Pastel Palettes and Ethereal Feathers – Couture on the Screen

What were they wearing in the summer of 1922? Let’s learn the fashion of this era through each of The Great Gatsby movie releases, while comparing the authenticity of the most recent two versions.

Chrissy 1Let’s set the fashion scene for the 1920’s… words by Chrissy Keepence

Despite the unsettling effects of the First World War, the 1920s stand out as a bright, youthful period with great enthusiasm for its own time. There was an air of confidence for the future with clichés like ‘new beginnings, ‘new age’ and ‘a brave new world’ being genuinely heartfelt.

Innovations characterised the times. Young men and women in their 20s and 30s set the style of the decade. The Jazz Musician with his haunting saxophone was the new Pied Piper and the social lives of those with time, money and inclination resembled a perpetual New Years Eve party.

Col Porter’s famous song ‘Anything Goes’ aptly captures the frivolity of the fun lovin’ 20’s. The fashion of the time needed to fit into and reflect that frivolity, hence the free flowing and loose fitting garments that were easy to wear and anything but restrictive, which was the case for the previous decades and the decades ahead.

Paul Poiret and, a little later, Coco Chanel seemed to intuitively sense the need for change and they pioneered major alterations that would work with the lifestyle of the day. These designs were based on a less restricted, lithe and youthful body and they used lighter, softer and more fluid fabrics. Feathers and a whimsical life were largely reserved for the rich, but up until the economic crash of 1929 most people would have been able to afford this new and exciting ‘lifting of the skirt’ fashion – as scandalous as it was for the old guard.

Everyone got into it.

Post War fashion ignored the natural curves of the female figure, breasts were flattened and waists by-passed, the dominant hat shape became the pull-on helmet shaped cloche.

Chrissy K

Original 1920s silk velvet cut on the bias frock. Hat is a sequence skull hat with a large flower adornment. These frocks were made for dancing!

Let’s Look at the On-Screen Fashions
Click here to check out a Pinterest board covering both the 1974 and 2013 movie versions

1.    The Great Gatsby – (1926) is a silent film starring Warner Baxter, Lois Wilson, Georgia Hale, and William Powell. Whilst there is a one minute trailer of this version it is not currently available in the public domain due to copyright issues. And unfortunately there is no known copy of the 80 minute film to have survived.

2.    The Great Gatsby – (1949) starred Alan Ladd and Betty Field with costuming by the fabulous and extraordinary Edith Head. Edith is one of my all time favourite designers from the 20’s through to the 70’s with no less than 35 academy award nominations for her work. She has designed for every major star in Hollywood at one time or another. You can buy her book Edith Heads Hollywood to learn more about her here.

3.    The Great Gatsby – (1974) – Robert Redford and Mia Farrow, with costume design by Theoni V. Aldredge. Aldredge received the Oscar and a British Academy Award for her costume designing in this version of The Great Gatsby. Her designs for the film were adapted for a clothing line sold exclusively by Bloomingdale’s in Manhattan.

4.    The Great Gatsby – (2013) – Leonardo DiCaprio & Carey Mulligan. Costume designer is Catherine Martin, also Luhrmann’s partner, collaborator and fashion designer. Catherine has created a breathtaking array of costumes that are both beautiful and rapturous. She is deserving of many awards in my books.

Chrissy 2If we take a look at the two most recent Great Gatsby productions and compare the authenticity of their fashion designs against the original fashion of the period, I thought the 1974 version was influenced a little too much by the ‘70s.

Baz Luhrmann’s 2013 production was breathtakingly rich in colour and texture, both in its costumes and set designs, and was total eye candy for this vintage lovin’ gal, despite the movie being slammed in the media for its story line and various other elements.

I thought that Catherine Martin’s attention to detail was second to none and award worthy. While the story may have been lacking, the razzle dazzle of the set designs and costuming was most certainly not! Silks and sequins, hats and feathers would delight any girl! And not to be outdone, the dapper gents looked a treat with their slicked back hair, small, tidy moustaches and works of art on their bodies!

I love that the cyclical nature of fashion means there’s a possibility we’ll now see a resurgence of this dapper style for men. And although I think it’s easier for chaps to achieve this look without necessarily going over the top or standing out too much, I also think (hope) we’ll find ourselves revisiting the 20’s and 30’s women’s fashion and bring a bit of fun, flirty flapper style back into vogue!

Of course the clothes are only one part of the overall look. The hair and makeup are equally important if you want to achieve the impression you’ve just stepped off the Gatsby set. (See Hair & Makeup of the Era story in this month’s Into Vintage.)

But getting back to the movie – who wore it best? Redford or DiCaprio? They’re both incredibly sexy I must say and although Redford does tip the balance of ‘sexiest’ for me (and for most women I suspect), I have to give my vote to DiCaprio for outfit authenticity. Think tie pin, kerchief opposing colour vest, tie width and colour etc. I can’t recall, but I’m sure Leo would have been wearing spats as well!

And how does Mulligan’s look compare with Farrow’s? Well again my money is on the gorgeous Mulligan. Her styling was both sassy and elegant at the same time. The golds, creams, pastels and pearls, sequences, head bands, cloches and feathers were youthful and breezy, classy yet not overdone. I think Mia looked a little too safe and stuck in the 70’s. The movie Picnic at Hanging Rock springs to mind when I look at her. In any case, her look did not resonate with me as a true representation of the era.

So what are your thoughts? Which movie version do you think got it right?

Pictures from Chrissy’s personal collection

 

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