HomeFASHIONIn the Green Light - The Great Gatsby Brings High Fashion Back...

In the Green Light – The Great Gatsby Brings High Fashion Back to the 1920's


The Great Gatsby roars back into the public eye May 10th when Baz Luhrmann’s much-anticipated film event-of-the-year debuts on the silver screen (May 15th in Europe at the Cannes Film Festival; May 30th in Australia). The modern day adaptation of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s 1925 novel has encountered quite a lot of adversity, from weather troubles on location to financial investors backing out, but finally anticipators can breathe a collective sigh of relief with the imminent release dates. With an all-star cast including Leonardo DiCaprio, Tobey MacGuire, Carey Mulligan, Joel Edgerton, Isla Fischer and more, the film was sure to receive attention even without the commercial hype. Nonetheless, hype it has; with legendary brands like Tiffany & Co. and Brooks Brothers showcasing Gatsby-inspired collections, an enormous collaboration of major artists on the soundtrack, and even a touring exhibit of the Prada costumes featured in the movie, it’s become nearly as impossible to ignore as Jay Gatsby himself. A resounding effect of vintage glamour’s rebirth is already being felt on the creative world, as all the glitz of the 1920’s returns to bedazzle us once again.

Standing at about $100 million in production costs, Luhrmann’s Gatsby has pulled all the stops, and doesn’t appear to be coming up short in any department – especially the clothing! The amazing ensemble of over 1700 original vintage-inspired pieces created by costume and set designer Catherine Martin were drawn from countless hours of research to be as period authentic and eye-catching as possible. A collaboration between Martin and Miuccia Prada pulled 40 designs from the Prada vault, tweaking and re-tooling dresses from more recent seasons to be worn by the East Egg elite. However only one of the selections made it to the main cast; the Prada Spring/Summer 2010 chandelier gown that co-lead Carey Mulligan wears as Daisy Buchanan in a key party scene. Certain jewelry pieces were created by Martin with the aid of Tiffany & Co., taking styles from the archives and translating them into The Great Gatsby Collection, which is available to the public. For the men’s costumes, over-a-century standing brand Brooks Brothers was enlisted for 500 unique looks that Martin also whipped up from the company’s archives (possibly the most accurate choice, considering Fitzgerald himself was a known customer). These styles have been brought from the screen to the streets, with an entire line inspired by the join-up with Martin on sale at Brooks Brothers now. With every glimpse of the dapper and glittering cast, excitement has been mounting, calling louder and louder for the revival of “speak-easy chic”.

A couple of the iconic

“Catherine Martin and Miuccia Prada Dress Gatsby,” on display at Prada’s flagship store in New York City. Showcasing actual costumes from the film, including all 40 of Prada’s collaborative outfits with Martin as well as a few select suits designed for the cast by Brooks Brothers. The exhibit will be in NY from May 1st – May 12th, then it will set sail for a tour of Japan (June) and China (July).

In the ’20s, New York’s high society defined haute fashion by habit of traveling to European locales such as Paris and London, and returning with cutting-edge styles and trends to the States. All things “across the pond,” were in-vogue, and influential designers like Chanel and Lanvin set the stage for the dawn of the iconic flapper style. For women in the United States, the right to vote and increasing independence from men led to their becoming more involved in sporting activities and physical fitness. They also fell into styling their hair quite short, in sleek bobs and curly crops, adopting more masculine attitudes along with appearances. The Victorian sentiments of their mothers’ day was fading fast from consciousness. Prohibition had fueled a rise in seedy moral values as the line between criminal and entrepreneur was blurred. It was also the first time that the middle class was becoming as fashionable as the elite, creating an even greater social separation from the very poor. Men were at home in crisp three-piece suits completed by bowties, cuff links, and carved head walking-sticks. Ivy League style was all the rage, straw boater hats (featured prominently by Martin throughout the film) and complementary cardigans bedecking dapper gents on their casual days off. It was definitely a time when things appeared to have nowhere to go but up; the skyscrapers, the stocks, and the ambitions of the upper class.

