Stylizing Gatsby

The Great Gatsby movie trailer is out, and I’m suddenly confused. I thought we were getting a 1920s period film, but apparently not.

Instead it looks like one of those stylized, postmodern films. Which means it has potential to go either way. It’s from the same producers and director as Moulin Rouge! (I hated) and the Romeo + Juliet with Leo DiCaprio and Claire Danes (I loved). Something akin to Sin City, but not quite as aggressively styled as that film.

Interestingly, Baz Luhrmann, the director, directed the eight short films for the Schiaparelli and Prada: Impossible Conversations exhibition at the Met.

To be clear, I can tell from the trailer that these costumes are not period accurate. They all look like contemporary fashion interpreting 1920s Halloween costumes. The hair and makeup look like they’re from the present day. The architecture and interior design look much too contemporary to even pretend to be from the 20s. The colors are a bit too bright and the sparkle is a bit too computer generated.

As for the acting, I’m a bit let down by this first look. I imagined Leo with prohibition-like swagger, but I don’t see that here. And Carey Mulligan as Daisy Buchanan seemed like good casting to me, but she doesn’t seem to have to mastered Daisy’s charms. Hopefully it’s just that this trailer doesn’t capture the actors fully realizing their roles, instead of disappointing performances.

I think I could wrap my head around this version of The Great Gatsby if the film never came right out and said “this is the 1920s.” If they just pretend it’s a roaring ambiguous-moment-in-time-that-never-happened, it might work. But in the trailer’s opening seconds the voiceover tells us it’s 1922. Ugh.

So what do you think? Do you like postmodern film that mashes up time periods and styles for effect? Or do you think classics should stay true to their origin?

Exhibition File – Art Deco Chic: Extravagant glamour between the wars

exhibition image from Museum of Vancouver

This one is for a good friend of mine living and studying in Vancouver — The Museum of Vancouver is currently showing Art Deco Chic: Extravagant glamour between the wars until September 23.

More than 66 garments are on display to illustrate art deco’s influence on fashion in the 1920s and 1930s. The exhibition looks at modernism, world travel, and geometry as major influences.

Hours: 10-5 Tuesday-Wednesday, 10-8 Thursday, 10-5 Friday-Sunday
Nonmember Admission: $12 adult, $10 senior & student, $8 youth

Feminine Lingerie Dresses

As spring transitions toward warm summer weather, our wardrobes shift to accommodate. I can imagine the same type of change happening around the turn of the 20th century; women updating their wardrobes with new dresses or making adjustments to the dresses they already owned.

White cotton or linen dresses were fashionable during late spring and summer in the late 1890s all the way to the late 1910s. These dresses were made of gauzy muslin and decorated with a lot of embroidery and lace to create a frilly look. They were called lingerie dresses, and, according to Survey of Historic Costume, were called that because the “fabric and decoration so much resembled women’s undergarments of lingerie of the period.”

Lingerie dresses have always fascinated me. A delicate dress of white would be hard to keep clean, so lingerie dresses were worn by those who did not have to engage in daily labor, mostly the upperclass. Lingerie dresses were intended to be day dresses — worn to garden parties, while promenading, or other social events.

Stripping the color allows me to show students how the silhouette subtly changed during this time. To the untrained eye, maybe these dresses all look the same. But if you look closely, you can see that the volume of the skirt, particularly at the back of the skirt, minimized gradually. The silhouette changed from an S-like shape, to more upright and tubular (which leads into the boxy cut of the 1920s). The decoration moves from a ruffly, Art Nouveau style to something more akin to the sleekness of the Art Deco.

dress, 1902-4 from Metropolitan Museum of Art | dress, 1903 from Metropolitan Museum of Art

dress, ca. 1905 from Metropolitan Museum of Art | dress, ca. 1905 from Metropolitan Museum of Art

detail of back of dress, 1907-8 from Metropolitan Museum of Art | dress, 1908-10 from Metropolitan Museum of Art

Lingerie dresses evoke romanticism and femininity. And so they were adopted by suffragists campaigning for the right to vote in the 1910s. Suffragists wore lingerie dresses in order to show that women did not want to shed their role as feminine nurturers even though they desired voting rights.

Women were encouraged to wear lingerie dresses while marching in parades to create unifying visual appeal. They must have looked beautiful and impressive marching together in a sea of white. This is probably my favorite element of lingerie dresses — their relationship with feminism.