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Men's Fashion in Film: 'The Great Gatsby'

"You look so cool. You always look so cool."—Daisy Buchanan
 
Recreating the fashions of the Roaring Twenties—the glamour, the sparkle, the innovation—was an exciting challenge for costume designer Catherine Martin. "The '20s was basically the birth of 20th-century fashion as we know it. Just after World War I, we saw the abandonment of the heavy Victorian undergarment, we saw short skirts coming in, and a kind of sexual liberation for women that allows them to be much more scantily clad. It brought about an exuberant, decorative style that is a key point for design."

Fitzgerald's prose in The Great Gatsby is rich and full of description, and Martin mined it extensively for information on everything from what each character's upbringing would have been like, to where they lived and the clothes they wore.

"It always starts with the script, the ideas, the images and the story that Baz (Luhrmann) brings to the table. He will always have a kind of visual philosophy that he wants to follow in order to help tell the story," Martin explains. "So, certainly we did an enormous amount of literary study about F. Scott Fitzgerald, about his world, his context, his life, but we also did an enormous amount of historical study on the visual context of the world. That ranged from everything from accessing the large library at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, which has a huge costume library and costume archive, to accessing all kinds of things on New York and the surrounding boroughs."

Some flexibility was allowed for the timeframe, ensuring they had some of the best fashion moments of the era to work with. "The book was set in the summer of 1922, published in 1925, and it foreshadowed the Crash, so we made a rule that we could use that decade," Martin establishes. "In the costumes, for the men, we erred closer to the beginning of the decade—because we went for a much slimmer silhouette. For the women it was later in the decade, when there was much more of a body-conscious silhouette."When he sees Gatsby's choice of attire, Tom may be in disbelief at such a preposterous choice, but it would be hard to find a more defining look for Gatsby's character—the pink suit, so incredibly stylish but decidedly out of place in the world in which he so desperately wishes to belong.

For a lot of the male costumes, Martin worked closely with Brooks Brothers, the American heritage brand, who provided more than 2000 garments for the film, including both formalwear—200 tuxedos—and daywear, helping to comprise the approximately 1200 costumes in total.

"One of the reasons we felt this association was so important is that Brooks Brothers have been the purveyor of preppy clothes, and in fact they sold to Fitzgerald," she says. "They had a huge archive of Fitzgerald's letters where he was ordering clothes by mail."

Martin researched the rationale behind every minute detail in the book—from the robin's egg blue of Gatsby's chauffeur's uniform to Daisy's tricorn hat—and she also added extra details to the costumes to help the actors get into character.

"This is an example of the genius of CM," says Edgerton. "Tom Buchanan is described as being Yale educated and part of the upper echelons of Yale society, and he and Nick were part of a secret society. The research the team did at Bazmark led them to the Skull and Bones, which is probably the most secret of those societies. So, as a detail on the costumes, CM lined my suits with a skull and crossbones print. She didn't need to do that, and you'll probably never see it, but I knew it was there."

"That's the job of a costume—the actor is the transformer. The actor with the script and the director really make the story, and the costume is there to support the process," Martin says.

Some traditional styles were slightly modernized, in particular for some of the more dazzling party costumes. "Baz is always interested at looking at the past through very modern eyes," explains Martin. "So, it's a process of making a very erudite study of costume history and of the details of manufacture that were interesting in the past, and reapplying them in a very modern, very interesting way to the clothing."
 

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