Sartorial Splendor

Leonardo DiCaprio as Jay Gatsby in Baz Luhrmann's The Great Gatsby
Category: Reading

Baz Luhrmann’s long-awaited adaptation of The Great Gatsby finally opens in the UK tomorrow, after months of buzz over its A-list cast, controversial though intriguing soundtrack (Jay-Z in the Jazz Age?) and spectacular production design. However fans may end up feeling about the film, we can be sure of at least one thing: the costumes are unlikely to disappoint. Lurhmann wisely called in Brooks Brothers, Tiffany and Co. and Miuccia Prada (whose spring 2011 collection provided a jumping-off point for the film’s party scene costumes) to lavishly outfit the cast. The fashion focus makes sense: Jay Gatsby is a beautifully dressed man, which puts him in fairly good literary company—lots of writers went out of their way to detail their characters’ wardrobes, giving readers (and, often, filmmakers) quite the imaginative feast. Below are some of our favourite clotheshorse characters, in no particular order.

Jay Gatsby, The Great Gatsby. Naturally. His clothing visually proves that he’s arrived and he awkwardly uses it to show off to his dream girl, Daisy Buchanan:

He took out a pile of shirts and began throwing them, one by one, before us, shirts of sheer linen and thick silk and fine flannel...While we admired he brought more and the soft rich heap mounted higher—shirts with stripes and scrolls and plaids in coral and apple-green and lavender and faint orange, and monograms of Indian blue. Suddenly, with a strained sound, Daisy bent her head into the shirts and began to cry stormily.

‘They’re such beautiful shirts,’ she sobbed... ‘It makes me sad because I’ve never seen such--such beautiful shirts before.’

Anne Shirley, Anne of Green Gables. Trapped in calicos by her practical guardian, Marilla, Anne longs for a dress with fashionable puffed sleeves. And, at last, she gets one, courtesy of Marilla’s kindly brother, Matthew, with an assist from Mrs Rachel Lynde:

Anne took the dress and looked at it in reverent silence. Oh, how pretty it was--a lovely soft brown gloria with all the gloss of silk; a skirt with dainty frills and shirrings; a waist elaborately pintucked in the most fashionable way, with a little ruffle of filmy lace at the neck. But the sleeves--they were the crowning glory! Long elbow cuffs, and above them two beautiful puffs divided by rows of shirring and bows of brown-silk ribbon.

Scarlett O’Hara, Gone with the Wind. Like many teenage girls (she is only 16 when the novel begins), Scarlett had quite the fashion fetish. The book is littered with descriptions of her memorable outfits, including the scandalous green-sprigged muslin she wore to the Wilkes barbeque (with a neckline so low it could have been a ballgown!) and, of course, the dress made from her mother’s drapes:

How pretty she looked! The cock feathers gave her a dashing air and the dull-green velvet of the bonnet made her eyes startlingly bright, almost emerald coloured. And the dress was incomparable, so rich and handsome looking and yet so dignified! It was wonderful to have a lovely dress again. It was so nice to know that she looked pretty and provocative, and she impulsively bent forward and kissed her reflection in the mirror and then laughed at her own foolishness.

Bertie Wooster, the Jeeves and Wooster stories. Although Bertie experimented with some questionable fashion choices (‘vivid’ golf trousers, a moustache), Jeeves was always on hand to guide him back to sartorial sanity, employing little more than a carefully raised eyebrow.

Sara Crewe, A Little Princess. Before being plunged into poverty, Sarah was richly outfitted by her indulgent father, who took her on a London shopping spree so lavish it would have put actual royalty to shame:

There were velvet dresses trimmed with costly furs, and lace dresses, and embroidered ones, and hats with great, soft ostrich feathers, and ermine coats and muffs, and boxes of tiny gloves and handkerchiefs and silk stockings in such abundant supplies that the polite young women behind the counters whispered to each other that the odd little girl with the big, solemn eyes must be at least some foreign princess -- perhaps the little daughter of an Indian rajah.

Whom do you think is the most fashionable character in literature? Share your thoughts in the comments below!

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