The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald, is one of the most classic and beloved American novels. The story as told by aspiring writer Nick Carraway, unfolds in Long Island, New York during the Summer of 1922. Carraway recounts the events of that Summer, which focus on a charming millionaire with a hazy past Jay Gatsby, and the object of Gatsby’s desire, Daisy Buchanan. Through Carraway’s eyes, we witness the over the top decadence of the moneyed aristocracy that surrounds him. Fitzgerald’s novel captures the extravagant glitz and glamour of upper class American society during the Roaring Twenties, but the underlying symbolism tells a much deeper story.
“In his blue gardens men and girls came and went like moths among the whisperings and the champagne and the stars.” — F. Scott Fitzgerald, The Great Gatsby
It is during those sweltering summer months spent on Long Island, that Gatsby pulls Carraway into his world as his confidant, and reveals the sole reason for his current existence– to try to recapture the past. The spectacular parties that are thrown every Saturday night, have made Gatsby a legend among privileged New Yorkers. During prohibition–a time when alcohol was illegal and organized crime was at its peak–the champagne still flows at Gatsby’s exorbitant galas. The hundreds of party goers that flock to Gatsby’s mansion rarely catch a glimpse of the host himself, and due to this, speculations and rumours envelope Gatsby. One minute he is an Oxford man, the next minute the inheritor of a tremendous fortune. We learn alongside Carraway, that for all these years, Gatsby has only thrown these parties in the hopes that one day Daisy Buchanan will wander in. Back in Louisville Kentucky before the First World War, Gatsby (a penniless soldier at the time) and Daisy were in love. While Gatsby was away at war, Daisy was married off to the filthy rich, aggressive, and unfaithful Tom Buchanan. The past several years Gatsby has become deeply obsessed with the idea of winning Daisy back, and has been reinventing himself along with amassing a fortune. On the surface the obsession seems romantic, but as we learn more about the dynamics of Gatsby’s current state of mind, we realize he is chasing a lifeless, hollow dream. Daisy represents the American Dream.
“But his heart was in a constant, turbulent riot. The most grotesque and fantastic conceits haunted him in his bed at night. A universe of ineffable gaudiness spun itself out in his brain while the clock ticked on the washstand and the moon soaked with wet light his tangled clothes upon the floor.” — F. Scott Fitzgerald, The Great Gatsby
Daisy Buchanan, although a fictional character, is a style icon in her own right. Being a woman of such class during an era of such a fashion revolution, it is easy to be inspired by her would-have-been fashion sense and integrate it with modern-day silhouettes.
A Fashion Revolution.
The 1920’s is a period of time that is most inspirational in the world of fashion. For the first time in centuries, women were not bound by tightly laced corsets, nor social restraints in the manner they once were. It became fashionable to be seen drinking, dancing and smoking the night away in short hemmed heavily embellished fringed ‘flapper’ dresses. The Art Deco movement was born, the Jazz Age was born, and prohibition caused society to rebel and party like there was no tomorrow. Creativity flourished around the world during this era (especially in Paris and New York, where writers, artists, poets and designers flocked to gain inspiration and bounce ideas off of one another). French designer Coco Chanel (without a doubt the most influential woman in 20th century fashion) rejected corsets, created the ‘little black dress’, and cut her hair into a bobbed style which promoted and popularized a more boyish aesthetic. Fashion was thrust into modernity as zips, clasps and metal hooks replaced lace and buttons on more practical daily wear, and trousers were acceptable as women began to work for the first time.
100 Years After Gatsby.
A hundred years or so later, I moved to New York City. It was January of 2014 and the city was in the midst of something called a Polar Vortex. If I’m not mistaken, it was one of the absolute coldest winters on record–one of which was back in 1888. My first days in New York were spent darting about the city in below freezing temperatures in nothing but a tailored black trench coat (I had after all, moved from California’s Gold Coast where there is no such thing as snow). Confusedly I tried to figure out how to use the subway system, properly hail a taxi, and more importantly how to begin some sort of life there, while Manhattan was brusquely being entombed in snow and ice. Soon after arriving, I started receiving invitations from an old acquaintance, who was in league with prominent New York society. They were invitations to lavish events all over The City; art gallery openings with never-ending glasses of champagne…after hours cocktail parties held at designer boutiques…glass enclosed rooftop fashion shows, overlooking the entirety of glittering Manhattan. These parties opened up a whole new world and social circle to me. One momentous evening, I met a photographer, who introduced me to his longtime friend and the incredible fashion designer, Maggie Norris.
The year I spent as an intern at Maggie’s atelier was a dream. We have similar taste in fashion; both heavily influenced by bygone eras, rich fabrics and intricate embellishments. Maggie Norris Couture is known for the most beautiful and intricately hand beaded and embellished corsets, gowns, perfectly bespoke pieces–inspired from everything equestrian wear to vintage hollywood sirens to 18th century military wear. Maggie’s pieces are truly works of art; they naturally have an heirloom-like aura about them. While under Maggie’s loose guidance, I was free to cultivate a love of fashion styling and a love of studying up on historical influences in the industry, while being surrounded daily by immense beauty at the atelier.
Implementing 1920’s Flair into Modern Day.
From the experience I’ve had working in the NY fashion industry these past years, cultivating my own closet with pieces that could easily be placed in past eras, has become incredibly important to me. Daisy Buchanan is the essence of a well-dressed woman of the 1920’s. To introduce a bit of 1920s flair into daily wear, beaded clutches are an eye-catching accessory, that can easily be dressed down while worn with denim and a smart pair of heels. These examples are ones I’ve pulled from my own closet, but any beaded box clutch in the style of art deco should do.
Parisian Kimono-Inspired Wraps and Shawls.
In the 1920’s Parisian fashion designers were increasingly inspired by the far off, exotic lands of The Orient. They began to reinterpret staple pieces such as the kimono, into lounge-wear and kimono style jackets. I’d never realized where this trend had originated, but for as long as I can remember I’ve had an abundance of lace kimonos in my wardrobe. As a nod to 1920’s Parisian fashion, inspired by exotic lands– a silk or lace kimono shawl thrown over a tank top and jeans, or a sundress looks incredibly chic–I wear them nearly daily in the warmer months. With so many different styles to choose from, and so many ways to wear them, I would consider the Parisian take on the traditional kimono a staple in any bohemian woman’s wardrobe.
A final simple suggestion to complete a modernized 1920’s look, would be a dramatic deep red, plum or burgundy lip. Although a deep lip colour has been prevalent throughout recent decades, the 1920’s was when it was first popularized and romanticized through silent film. In past centuries, painted lips (which
often fell in and out of favour and at times were seen as risqué) distinguished classes from one another. Dramatically dark lips and lined cupid’s bows were worn by silent film starlets throughout the decade, and in turn became incredibly fashionable as the look was replicated by American women in day-to-day life.