Gatsby Style By Luke Crisell
Great Gatsby–inspired fashion is proving to be a key spring trend. Put on your Charleston-dancing shoes: The Roaring Twenties are making a comeback.
Gatsby Style By Luke Crisell
Issue of Flapper magazine from 1922.

"Through this twilight universe Daisy began to move again with the season; suddenly she was again keeping half a dozen dates a day with half a dozen men, and drowsing asleep at dawn with the beads and chiffon of an evening tangled among dying orchids on the floor beside her bed." —F. Scott Fitzgerald, The Great Gatsby

Lavish summer parties, the Prohibition era, and, of course, the fashion. The Great Gatsby evokes countless images and cultural references, but it’s the clothing that’s currently enjoying a new wave of nostalgia, from the Spring-Summer 2012 collections to Baz Luhrmann’s upcoming cinematic remake starring Leonardo DiCaprio and Carey Mulligan. And while the present vogue for Gatsby fashion is characterized by traditional, vintage-influenced pieces, in the 1920s they represented modernity and boldness.

In November 1922, an article titled "The Modern Riddle" appeared in Flapper magazine. Written to describe flappers to the general public, the piece calls on the reader to: "Analyze her dress. It’s the most sensible thing since Eve.… Her toddle pumps are fairly low-heeled and she doesn’t try to squeeze into a Cinderella.… There is a twinkle in her eye and she has a saucy cocksureness." This was the New Woman: footloose, recently independent, and loving every minute of it. As Joshua Zeitz, author of Flapper (Three Rivers Press, 2006), puts it, this carefree woman "danced the Charleston, sneaked gin, necked in roadsters, and launched the Modern Age."

Gatsby Style By Luke Crisell
(Left) Many of this season’s collections refer back to the glamour of the Jazz Age. (Right) Mia Farrow playing Daisy Buchanan in The Great Gatsby, 1974.

The flapper also redefined the female wardrobe. Few eras in modern history have had such a lasting impact on fashion as the Roaring Twenties. It heralded a sea change: Gone were the corsets and crinolines associated with Victorian conventionality. In their place came loose-fitting silk gowns covered with beads, headbands, cloche hats, drop-waist dresses, and even androgynous silhouettes, rendered in masculine tailoring. Coco Chanel pioneered this garçonne, or boyish-girl look, in early 1920s Paris with her shift dresses, wide-leg trousers, and cuts that de-emphasized the feminine figure.

Media darlings such as the silent film star Clara Bow went on to embody the flapper look by serving as a style icon for women who copied her short skirts and bobbed hairstyle. Photographs of the cabaret sensation and F. Scott Fitzgerald muse Josephine Baker—outfitted in daring dance ensembles and streamlined frocks—further depict the sense of female liberation that these clothes manifested.

Few eras in modern history have had such a lasting impact on fashion as the Roaring Twenties.

Gatsby Style By Luke Crisell
(Top) Scenes from the 1974 film The Great Gatsby. (Bottom) Model Gemma Ward will star along with Carey Mulligan and Leonardo DiCaprio in Baz Luhrmann’s upcoming Gatsby remake.

Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby (1925), set in the summer of 1922, portrays the lives of the rich on their elaborate estates along the shores of Long Island. While Fitzgerald coined the term "Jazz Age" in 1922, he had already set the tone of the decade with his first novel, This Side of Paradise (1920), which established him as an expert on the young women of his time. "He really has ‘the eternal femininity caught,’" wrote the Minneapolis Tribune of the book. Fitzgerald’s short stories characterized flappers as bewitching young women who owned their destinies and were intent on having a good time—with a cigarette in one hand and a cocktail in the other. In Flapper, Zeitz quotes a Fitzgerald passage that describes a typical flapper: "She was about nineteen, slender and supple, with a spoiled alluring mouth and quick gray eyes full of radiant curiosity. Her feet, stockingless, and adorned rather than clad in blue-satin slippers which hung from her toes, were perched on the arm of a settee…"

Adorned rather than clad. The phrase succinctly describes the fashion of the 1920s, and especially that of the characters who lingered on the lawns of Long Island’s North Shore in Gatsby. Daisy Buchanan, the novel’s female protagonist, epitomizes girlish naïveté with her wardrobe of breezy, floral-print frocks: "I came into her room half an hour before the bridal dinner, and found her lying on her bed as lovely as the June night in her flowered dress." And, of course, there is Daisy’s confidante, Jordan Baker, who presents a stark contrast to her chiffon-clad friend. While Daisy’s wardrobe is delicate and feminine, Jordan, a professional golfer, embraces the other, more masculine, aspect of the era’s fashion. Nick Carraway, Gatsby’s narrator, describes her style: "I noticed that she wore her evening, dress, all her dresses, like sports clothes." Masculine. Feminine. A pantsuit or a light summer dress. The 1920s offered more style possibilities to women than ever before.

Gatsby Style By Luke Crisell
(Left) Menswear for Spring 2012 also has the flavor of the 1920s. (Right) Robert Redford embodying Jay Gatsby in the 1974 film.

The period is so influential that it has never been too far from the collective fashion consciousness. One of the most significant references to the era occurred in 1974, when, not long after founding his company, Ralph Lauren consulted on the costuming for the movie version of The Great Gatsby starring Robert Redford and Mia Farrow. It’s difficult to forget Farrow personifying Daisy Buchanan, bewitchingly attired in soft, romantic colors. In the party scenes, she wears shimmering gowns embellished with beads and tassels, while Redford effortlessly illustrates the refinement of the time in a classic tuxedo.

Featured on the runways this season, fluid, floral-printed chiffon dresses in pale, muted shades; georgette crepe gowns; and white satin pants refer back to the Jazz Age’s understated glamour. For all the feminine charm of the Gatsby-inspired pieces (there are ostrich feathers and ruffles and tassels and beads, too, of course), Jordan Baker is evoked as much as Daisy Buchanan, through exquisitely cut pin-striped suits and timeless double-breasted jackets that lend a boyish edge to the season’s silhouettes.

Shades of white, cream, and ivory predominate: Pajama pants, floor-grazing satin dresses, scarves tied at the neck, and even leather skirts are all rendered in blanched hues. The subtle color palette also ranges into dreamy, wistful pastels—celery, lemon, steely blue, dusky pink. Perhaps most evocative of the trend’s romantic roots are stunning bias-cut silk dresses in shimmering shades of champagne.

Daisy or Jordan, feminine socialite or sporty garçonne, flirty floral dress one day and tailored trouser suit the next, the Roaring Twenties fashion trend for spring offers style options for both sides of the modern woman’s personality. Hide the gin: Flappers are back.

Luke Crisell is the senior features editor at Nylon magazine. His freelance work has appeared in New York magazine, Monocle, Wallpaper*, and The Independent.

  • © Pablo Rivera/Golden Pixels LLC/Corbis
  • (Left) Courtesy of Ralph Lauren (Right) © Mary Evans/Paramount Pictures/Ronald Grant/Everett Collection
  • (Top, left and right) © Mary Evans/Paramount Pictures/Ronald Grant/Everett Collection (Bottom) Courtesy of Grazia UK
  • (Left) Courtesy of Ralph Lauren (Right) © Mary Evans/Paramount Pictures/Ronald Grant/Everett Collection