The Great Gatsby: 90 Years of Cinematic Fashion
It’s hard to believe that F. Scott Fitzgerald’s novel The Great Gatsby is almost 90 years young! In just a few days, the Baz Luhrmann version of this classic will be upon us, dazzling its way across the screen with a glittering frenzy that might just make the Charleston seem tame. This will mark the fourth time the story has been brought to the big screen. Although the story has only been considered a costume drama picture since the 1970’s, the list of designers for all the versions is impressive: Howard Greer, Edith Head, Theoni V. Aldredge, Ralph Lauren, Catherine Martin, Muiccia Prada, and Brooks Brothers.
2013: The Luhrmann Gatsby
Oscar winning costume and production designer Catherine Martin has created a lush opulent look and feel, as well as lavish costumes, for the Baz Luhrmann production. Martin collaborated with Miuccia Prada in creating 40 women’s costumes that were made by Prada’s seamstresses in Italy. They have taken a modern approach to the costumes by adapting many of Prada’s designs from the 1970’s with a 1920’s cut and embellishing them with miles of sequins, fringe, feathers and pearls in true flapper style. A team of 6 milliners, headed by Rosy Boylan, created the stunning headwear seen throughout the film. These designs are not limited to the styles of the mid-1920’s, but run from the lace cap styles of the 1910’s to the fascinator styles of the present. Some of the hats and headbands feature stunning Tiffany & Co., who are the film’s jeweler.
Martin also teamed with Brooks Brothers to create the men’s fashions for the film. Brooks Brothers was F. Scott Fitzgerald’s own clothier and Martin researched their 1920’s men’s fashion archives to get the correct styles and cuts of the time. Brooks Brothers manufactured Martin’s costumes based on their original designs to give the costumes a made-to-measure feel and crisp look. The men’s straw Boaters were also supplied by Brooks Brothers. Surprisingly, these have continued to be a popular hat for them since the 1920’s.
1926: The Contemporary Gatsby
The first cinematic adaptation was released, just a year and a half after the book was published. Initially, the book was not a huge hit, as scandalous flappers were considered old hat by then, and as a result the film was produced without much fanfare. Famous Players-Lasky, which became Paramount Pictures in 1927, released the film and they have held the screen rights ever since. Howard Greer was head costume designer at FPL during filming and more than likely supervised the wardrobe for the film. It’s unique to think that the film was contemporary to the book and the fashions seen on the screen were the fashions of the day, not the costume drama we have today or in recent memory. Sadly, the film is considered lost and all that remains is the trailer.
1949: The Noir Gatsby
In 1946, Paramount decided to remake the film, but Joseph Breen of the Production Code Administration office refused to consider the idea, due to the book’s salacious topics, stating that it couldn’t adapted for the screen. In 1947, a moralized version of the screen play was approved, removing any references to adultery and suicide, adding biblical quotes, and changing character background stories. The New York Times remarked that unlike the novel, “… the flavor of the Prohibition era is barely reflected in this new film.”
With it’s the heart and soul ripped out by the dreaded Breen office, Paramount decided to turn the story into a film noir drama. Alan Ladd plays Gatsby and a host of staple noir character actors such as Elisha Cook Jr. and Ed Bagley, along with Shelley Winters playing the vixen Myrtle, round out the cast. Edith Head’s costumes for the film bare little resemblance to the styles of the 1920’s, which isn’t surprising for a noir drama, but is interesting because Head was working in the wardrobe department at Paramount under Howard Greer when the 1926 version was in production. The fashions in the film are 1940’s in structured style with a only a whiff of fringe here and there.
1974: The Ethereal Gatsby
Aside from the 1926 adaptation, the 1974 film might be the truest to the F. Scott Fitzgerald story. The visibly high production values and the dream-like cinematography make quite a statement. Theoni V. Aldredge’s Oscar winning costumes invoke serenity in the quiet moments and wild abandon during the gin-filled parties. Ralph Lauren designed the men’s costumes, which Aldredge didn’t want acknowledged and created a row between the two, to the point where she didn’t mention him during her Oscar acceptance speech. The film captured a romantic view of the 1920’s that was felt in the revival at the time, much of which is happening again at the present moment, but with a much sharper pointed edge.