How to Gatsby
Out of the Closet
By Karen Geer & The Fashion Salon Team
The perfect outfit may be in your closet. The Gatsby is only a few weeks away -- and you're wondering what to wear.
To preserve the Gatsby magic, everyone is asked to come in deco-era attire. Once a year, we create an afternoon of elegance without athletic shoes, jeans, t-shirts, pantsuits on women, or open-necked shirt collars on men. The Great Gatsby was published in 1925, but our clothes and vintage cars span the years between the two World Wars, 1919-1942. Within that time span, there are many "looks" that can flatter: the soft, romantic early '20s, the drop-waisted flapper, the svelte '30s, the form-fitting early '40s. All these have certain principles in common.
The Gatsby is a Summer Afternoon lawn party. Evening wear (tux and beaded gowns) are not appropriate before six. Think garden party or wedding. The Speakeasy Look (feather boa and fringed flapper dress, gartered sleeves on men) is wrong. (That may be where Gatsby made his money, but it's not correct for his party!)
A few people will wear sportswear of the time such jodhpurs (riding pants), plus fours (golf knickers), or tennis whites. They will also be perfectly accessorized with hats, jackets, etc. This is actually harder than it looks to pull off.
Dress: Look for lightweight natural fabrics (silk or rayon or cotton), plain or with small geometric or floral prints. Whisper-light layers of georgette in soft muted colors are perfect. Dropped waists are great; you can add one to some unfitted gowns by adding a sash or belt at the hip. A more fitted dress would suggest 1930s or '40s, which is fine too. Light colors look festive and youthful, but mature women would also have worn navy, brown or black fabrics that had a summer air.
You might have tunic that has the right look, partner it with a straight skirt that coordinates and use accessories to make it an outfit. Do not use a tight pencil skirt, 1920s skirts, while straight, had a little fullness to them. Sew any slits closed.
A basic straw hat will do. No masculine styles like a gambler or fedora. You want a women's hat with a round crown. Make it a vintage accessory by adding ribbon and flowers or feathers. Pin up one side and voila! You're fabulous.
Here are the Don'ts
- halter tops
- spaghetti straps
- sequins (wrong for daytime)
- frayed edges
- bridesmaids dresses (unless they look exactly like an image from the time)
- slits on skirts (sew them up and let them out later)
- tiered skirts
- wrinkled fabric
- ballet flats
- fishnet stockings
- stilletto heels
Let's try a practical application. On the left is a Vogue cover from 1926 and on the right a Summer 2009 dress from Soft Surroundings available in six colors in petite, misses, tall, and women's sizes. What works for this dress is the simple lines, perfect for 20s, soft drapey fabric, and woven embellishments and trims that make it look rich. Similar dresses have been spied at Papy Boez in Berkeley for $20.00 (smaller sizes only).
1926 - This is a casual dress, note the heels even for playing the harp. If she left the house she would don a hat, purse and gloves.
We got a good foundation for a 20s outfit. Add some hip detail with a belt or sash. If you sew add some corded trim around the edges of the dress and in a spiral at the hip the recreate the Vogue dress. You could also gather up a little fabric at each hip and add a big organza bow or silk flowers. This can also be done asymmetrically, but only if you have a dress without buttons down the front as they will hang irregularly.
Make the dress into an outfit by adding a ribbon to your hat that matches the dress color or the bow on your hip. Shoe and handbag that coordinate with the dress, trim, or each other finishes the look.
For a 1930s look we can take this silk dress from Barrie Place available from Amazon in the Summer of 2009. Classic shirt dress in pin dots.
The 1930s, while more spare, is still very feminine. By the standards of the period a dress like this might be considered a bit unfinished, so add a lace collar over or in place of the current one. Lacis and Britex have the best collection of lace collars or just plain lace. If you have a simple v-neck dress a new collar is a must. If lace isn't your thing tack on a chiffon scarf and bow it in the front. Lace cuffs are also a great choice.
Replacing the buttons is certainly an option. Buttons were a big deal in the 1930s. Today's buttons are usually cheap plastic utilitarian items. Britex and Stonemoutain and Daughter have the best selection.
All that's left is coordinating your accessories.
The Fashion Salon Team is and has been: Kimberly Manning Aker, Sara Klotz de Aguilar, Karen Geer, Alice Jurow, Derek Kerr, Cherie Oliver and Maria Rivero care to join us?