Clothing of the 1920s in Book F. Scott Fitzgerald The Great Gatsby


Though clothes are often said to make the man, they are not frequently said to build a character. This paper explores the ways in which clothing was a performative tool for portraying the characters of The Great Gatsby-like You Are What You Wear. This study’s theoretical framework is influenced by the clothing of the 1920s and will explore the masterpiece of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby. In the novel, clothing is used symbolically as a way to emphasize thematic elements, but it is also used as a tool through which the author builds characters. Furthermore, characters use clothing to specific purposes, mirroring the utility of garments in the real world, whether one is examining contemporary society or a specific era like the Jazz Age. The 1920s is known for the jazz age also called the roaring twenties. In that time America was undergoing lots of changes economically, socially, and culturally. One of the major changes that took place was in fashion. Fitzgerald in his writing shows not only the fashion but also the clothes symbolize a character’s insight too. One of the symbols greatly used in The Great Gatsby is the symbolization of clothes, how they represent different things at different times. My paper will also look into how Fitzgerald presented clothes to represent other things rather than fashion itself.

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F. Scott Fitzgerald’s ‘The Great Gatsby’ is a classic novel written in 1925 that was adapted into a movie with Leonardo Di Caprio as the male protagonist in 2013. Ever since then, the fashions and outfits from the decadent and glamorous 1920s period have been a popular choice for themed parties and events. Back then dress in the 1920s, the focus of this paper exemplifies the characters’ mode of action, and behavior.

Clothing has a clear and direct relationship to the culture it adorns; therefore, not only is costume a cultural mirror, but it also serves a rhetorical purpose, particularly when utilized in literary works. Through history and literature, we can note evidence of important cultural changes that happened between WWI and the beginning of the Great depression. During this era, American culture experienced great economic changes as well as shifting gender politics; these changes are visible both in garments from the period and in sartorial descriptions of characters in Jazz Age literature. Fashion is an indication of what a culture believed was flattering, appealing, beautiful, and powerful. Clothes also represent of how a person is trying to portray himself or herself in front of everyone and trying to fit in society, The Great Gatsby in particular, manifests itself in conspicuous displays of wealth periodically, and in this as well as other epochs, Americans have expended much effort to display their wealth through personal appearance.

The portrayal of Gatsby through fashion

Fitzgerald’s character Jay Gatsby is an icon of his age, and his parties are legendary. The 1920s were a time of great social innovation. Flying in the face of the Prohibition Era ban on alcohol in the USA, in the decade between the two World Wars people were partying more than ever before! Women in particular were feeling free to explore.

In The Great Gatsby, it is seen as the ‘east egg’ and the west egg. The east egg represents people who have old money also known as the ancestral wealth which is run in the family. The west egg represents people who had recently climbed up the socioeconomic status. This could be clearly seen in the Great Gatsby as Fitzgerald portrayed in the disguise of clothes. Jay Gatsby is seen wearing multi-colored dresses at different occasions which made him look different than other people like Tom who has old money. Though Gatsby’s clothes are a sign of wealth but it has no class according to Tom. Gatsby’s costume appeared as a model of a traditional American classic suit, a sensitive cool dude look that symbolizes social success and a traditional casual style that reflects an upper-class lifestyle. And there’s also the issue of Gatsby’s pink suit, which Daisy’s husband, Tom Buchanan, derides as gauche. When it is noted that Gatsby studied at Oxford, Buchanan says, An Oxford man ‘Like hell he is! He wears a pink suit’.

Gatsby’s clothes are very significant in representing his wealth. During this time period washing clothes was not as simple as putting them in the washer, they had to hand wash them. Gatsby wearing white shows that he doesn’t need to worry about getting his suit dirty and then trying to clean it because he can go and purchase a new one. The silver and gold are easily tied towards his wealth because silver and gold are expensive to obtain so Gatsby wearing all three of these colors really indicates his wealth.

When Gatsby takes Daisy and Nick on a tour of his mansion and shows off his collection of shirts. He took out a pile of shirts and began throwing them, one by one. Shirts of sheer linen and thick silk and fine flannel, which lost their folds as they fell and covered the table in many-colored disarray, Fitzgerald wrote. Though Daisy’s delighted to see the mansion but she ultimately falls to pieces after Gatsby shows off his collection of shirts. As stated on the following passage. ‘ve never seen such’ such beautiful shirts before. This scene shows about Daisy’s Materialism, she only emotionally breaks down at Gatsby’s newfound wealth.

Outfits: Womenswear

The way that Fitzgerald describes women’s physical appearance is clearly represented in very different ways than men’s are throughout the course of the novel. Perhaps in fashion, the ‘flapper’ style of the 1920s epitomizes the Modernist movement. American Literary Modernism, a literary movement that was at its height as Fitzgerald’s writing, impacted fashion; retrospectively, it also demonstrates the influences of fashion on the texts. Flappers were actually a generation of young Western women in the 1920s who wore short skirts, bobbed their hair, listened to jazz, and flaunted their disdain for what was then considered acceptable behavior. The flapper is one of the most essential parts of the 1920s. She represented a new type of woman. Whether in attitude, attire, or slang, the 1920s flapper demonstrated how women could actively transform what is into what can be, something that is a part of the Modern construction of women’s identity. Everything that had anything to do with consumption was in style. That included drinking, smoking, and sex for women as well as men. Additional cultural insights of the life and times of the roaring twenties are blended into the annotations creating an insightful view of the 20s wealthier class.

Again, Daisy’s costume expressed a pastel-toned luxury flapper look, oriental art deco style, and prestigious jewelry representing the high class.

01 August 2022

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