Mirror, Mirror: '20s craze culminates in release of 'Gatsby'

Carey Mulligan's Daisy wore jewelry by Tiffany & Co.
Carey Mulligan's Daisy wore jewelry by Tiffany & Co. (Warner Bros.)
Posted: May 09, 2013

There's a scene in Baz Luhrmann's adaptation of F. Scott Fitzgerald's The Great Gatsby in which Daisy Buchanan arrives at Nick Carraway's bungalow for afternoon tea in a stunning, straight-from-the-Roaring Twenties ensemble.

Buchanan, played by Carey Mulligan, oozes old money in a lacy, lavender sheath with illusion detailing and tiers of ribbons that look like flowers almost ready to bloom.

The silhouette is similar to a group of dresses featured in Tadashi Shoji's spring 2013 runway collection. The film's costume designer, Catherine Martin, accessorizes Daisy with matching, fingerless lace gloves, much like those on Ralph Rucci's fall 2013 runway.

The nude Mary Janes she dons are timeless, and her sharp, asymmetrical bob is proving to be the haircut of the summer. Even the French macaroons on the silver tea platters are being touted at posh bakeries.

Fashions come and go, but even after years of Boardwalk Empire and Downton Abbey, the '20s continue to trend in our closets and psyche. Just last week, Downton's executive producer announced that an official line of home goods and apparel inspired by the show would be released throughout the year.

Just in time for the Friday release of Gatsby.

"The '20s are having such an influence because it has everything in one decade," said Lori Bergamotto, a Lucky magazine style contributor.

Everything meaning capped sleeves, cloches, mixed media, lace, bias cuts, beading . . . .

Although we witnessed a smattering of these looks some years before, the '20s became a bona-fide trend when Ralph Lauren sent his sumptuous fall Downton-based collection down the runway in February 2012. Over the next four fashion cycles - a very long time in the style timeline - designers like Tracy Reese, Celine, and Alexander McQueen repurposed '20s flair for a millennium look. Many experts attribute the '20s craze to the impending release of Gatsby.

At the same time, TV shows and Pinterest made the style both fresh and nostalgic.

"It's a very youthful style," explained Clare Sauro, curator at Drexel University's historic costume collection. "It's not complicated. There are no poofy skirts, and the pieces have the ease of a T-shirt. You get a vintage feel without having to go full-on Dita Von Teese drag."

And like any good fashion-meets-movie trend - remember the namaste hype that followed the 2010 movie Eat, Pray, Love? - the '20s are trickling well beyond women's clothes.

Tiffany & Co. provided all those pearls and stacked bracelets for the movie, including the dizzying diamond necklace Jordan Baker drapes over a slinky black evening gown at a grand Gatsby party. Two of the company's latest offerings are the Great Gatsby Collection and the less-blinged Ziegfeld Collection.

"It speaks to yesterday's sophistication, glamour, and glitz that's suitable for today's day-to-night looks," said Tiffany McCauley, group director for Tiffany & Co. in Philadelphia.

Even QVC has a line of Roaring Twenties-inspired fashion and home goods.

When it comes to menswear, Prada and Brooks Brothers offer three-piece suits, navy blue blazers, and cardigan sweaters as part of their Gatsby collections.

At Thursday's opening of SuitSupply's Philadelphia location, some of the city's most fashionable gents arrived in three-piece tailored suits inspired as much by Justin Timberlake's "Suit & Tie" video as by the pink suit Leonardo DiCaprio wore as Gatsby.

And Old City beauty studio Moko recently hosted a '20s-themed fashion show where models showed off marcels and rosy cheeks created by owner Monique Mason.

"It started in weddings," Mason said. "Now my customers are asking for all kinds of looks from that era, from bobs to penciled-in eyebrows."

Our enduring love affair with the '20s also has to do with the economic and social similarities of our times. In the mid-'20s, young people reeling from World War I were redefining entrepreneurship by building new institutions. Yesterday's department stores and railroads are today's Internet start-ups - think high-tech transportation company Uber and eyeglass designer Warby Parker, perhaps the next round of new-money millionaires.

"That was an era of risk-takers," Bergamotto explained. "And at that time, the fashions reflected that. Back then, those skirt lengths were short, and women were cutting their hair. That was almost unheard of. Those were all signature styles of the Roaring Twenties."

Of course, pop-culture has romanticized the era. And as the opening Monday night in New York of the Metropolitan Museum of Art's exhibition idolizing the punk era shows, our interpretations can often be less than perfect.

In Gatsby, at least, although the story is set in 1922, many of the looks reflect the later part of the decade: dresses that were more fitted and less drapey, and severe haircuts.

But that's what modern-day fashion rules dictate: Take the parts you like and re-create something that's contemporary.

After all, what's the soundtrack for Carraway and Gatsby's cruise through Queens under the elevated train on their way to Manhattan? Not jazz, but Jay-Z.


Contact fashion writer Elizabeth Wellington at 215-854-2704 or ewellington@phillynews.com. Follow her on Twitter at ewellingtonphl.

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