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The Great Gatsby: Gatsby's Shirts and Clothes
Transcript of The Great Gatsby: Gatsby's Shirts and Clothes
By Cassidy Kinderman
The first thing to note about the clothing choices in The Great Gatsby is that the outfit choices for each character typically represent their mood at the time. This is especially true for Gatsby.
When Gatsby is wearing primarily light hues - such as when he wears a cream suit whilst on his way to town with Nick, white when he is with Daisy at his house, or pink when he is convinced that Daisy is leaving Tom - he is typically in a hopeful mood.
When Gatsby is sporting darker hues - such as his black suit at his first party - he is typically in a more downtrodden, pessimistic mood, and you can tell that he is uncomfortable or otherwise happy.
Let's begin by clarifying the meaning of some key colours of clothing in the Great Gatsby. This is important to understand, as colours play a major role in the meaning of Gatsby's outfits.
Blue: Blue represents Gatsby's climb to greatness and his constant fight to keep up his image of Jay Gatsby, rather than James Gatz. When the colour blue is present, we know that Gatsby is trying to boost his image. For example, Nick describes Gatsby's employees as "Blue servants in bue jackets.
Gold: Gold represents wealth and luxury. It is commonly associated with 'old money.' Gatsby wears this colour a lot when he feels he needs to prove himself to people of old money. When Gatsby goes to the Buchanan house and is trying to prove himself better than Tom, he wears a gold tie.
White: White represents purity and innocence. When Gatsby spends the day with Daisy, he is wearing almost all white. This represents how he is reliving his days of innocence with Daisy.
Gatsby's clothes are highly representative of his wealth. He dresses the way he does to make a point to Daisy about how he's made something of himself now. He hopes to impress her with his new riches, and knows that looks are important to her.
When he tells Nick and Daisy, "I have a man in Europe who buys all my clothes," he is making a blatant point of how much he can afford to splurge on his fashion. Daisy, seeing this and understanding what these fine clothes mean (wealth, power, everything she needed from him), and seeing that he now has them makes her upset about what she gave up. This is why she cries when he shows her his shirts. She sees what a horrible mistake she is made, and as she struggles to force five years of emotions into words, the best she can say is, "It makes me sad because I've never seen such beautiful shirts before." Somehow, Gatsby understands. This was, after all, his intention all along.
With this in mind, Gatsby's intention with his luxurious clothes is quite clear. Gatsby uses his lavish fashion as a way of disguising himself. Of course, all clothes exist as a method of concealment, but Gatsby's clothes conceal him with the sole purpose of hiding his true identity.
Jay Gatsby dresses in luxurious, flashy fabrics of gold and pink and bright hues. His outfits scream 'money' and 'success' and ability. This is drastically different than we can presume James Gatz - the poor farmer's boy - would have dressed. So as he climbed to his position of wealth and social stature, his clothes became gradually more grandiose.
It is important to note that one of the key figures in Gatsby's coming to be was a sailor named Dan Cody who, among other things, gave him a blue jacket. Blue, as previously mentioned, represents Gatsby's climb to greatness and fight to maintain his image. So it could be said that his recieving this blue jacket marked a turning point in James Gatz' transition into Jay Gatsby.
Of course; to Daisy, who already knows about Gatsby's meager beginnings, his expensive clothes are more of a celebration of recaptured youth, a new life, and freshly revived opportunities. His lavish shirts of soft fabrics and European designs held promise that he could now provide for her in a way that she knew he couldn't before. Her discovery of his extravagant closet indirectly sparked she and Gatsby's affair, as it planted the idea in her mind that perhaps Gatsby could finally live up to the dream that she had always imagined of him, and they could start over together.
Gatsby took this as a sign of success, and began to dress more flamboyantly, having seen that it seemed to work on Daisy. This is likely the reason behind the aforementioned pink suit he wore on he day Daisy meant to leave Tom. Of course Tom mocks the suit, as he does not need to dress in pink in order to keep Daisy. He has his wealth readily available, so he has nothing to prove to Daisy.
This is because Tom is 'Old Money,' whereas Gatsby is 'New Money.' Two statements are made about old and new money through the colours and outfits in this story: 'new' money is shinier, but fake, while 'old' money is duller but authentic. This is supported by some great imagery of yellow and gold. Gold is commonly associated with old money in this book: old, dark, and luxurious; while yellow is commonly associated with new or fake money: bright and eye catching, but in the end it is only fake gold.
Gatsby dresses brightly because it is the norm for people of new money, but he yearns to be held to the same standard as the people of old money, like Daisy and Tom. This is why when he goes to Tom and Daisy's house in the hopes of overshadowing Tom and sweeping Daisy away, Gatsby wears a gold tie. Unfortunately, it is overshadowed by the pink suit that screamed new money.
So, it could be said that Gatsby's clothing choices encapsulate his entire personality. He is constantly trying to keep up a false idea of himself, so we see that he is insecure. He dresses flamboyantly, so we know that he craves attention and a certain human connection that he is lacking in his life. He also strives to look as though he is better than he is, telling us that he is hopeful and dedicated to the cause of a better future.
I think that this captures Gatsby pretty well: Insecure and lonely, constantly seeking for that great unimaginable tomorrow where everything is brighter and better.
So when we consider that Gatsby spent his life using his colourful clothing to maintain a certain image of himself, it is only fitting that he should die dressed the way that he was: in nothing.
Gatsby died in his pool, wearing a simple men's bathing suit. He is not trying to convey anything, not trying to keep up any image of Jay Gatsby, he died simply as James Gatz. It shows us that in the end, despite all the effort that Gatsby put into maintaining this perfect image, this perfect reality, he could not truly repeat the past, he ended that way he began.
In a way it is a sad irony that he should revert back to James Gatz at his hour of death just as the press was beginning to tear apart the public view of Jay Gatsby. His fictional life died as quickly as he did.
So, to sum this all up, Gatsby's clothes represent seven things in the story:
1. His ever changing mood
2. His extreme wealth
3. A way of disguising his true beginnings
4. The difference between old money and new money
5. Daisy's dreams of a future with Gatsby
6. His identity
7. How easily his fictional identity was destroyed
Gatsby's clothes played a key role in the imagery of this story, and I think that they are very important to the progression of the plot.