Putting on the Gatsby glitz a matter of style

The classic 1920s look is coming back into fashion, writes Jeremy Loadman.

The classic 1920s look is coming back into fashion, writes Jeremy Loadman.

The image of Jay Gatsby attired in a classic tuxedo, champagne coupe in hand, suavely observing the revelry around him, is the most recognisable male fashion moment in the new cinematic adaptation of F. Scott Fitzgerald's classic novel.

But for fashion-forward types it may be hard to fathom that the high chic and even higher frivolity of the 1920s was just as well known for blazers, high-waisted trousers, tweed jackets and two-tone shoes.

This may sound more like the wardrobe of your average senior citizen than anyone with genuine style. But after seeing The Great Gatsby, chances are you'll be wondering what hidden treasures you can pilfer from great-grandpa's wardrobe.

Of course, in remaking Gatsby, director Baz Luhrmann has taken some artistic licence with the fashions. For example, the high-waisted, loose-leg trousers of the era are replaced by a skinny leg version. But this just goes to show that the fashions that emanated from this seminal period in menswear can be easily reinvented so that modern men can achieve a 1920s-esque look simply by adding a few choice items to what's already in their wardrobe.

"The great thing about the menswear of the 1920s is that most of the styles are quite classic, so you can really put the outfit together with some good accessories," says Nicole Jenkins, owner of Circa Vintage Clothing in Melbourne's CBD.

Adding a bow tie or silk cravat to an outfit, or combining wing-tipped brogues with braces - perhaps even throwing on a fedora or classic eight-piece Gatsby flat hat, suggests Jenkins - can give any man a classic 1920s look without making him look as though he's gone over the top.

Murray Crane, owner of Sydney contemporary menswear store Crane Brothers, agrees. He says contemporising the bold look of the 1920s is best achieved with subtlety. "I think it's just about getting that balance right, having elements of it and not overdoing it."

To achieve a more subtle look, many men may choose to look beyond the ostentatious Gatsby (who at one stage in the film dons a pink suit with a white pinstripe) and more towards protagonist and narrator Nick Carraway, who is for the most part superbly dressed in a series of herringbone tweed jackets and waistcoats.

For Crane, a quality tweed jacket is one item men should seriously consider.

"Tweed has become very fashionable again and, in general, there is a real revised focus on some of those traditional English cloth mills like Dugdales, Fox Brothers and Holland & Sherry, who make those very traditional tweed cloths," says Crane, who also owns menswear stores in Auckland and Wellington in New Zealand.

"We've got clients coming and buying cloth from the mills that were making it in the 1920s and, in fact, a lot of the mills we deal with are the ones that provide the wardrobe departments for many films."

While men can go into stores such as Crane Brothers, choose their own cloth and have a tweed jacket made to measure, a much cheaper option is to check out the second-hand market.

"You can pick up tweed jackets pretty easily as they're one of those things where supply exceeds demand, so you can get good ones in op shops and vintage markets," Jenkins says. "Tweed is a solid, workhorse-like garment but still has a lot of glamour. They're beautiful things and they last for a long time. The biggest issue with the vintage jackets is that they tend to have short sleeves because they were made for shorter men."

Of course, no genuine attempt at a 1920s look would be complete without a pair of wing-tip brogues. And for more adventurous types, no shoe speaks more of the period than the two-tone variety - with black and cream, mahogany and white, mahogany and beige or white and burgundy being some of the most popular colour combinations.

Crane says the resurgence in many traditional English woven fabrics has been paralleled by traditional English shoemakers. "John Lobb, Cheaney, Church's and Crockett and Jones all produce beautifully hand-crafted shoes made with the finest leather," he says. In fact, Crane wonders whether the spike in popularity of some of the male fashions from the 1920s and the timing of the remake is entirely coincidental.

"Maybe the filmmakers and producers have waited until the mood is right to bring a film out like The Great Gatsby because they feel that people will understand it. It's definitely interesting, that cyclical nature of fashion."

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