket that Nick dresses with a dark brown silk pocket square. He wouldn’t wear this suit to his midtown office, so it’s appropriately detailed with some subtle sportiness like the gently “swelled” welting following the edges of his notch lapels. (The lapels, for what it’s worth, are of a width more consistent with contemporary ’70s fashion than what would have been commonly seen on ’20s suits.)
Nick’s suit jacket has a 3/2-roll (meaning the lapels roll over the top of three buttons), which has a tradition among the major geographic tailoring regions. “Traditional American brands like Brooks Brothers and J. Press popularized this style in the United States with their natural-shouldered un-darted sack suits,” Matt Spaiser wrote for Bond Suits of the 3/2-roll, and a Yale grad like Nick would have been familiar with these Ivy-associated outfitters. However, Nick’s suit has padded shoulders and front darts shaping the silhouette, suggesting a suit that hadn’t been designed to resemble strictly American fashions of the Jazz Age. The sleeves are finished with four off-white buttons that resemble those on the front of the jacket.
The suit has a single-breasted waistcoat (vest) with off-white buttons and welted edges that echo the jacket. The waistcoat’s six buttons rise to mid-chest, appropriately high for the era, while Nick also correctly leaves the bottom button undone. The waistcoat has four welted pockets, and Nick wears his gold pocket watch in the lower right pocket with a gold chain strung “single Albert”-style through a hole adjacent the fourth buttonhole with a bar-shaped fob hanging down.
After witnessing Gatsby’s colorful shirt collection supplied by Turnbull & Asser, Nick may have been inspired to depart from his typical white and blue by donning a bright yellow cotton shirt patterned with white pencil-width banker stripes. (As I mentioned earlier, the yellow shirt could be Aldredge’s symbolic stretch to align Nick with both Gatsby’s famous yellow car and even a similarly dressed Daisy… though that feels like I’m just overthinking again.)
The shirt also has a front placket and rounded single cuffs, a more formal alternative to double (French) cuffs, which Nick fastens with a set of flat gold oval links that match his other gold jewelry like his watch chain and collar pin.
The shirt’s spread collar is fastened behind the tie knot by a gold safety-style collar pin, both a handsome period detail as well as an effective character piece for the upright Nick, as the neat presentation of a collar pin generally prevents the wearer from loosening his collar and tie. “Considered by many shirt savants to be the pinnacle of collared carriage, this is not neck trapping to hide behind,” writes Alan Flusser in Dressing the Man. “Unlike the cutaway or button-down, the pinned collar’s stylishness rises or falls in relation to the skill of its execution.”
Nick maintains a low-contrast look with a yellow silk tie, patterned with a repeating print of neatly arranged paisley “teardrops” in navy and cream with prominent burgundy centers.
The flat-front suit trousers are detailed with slanted side pockets and turn-ups (cuffs), which break over the tops of his spectator shoes. The term “spectator” may best describe Nick’s role as a mostly silent witness to the brewing love triangle between Gatsby, Tom, and Daisy, though these two-toned lace-ups have also been known through history as “correspondent shoes” in disparaging reference to their association with the “third parties” named as co-respondents in adultery-related divorce cases; uniquely, the “third party” in this case—Gatsby—wears plain white bucks while Nick and Tom each wear spectator shoes.
Unlike Tom’s black-and-white shoes that reflect his uncomplicated notion of how the world should function, Nick wears a gentler brown-and-white configuration. The vamps are white, while the wingtips, lace panels, and heels are russet-brown leather, continued up the leg-line by Nick’s dark chocolate brown socks. These spectator oxfords appear to be among Nick’s favorite shoes when not dressed for the city, as we had earlier seen him wearing them for a solitary dinner at home during one of Gatsby’s parties across his lawn and again with his tan gabardine suit while hosting Gatsby and Daisy’s first reunion after
five eight years apart.
Though the novel depicts Nick handing over a straw hat upon entering the Buchanan home, the movie does not feature either Nick or Tom wearing hats, a possible oversight as it would’ve still been an expected practice in the early 1920s for most men to wear hats outdoors. (For his part, at least Gatsby wears a white newsboy cap which—combined with Redford’s flat caps in The Sting the year prior—contributed to this style’s revival through the mid-’70s.)
How to Get the Look
Though summer is almost over, you can reach out and hold it back by channeling the linen-tailored elegance of The Great Gatsby. Even for those lacking the boldness—or resources—to drape yourself in pink linen like the eponymous millionaire, find inspiration from Nick Carraway’s accessible dashes of color like a yellow striped shirt and tie to spice up an otherwise neutral beige suit, accessorized with gold hardware like collar pin, cuff links, and watch.
- Beige linen suit:
- Single-breasted 3/2-roll jacket with wide notch lapels, welted breast pocket, straight jetted hip pockets, 4-button cuffs, and ventless back
- Single-breasted 6-button waistcoat with four welted pockets
- Flat front trousers with slanted side pockets and turn-ups/cuffs
- Yellow (with white banker stripes) cotton shirt with pinned spread collar, front placket, and single cuffs
- Gold safety-style collar pin
- Gold oval cuff links
- Yellow mini paisley-printed silk tie
- Brown-and-white leather wingtip spectator oxfords
- Dark brown cotton lisle socks
- Gold pocket watch on gold “single Albert”-style chain
Do Yourself a Favor and…
Check out the movie and read the book.
She’s got an indiscreet voice.