Great Gatsby Movie Dresses- Are they really 1920s?

The 2013 Great Gatsby movie is creating a lot of buzz in the fashion world. A sudden revival of 1920’s inspired clothing is due in part to the movie’s big release.  Beaded cocktail dresses, slinky shift dresses, sparkling headbands, and gold and silver heels are gracing red-carpets and racks at your local shopping destinations. For a vintage style loving nut like myself, I love it… and hate it.

Great Gatsby Movie Inspired Style

great gatsby movie dresses

Beaded “Flapper” Dresses

I hate that the short shift dresses and one shoulder beaded gowns are not 1920’s but 1960’s or 2013. It’s a mix of decades and a stylized version of what fashion designers today think was cool about 1920’s fashion back then. It’s sad to research authentic 1920’s fashion and see so many amazing styles completely left out of this year’s revival. Long plaid skirts from the early 20’s, embroidered “Puerto Rican” blouses, and fur trimmed capes are all missing. I want to buy and wear these again today but I can’t- they didn’t make the movie cut.

Beaded Gowns Inspired by Great Gatsby Glam

Beaded Gowns Inspired by Great Gatsby Glam

That being said what I love about this year’s revival ARE the new designs that were cool enough to bring back. Beaded dresses,  an art form lost in the 20’s (and 80’s), are back and more beautiful than ever. They have both a sophisticated look with long gowns and a fun flapper vibe with fringe and  feathers on tiered flapper dresses. (Look at Sue Wong’s collection for both types of dresses.)

I also love the resurgence of headbands, especially the kind worn across the forehead. Evening headbands dripping in rhinestones or tiaras perched on top are not just for flapper brides. Cloth headbands accessorize day looks for a sportier, trendy, feel. I found a few at Forever 21, which I just love wearing.

great gatsby headband

Forever 21 Gatsby Headwrap. Click for more choices.

Great Gatsby Movie Dresses

I could go on and on about all the new style influences but the point of this post was to look at the Great Gatsby Movie costumes- are they really 1920’s?

Martin’s goal: to make 1920s New York feel as visceral, modern, and vibrant as it would have when Fitzgerald was there. This is not the painstakingly accurate version of 1922 as depicted in, say, “Downton Abbey,” nor does it resemble anything that might be found in a museum retrospective on the era. Source: Designer Catherine Martin on creating a new look for ‘Gatsby’

great Gatsby hair scarf

Real 1920’s Headbands are sleek and simple, but this one looks more like a 1970’s hippie scarf tie

In Martin’s own words “no” they are not 20’s. Unlike the men’s fashions made by Brooks Brothers, who extensively researched and re-produced men’s clothing from the 20’s Martin took artistic liberties. Just like in Moulin Rouge her job was to create a mood, a feeling, a party that today’s movie goers would want to attend. Although I would want to attend an authentic 20’s party wearing real 20’s garments, I am sure I would also love to attend the movie version’s party too.

1920s great gatsby cloche hat

This is much more 1920’s realistic look. Sheer dress..yes, cloche hat..yes, sunglasses..umm no.

Martin did an excellent job of artistically setting the scene. I can admire that even if I don’t love her choice in costuming the women. Most gowns were modified Prada clothing from the past 20 years (read unaffordable.) Most gowns are so over the top decorated that they seem too “fantasy costume” like. Real 1920’s gowns were more simple, more sleek, more streamline. Decorations like beading were plentiful but not gaudy. The previous 100 years were full of over the top dresses and expensive jewel and feather clad accessories. Fashion in the 1920’s was a rebellion from that. Gowns were to look expensive, but more importantly exotic. Egyptian style art, clothing, and design was huge as well as exaggerated but plain designs from the orient. Silk capes with Kimono sleeves were hand painted with cubist art and red Chinese dragons.

great gatsby dresses

Crystal Dress. Pretty but not 1920’s

What shocked 20’s society was not dresses with crystal hanging all over them, or tiers of “tango” style ruffles but the simplicity. A single piece of fabric draped across the body was not “a dress.” To them it looked like a nightgown, or one of the many layers of victorian lingerie. For these clothes to be publicly worn was clearly a shock to a conservative society.

Even more shocking was that these “sheath dresses” hide feminine curves and seductive bosoms.  They looked like men! With their short hair, flat chests, and shapeless clothing there was nothing to identify them as women anymore.  A few men were ok with it, most were appalled until they learned these “new woman” put out a bit more. Not necessarily sex, but a lot of necking, and public flirting. Women were after a new kind of life- one where nothing mattered except to have fun … usually on some married man’s dime.

With Martin’s own sense of style at play in the movie were certainly loose out on the cultural and historical perspective of the 1920’s. You can modernize fashion and give it a different perspective but taking the 20’s out of The Great Gatsby is, in my opinion, a disservice to the book and to the millions of movie goers who will forever believe that the movie costumes are real 20’s fashions.

great gatsby movie flapper costumes

Is this what we will think 1920’s fashion really is unil the next Great Gatsby remake?

If you want to learn what authentic 1920’s clothing is and isn’t. Follow my free 12 weeks blog series. You will learn all about 1920s fashion history and  culture of that turbulent era. Sign up here.

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About VintageDancer

Debbie & Oscar have turned their hobby into a career by teaching others how to re-create vintage style with affordable new vintage inspired clothing and accessories. We connect shoppers to the best vintage inspired clothing, shoes and accessories and teach fashion history as it was worn by everyday people. Need help? Contact us anytime.

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