The short skirts of common modern-day “flapper girl,” costumes often portray a misconception of 1920’s fashion. In 1919, hemlines still fell barely above the ankles. It wasn’t actually until about 1925, when Fitzgerald published his novel, that hemlines just below the knee could be commonly observed. Of course, with his finger on the pulse of society, and regular interaction with New York’s fashionable elite, it is no wonder that the author would have accurately predicted the trend. It is known he frequented gatherings of Long Island socialites, where it was purported he drew inspiration for the characters and plot line of Gatsby. Between the time he had published the novel and the great stock market crash of 1929, the length of women’s skirts fluctuated, rising high as the financial market, only later to plummet back to Earth in a similar fashion. To quote Luhrmann in a recent interview on the matter; “Fundamentally, that book is about a period in which fashion itself became the fashion we know today. In the 1920s, young girls were running around the streets of New York in what their mothers considered to be their underwear, while the mothers were wearing dresses down to their ankles. That moment was the first youth quake, and it was also a fashion quake, and I think that’s what people get excited about.”

With the popularization of dances such as the Charleston, young women began to wear skirts designed to “flap,” about their calves and reveal a little more leg than you would have expected from initial glances. These ladies were out to dance till the sunrise, and their clothing was created just for the task.

The trendiest clothing items and accessories of the era – including Windsor-frame glasses, the tight-fitted cloche hat, and Oxford shoes – left their mark on fashion, and are working into the outfits of today. It’s as if they’ve patiently waited for a launch back into the mainstream, which Lurhmann’s Gatsby will certainly provide the perfect platform for. The first symptoms of a “Roaring ’20s,” resurgence are already popping up, like the subtle vintage hints found in Lacoste‘s S/S 2013 ad campaign (one of the models even dons an aforementioned cloche) and the rising popularity of round sunglasses. The shift dress, with its loose and almost shapeless appearance, became prevalent in that natty era due to the ease of sewing the pattern; today it’s making a comeback on the catwalk, such as in Louis Vuitton and Rachel Zoe‘s S/S 2013 lines, and finding a new home in the contemporary woman’s wardrobe. The darling headbands and hairpieces, along with brooches and draping necklaces worn in the party scenes, are sure to generate as much envy and adoration from young women as they would have in 1926. Kitten-heels are also primed for a comeback, the shorter heel getting more focus from costume designer Martin. Oh, and don’t forget that timeless Eton crop; what girl wouldn’t be tempted to capture Daisy’s “innocent,” charm? It seems only natural we’re about to be hit by a wave of vintage glam. Only time will tell how much the new film adaptation will effect global fashion consciousness, but we’re going to take a leaf out of Fitzgerald’s book and call this one like we see it!

The parallels between 1920s Western culture and that of the current decade are vast, and can be observed through more than just fashion. Women’s rights, Prohibition, war, and the struggle of the self-made man are still hot topic issues. The Great Gatsby has long been considered an American classic for the entrancing way it captured a pivotal moment in history that may have eluded us otherwise. It was a time of casual rebellion against social norms, with the youth dancing their nights away to the new, unconventional grooves known as “jazz music,” and increasingly questionable morals brought on by the injustices felt surrounding Prohibition. The gap between the “haves,” and the “have nots,” was becoming more of a chasm, and the European bourgeoisie mindset was taking over America’s Eastern seaboard. The world was on the brink of great change, just as it is now.

Left-to-Right: Tobey MacGuire as Nick Carraway, Elizabeth Debicki as Jordan Baker, and Joel Edgerton as Tom Buchanan.

Dapper gents and dainty dames – from left-to-right, Tobey MacGuire as Nick Carraway, Elizabeth Debicki as Jordan Baker, and Joel Edgerton as Tom Buchanan.

Baz Luhrmann, the film’s director, has put all his eggs (East and West) in The Great Gatsby basket, and for good reason. The corroborative forces behind its entirety have ensured the story’s splash will be as enormous as it should have been on its first publishing run. Contemporary and traditional evocations have been woven together to propel the apologue of Jay Gatsby into the mind of modern man. The dazzling costumes and set design are already sending us reeling back through history, ready to bring a taste of the party to here-and-now. No matter what, Gatsby has already accomplished a central goal; the classic tale will not soon be forgotten. The circle Luhrmann has intended to create is almost complete, tossing us down onto the streets of New York City circa 1922, as if it’s happening all over again in our own world, today.

As said best by the great man himself (or Leo, if you prefer), “Can’t repeat the past? Why, of course you can. Of course you can.”

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