The 2013 The Great Gatsby movie is creating a lot of buzz in the fashion world. A sudden revival of 1920s 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
I hate that the short shift dresses and one shoulder beaded gowns are not 1920s but 1960s or 2013. It’s a mix of decades, and a stylized version of what fashion designers today think was cool about 1920s fashion back then. It’s sad to research authentic 1920s 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.
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 ’20s (and ’80s), are back and more beautiful than ever. They have both a sophisticated look with the 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, more trendy feel. I found a few at Forever 21, which I just love wearing.
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 1920s?
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’
In Martin’s own words: “no,” they are not ’20s. Unlike the men’s fashions made by Brooks Brothers, who extensively researched and re-produced men’s clothing from the ’20s, 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 ’20s party wearing real ’20s garments, I am sure I would also love to attend the movie version’s party, too.
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 1920s gowns were more simple, more sleek, more streamlined than those in the film. 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 1920s 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.
What shocked ’20s 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” hid 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 women” 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, we certainly lose out on the cultural and historical perspective of the 1920s. You can modernize fashion and give it a different perspective, but taking the ’20s out of The Great Gatsby is, in my opinion, a disservice to the book and to the millions of moviegoers who will forever believe that the movie costumes are real ’20s fashions.
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.