‘The Great Gatsby’: Costume Adaptation Fidelity – 1974 Vs. 2013

This should be the last post on The Great Gatsby (we’re all glad about that), but I thought it was worth looking at the costumes from Jack Clayton’s 1974 adaptation against Baz Luhrmann’s 2013 adaptation (out on DVD and Blu-Ray today yesterday); particularly regarding costume descriptions in F. Scott Fitzgerald’s novel.

There are not that many references to costumes throughout the novel but when they are mentioned there is a feeling that a lot is being told to you via that little description. Looking at Theoni V. Aldredge’s costumes next to Catherine Martin’s is very interesting because you can actually see a closeness – sometimes when the costumes are widely different from their descriptions.

Tom Buchanan

his riding clothes… he seemed to fill those glistening boots until he strained the top lacing (p. 24)


Here I have to confess to having no knowledge of riding clothes, modern or historical. It is worth noting that both Tom’s (Bruce Dern and Joel Edgerton) have similar colours. This is one of the few occasions where the 1974 version has a brighter colour than that in the 2013 – but only with the jersey.

Daisy Buchanan and Jordan Baker

they were both in white, and their dresses were rippling and fluttering (p. 25)

as cool as their white dresses (p. 28)

White Dresses

Daisy and Jordan tend to be pictured in white a lot. There is no other colour that displays wealth like white. These people don’t do anything that would endanger the pristine white of their clothing. Mia Farrow and Lois Chiles are almost camouflaged against the white furniture and set. But for Carey Mulligan and Elizabeth Debicki the white tones are much closer to cream. The production design (also designed by Catherine Martin) is much more sumptuous and the cream costumes fit perfectly with the mood and the setting. White would have been too sharp and mismatched against the rest of the aesthetic.


One interesting change from the description that is found in both films is that Jordan is wearing trousers. This is perfectly fitting for Jordan’s character (with Debicki playing with a golf club to reinforce the sports woman image) and the flow of the trousers and top still provide ‘rippling and fluttering’.

three-cornered lavender hat (p. 85)


This barely deserves inclusion but it is worth noting that both Farrow and Mulligan are dressed in purple, although the 1974 version is very muted. The only description of Daisy in this scene regards the hat (swiftly removed anyway) but both designers seemed to have followed that through for the dress. Unless Farrow’s costumes are so much in memory…

white dresses (p. 109)

White Dresses2

Here we have Martin being more “faithful” to the description. Or, as much as she was earlier. Mulligan and Debicki are both in cream dresses whereas Chiles is in light blue. This is quite a change and marks her out from Daisy quite sharply – also her tone of blue seems to be a little too close to Gatsby’s tie…

Myrtle Wilson

a spotted dress of dark blue crepe-de-chine (p. 38)


Myrtle was the one character that remained completely different from description in both adaptations. Both versions had a much more brash version – although Luhrmann takes brash to a whole new level. One thing I noticed when comparing Karen Black with Isla Fisher was that their first dresses have the same silhouette. The angled flounces down the front of the dress highlight a sexier shape than was desired in the ’20s. Fisher’s definitely looks more modern from the flow of the fabric alone, let alone the colours and pattern.

She had changed her dress to a brown figured muslin, which stretched tight over her rather wide hips (p. 39)

Neither adaptations had Myrtle change from her “dowdy” clothes into city clothes. There was no need. Myrtle was never pretending to be anything for George Wilson so she had no need to separate her life from Mrs Wilson to Tom Buchanan’s mistress.

elaborate afternoon dress of cream-coloured chiffon (p. 42)


Once again, the colours in 2013 are much more saturated than those in 1974. The flounces from Myrtle’s first dress are here again but to a more extreme cleavage bearing extent. Nothing about Fisher’s dress says restraint and the bright colours could not be more different from the whites and creams of Daisy. Black’s dress is softer in tones but those orange feathers let you know instantly that this isn’t Daisy and couldn’t be a serious replacement for her.

Nick Carraway

dressed up in white flannels (p. 51)


Maybe white flannel was more period accurate for Fitzgerald but for both 1974 and 2013 party scenes it would both be too much and underdressed. Nick is underdressed in both settings (in remarkably similar suits) when compared to Gatsby in a tuxedo, but a white flannel suit would also stand out too much. Visually Nick cannot outshine Gatsby and it would make no sense for him to dress that way. Without making all the other costumes work against Nick’s.

Dancing Girls

two girls in twin yellow dresses (p. 52)

Yellow Girls

Because I couldn’t not include this comparison. I know which pair are my favourite…

Jay Gatsby

caramel-colored suit (p. 69)

Gatsby Caramel

Gatsby has the most costume descriptions and this are mostly adhered to – especially in the iconic scenes. This isn’t one of those scenes. Leonardo DiCaprio’s suit is the closest to caramel whereas Robert Redford’s is confidently brown. Redford’s suits as Gatsby have a much different feel to DiCaprio’s. A lot of this is down to the double-breasted nature of his jackets and/or waistcoats. Nowadays double-breasted waistcoats and jackets tend to give a more villainous feel – think of gangsters. In Luhrmann’s film both Tom and Meyer Wolfsheim wear double-breasted suits. Our hero is Gatsby and he couldn’t be seen wearing anything to besmirch his honour. But in Clayton’s? Only Gatsby is seen wearing double-breasted suits. They are his specific style detail. Much like a pink suit.

in a white flannel suit, silver shirt, and gold-coloured tie (p. 84)

Gatsby White

Both white suits. Gold-coloured tie, just about. Silver shirt? No. Both have gone for a light blue. A light blue that doesn’t look unlike silver in the right light. The main costume interest between the two costumes is their cut. Everything about Redford’s suit is wider – the tie, the lapels, the double-breasted waistcoat, even the jacket length. The slimline of DiCaprio’s suit and accessories fits with the modernisation of the ’20s silhouette. And the mustard coloured waistcoat allows Gatsby to wear a three-piece suit without being overpowering in white – especially when stood against all those flowers.

He wears a pink suit (p. 115)

luminosity of his pink suit (p. 132)

his gorgeous pink rag of a suit made a bright spot of colour against the white steps (p. 141)

Gatsby Pink

THE pink suit. Both three-pieces. The wide v. slimcut debate reigns on. The important notes are with the accessories. Redford’s shirt is almost as ostentatious as the suit itself – a white collar against a light blue shirt. Then there’s the light purple tie. Add in the white shoes and the white buttons on the waistcoat and you’ve got a bright, light-reflecting costume. DiCaprio’s pink suit has a wide pinstripe that breaks up the pink a little bit and then his burgundy pocket square and striped tie help to level the costume. Also, he doesn’t wear white shoes so the whole costume seems more wearable and, let’s say it together, more modern.

S x

(Quotations taken from Wordsworth Classics Edition, printed in 1993.)


2 thoughts on “‘The Great Gatsby’: Costume Adaptation Fidelity – 1974 Vs. 2013

  1. Pingback: “We have to sell an illusion… Reality is boring.” BAFTA Film Craft Costume Design Talk | Damn, That's Some Fine Tailoring

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