Summertime means twenties time as The Great Gatsby themed parties across the country are being held at old mansions, historical parks, and personal homes. For inspiration, most people turned to the 1974 The Great Gatsby movie starring Robert Redford as Jay Gatsby. His high-class white summer suit stands out as one of the handsomest movie costumes ever worn. It’s no wonder every summer I receive a similar email to this one asking how to dress like Robert Redford in The Great Gatsby:
Would businessmen or politicians wear the white summer suits later than the summer months? Perhaps into September? I was thinking of going with a version of one of Robert Redford’s white suits from the Great Gatsby. Any suggestions on groups that already have suit packages together and available? – Lance
Answer: Yes, it is proper to wear white suits in early fall. If you were of higher class, you could afford the more comfortable summer suits in light colors. Even in summer, most suits in the 1920s were still wool, which is what Robert Redford wore in the movie. He was wearing white as his symbol of class rather than weather driven. He was also a man who did not follow fashion rules, so even if it was inappropriate to wear white after Labor day, he would not have cared.
What Robert Redford / Jay Gatsby wore:
The suit jacket is cut with very wide lapels and buttoned with 3 front buttons in a snug fitting single-breasted style. The vest is a double-breasted, shawl collar, 6 button, straight bottom, full back vest in matching wool. His trousers are pleated with wide and cuffed legs. The shoes are hard to see, but I think they are probably white canvas or leather lace up cap toe Oxfords with a dark contrasting sole and heel. His tie is a very wide silk, gold-colored necktie (very 1970s). Finally, his shirt is a blue dress shirt with attached pointed collar and white French cuffs complete with snazzy cuff links.
Are exact suits like this made today? No. I wish they were, but unfortunately modern fashion isn’t into wide trousers, wide lapel suits, or especially shawl collar vests. In general, white suits only exist as special occasion tuxedo suits or casual summer linen suits. Either option comes in the correct notch lapels, but with modern narrow lapels. The trousers won’t be as wide as they were in the twenties either, but if you buy them unhemmed, you can have them cuffed by the tailor for a more authentic twenties look. Single pleat trousers are more accurate than double pleats and look better, too.
The vest is going to be the one item you may have to either do without or use a modern substitute. They just don’t make vests like Gatsby’s anymore. Believe me, I have looked and looked and looked. Someday I will start my own clothing line, and this vest will be the first item to be made. I digress.
To recreate the Gatsby look, you can wear a plain white vest from a formal wear store which will probably be made of satin. You can also go with a natural, tan, or brown casual vest made of wool or linen for a bit more of a middle class period correct look. Or you can just leave it out. While most twenties men wore three-piece suits, the heat of the summer made it acceptable to go without a vest. Shop mens’ 1920s inspired suits.
Here are a few good choices for men’s two piece white suits. Shop here for more choices:
While there may not be a ready to wear package set of Gatsby’s suit, you can easily piece an outfit together. Perhaps after the new Great Gatsby movie is released, we will see more retailers carrying this style again. I certainly hope so.
Debbie Sessions has been teaching fashion history and helping people dress for vintage themed events since 2009. She has turned a hobby into VintageDancer.com with hundreds of well researched articles and hand picked links to vintage inspired clothing online. She aims to make dressing accurately (or not) an affordable option for all. Oh, and she dances too.