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The recent screen adaptation of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s novel

The Great Gatsby

(published in 1925)

has rekindled our love affair with fashion from the

 frolicking, fiery, fabulous

roaring ’20s.

The movie stars Leornardo DiCaprio as Jay Gatsby and

Carey Mulligan as Daisy Buchanan.

(image from thestar.com):

It is a visual feast, set in an unparalleled era in America history:

from fashion to politics and everything else in between.

The costumes worn in the film, convey the liberating forces at work during this

dynamic period of social transition, which was championed by women.

(image from stagebeauty.net):

Previous to the Gatsby years of the mid ’20s, there

flourished an ideal image of beauty  …

the Gibson Girl.

Greatly admired during the late 19th to early 20th

century for a waif-like waist, S-curved form, full-

length skirts, long hair piled high,

corseted, bustled, ruffles and bows …

 Camille Clifford, actress and model for Gibson Girl illustrations


As the light of the Gibson Girl gradually faded, a New Woman emerged.

Unlike the Gibson Girl who was quietly predictable in dress and decorum,

this New Woman of the 1920s roared with a

force that was heard in the public arena:

in the workforce

at political rallies

in college classrooms

in suffrage demonstrations

on athletic fields

(image from officemuseum.com)

(image from americancivilwar.com):

(image from sozmoretumblr.com):

With the dawn of this new progressive era,

which saw women granted the vote in 1920,

fashion predictably reflected these liberating social changes.

Hemlines were raised, fluctuating from knee

to ankle length as trend dictated.

The accentuated waist disappeared,

freeing women of the  debilitating hourglass corset.

The garconne (French for boy) look became the rage:  shift-like drop-waist dresses,

with belts worn at the hips and bras underneath which flattened the breasts.

Hair was worn short in the new bobbed cut and nestled neatly under a cloche hat.

Dress was comparatively comfortable and oozed sleek sophistication, which was

punctuated  with colour, pattern and texture.



(image from slideshare.net):

As legs and feet were now on permanent display,

hosiery and shoes took on an elevated status

 and were colour coordinated to the outfit worn.

Trousers were also referenced as an integral piece

of the New Woman’s wardrobe.

(image from movpins.com):

The actress Elizabeth Debicki

in her role as the character Jordan Baker  (The Great Gatsby)

wearing  brown palazzo trousers

(image from intheseams.com):

During the war years (WWI -1914 – 1918),

many women worked in factory jobs, left vacant

as men were shipped off to war.  These women wore

trousers in the workplace and appreciated

its comfort and ease.  The revolutionary French designer

Coco Chanel (1883 -1971),

who frequently wore men’s trousers, designed casual-wear

trousers for women.  The trouser for women quickly went

from factory garb to fashion statement … Voila!

Above: Coco Chanel, feminist fashion maverick

Yet this was not enough for this heady scene.

Raised hemlines, trousers, bobbed haircuts …

what more could best encapsulate ’20s dress?

Ah yes…

Flapper Fashion

the New Woman had made her sartorial mark .

(image from womenfrom1920s.wikispaces.com):

F. Scott Fitzgerald aided in the popularisation of the term flapper.

He described her as, “lovely, expensive and about nineteen.”

Flappers were young women who unlike their

Gibson Girl predecessors, shockingly challenged conventions.

There seemed nothing restrictive about her

in dress or attitude.

Her clothes were shown to advantage in movement … and moved she did

on the dance floor to the latest jazz tunes.


The 2013 cinematic release of The Great Gatsby allows us

to contemplate once more – the power of fashion.

Fashion can well define a generation:

what it is rebelling against and what it is advocating for.

(image from beaubehan.com):

The Great Gatsby

(now in cinemas)