"It reveals what we as a culture consider sexy and decadent today."
July 4, 2014 3:28 PM   Subscribe

Did Hollywood Give the 1920s a Boob Job? 'Gatsby' Costume Designer Tells All
Breasts are everywhere in 2013’s new "Gatsby"… They’re pushed up to create cleavage, peeping out of frocks and fringed flapper dresses, and hugged tightly by clothes cut to show off curves. As Daisy Buchanan, Carey Mulligan is clearly wearing some sort of shapewear or bra under even her most modest clothes, to make her breasts seem perfectly perky.

Catherine Martin, the producer, production designer, and costume designer of "The Great Gatsby," says that she simply took the styles of the 1920s and amped up the sexy quotient—and made the dresses fit more like the designers intended.…

"Frankly, I am a bit shocked by Martin’s quotes regarding the 1920s—that she considers the clothes frumpy looking," [co-founder of the Fashion History Museum Jonathan] Walford says. "She was the wrong costumer to get the job if she can’t see the beauty in the real 1920s silhouette."


'The Great Gatsby' Still Gets Flappers Wrong (previously)
The trouble with “Gatsby” is, as beautifully as F. Scott Fitzgerald describes the opulent world of 1920s high society in his novel, he gets flappers all wrong. That’s because he portrays this liberated “New Woman” through the eyes of men. ... Narrated by a man, the cautionary tale seems to warn against the wiles of The New Woman—the feminist ideal of an educated and sexually liberated woman that emerged in the 1900s. So instead of intelligent, independent women telling their own stories of rebelling and rejecting their mother’s values, you have male war buddies sharing how vapid, spoiled socialites carelessly wrecked their lives.
Sociological Images on the Rise of the Flapper
posted by Lexica (46 comments total) 38 users marked this as a favorite
psh! next thing you'll try to tell me is that they didnt listen to hip hop either.
posted by young_son at 3:33 PM on July 4, 2014 [20 favorites]

also Nick was totes gay
posted by infinitewindow at 3:47 PM on July 4, 2014 [1 favorite]

Apparently an early draft of the 1973 Gatsby involved Nick being gay and Jordan being a lesbian. It got rejected by the studio. Obviously.
posted by pxe2000 at 3:51 PM on July 4, 2014 [2 favorites]

in the 70s they made movies set in the 20s that looked like the 70s version of the 20s... Why is anyone surprised we still do this?
posted by dabitch at 3:56 PM on July 4, 2014 [9 favorites]

in the 70s they made movies set in the 20s that looked like the 70s version of the 20s...

Since I don't know much about period costume, I tend to notice this most clearly with hair -- even if people are wearing costumes, their hair tends to be more contemporary.
posted by Dip Flash at 4:15 PM on July 4, 2014 [8 favorites]

Well, she is Mrs. Baz Luhrmann. Then again, with it being his project, it was never going to be anything more than a MTV Cribs-style dumbing down of the original. Luhrmann's view of the intelligence and attention span of his target audience is about on a par with Michael Bay's.
posted by acb at 4:18 PM on July 4, 2014 [16 favorites]

I have a reprint of a Sears and Roebuck catalog from 1927 and all of the women are basically just elongated rectangles with heads and limbs.
posted by cropshy at 4:26 PM on July 4, 2014 [29 favorites]

> Catherine Martin, the producer, production designer, and costume designer of "The Great Gatsby," says that she simply took the styles of the 1920s and amped up the sexy quotient—and made the dresses fit more like the designers intended.…

Uh, no, form-fitting dresses and pushed-up cleavage is absolutely not what fashion designers in the 1920s intended. There's plenty of film and photo evidence.
posted by desuetude at 4:30 PM on July 4, 2014 [21 favorites]

My dear departed auntie bound her chest down (yee-ouch) in order to wear the 1920s styles (she was a teenager at the time). Gravity-defiant boobies--not so much.
posted by datawrangler at 4:43 PM on July 4, 2014 [6 favorites]

In her Language of Clothes, Alison Lurie describes women dressed in the height of 20s fashion as looking like rolls of carpet.
posted by brujita at 4:55 PM on July 4, 2014 [10 favorites]

acb: "Luhrmann's view of the intelligence and attention span of his target audience is about on a par with Michael Bay's."

Well, I found it talky and long-winded, so I don't know what that says about my intelligence and attention span, then.
posted by Joakim Ziegler at 5:04 PM on July 4, 2014

Weirdly, the movie that most impresses me with how gets 20th-century period costume absolutely dead-on accurate is Pleasantville Hair, makeup, underpinnings-- all of it's exactly right.

But with most period films, you can tell what year it was actually made by the hair and makeup on the leading lady.
posted by nonasuch at 5:06 PM on July 4, 2014 [22 favorites]

This is where I usually recommend Seeing Through Clothes by Anne Hollander, especially the chapter iv, starting on page 237, which discusses how film and theatre designers consciously and perhaps subconsciously make characters from previous times look current.

Here's a quickie for you: how "authentic" are each of these versions of Queen Elizabeth I? The ones that look authentic-interssting-ugly to me now may look less authentic in a decade or two because there may be some obvious early 21st-centuryisms in place that I'm just blind to.

Related AskMe thread.
posted by maudlin at 5:17 PM on July 4, 2014 [26 favorites]

also Nick was totes gay

It's pos . . . I mean, it's pos . . . I-i-i-t's possible . . . It's possible, but . . . It's possible, but . . . but . . .

posted by Herodios at 5:17 PM on July 4, 2014

“Dresses featured legs, arms, hips and faces, not cleavage,” Walford writes in an email. “It meant a woman was no longer bound by convention—she was liberated from the confines of traditional femininity because she could think for herself, dance and drink and smoke and swear, and that is sex appeal.”

This sounds great. If the clothes seem frumpy to us now it sounds like that was the point. "My eyes are up here" as fashion movement.

For the big-boobed and non-svelte it sounds like a pain in the ass, but the "in" body shape always leaves someone on the outs.

Of course it would be better not to have an "in" body shape at all but a permanent end to cultural policing of women's behavior and looks is apparently too much to ask for.
posted by bleep at 5:22 PM on July 4, 2014 [16 favorites]

I think of the flapper aesthetic for women as particularly being about the rejection of the very structured undergarments and frilly things. And, yeah, the contemporary media was very much 'rectangles with limbs'.

As for breast-binding, I figured it was the rejection of more corset-y sort of stuff to just binding things down like a tight-fitting jogbra but more so. (I vaguely remember the film "Thoroughly Modern Millie" discussing flapper women binding their breasts, too)
posted by rmd1023 at 5:58 PM on July 4, 2014 [2 favorites]

I have a small vintage clothing collection (mostly half disintegrated stuff that no one else wanted) and the transition from nineteen-teens to twenties is astonishing. You are going from a dress that requires about twenty hook- and- eye closures, plus some tiny snaps, not to mention whatever undergarments you are dealing with, to the average dress of the 1920's: a tube, with armholes, that you toss on overhead. And you cut all your hair off, so you can just brush and go. And it is all beautiful- I think we hit the ideal of fashion around 1925 and we have not gotten close since.
posted by velebita at 6:30 PM on July 4, 2014 [41 favorites]

The thing that stood out for me is that none of the film's flappers stood in the famous flapper s-curve.
posted by maxsparber at 6:34 PM on July 4, 2014 [6 favorites]

I have a reprint of a Sears and Roebuck catalog from 1927 and all of the women are basically just elongated rectangles with heads and limbs.

Still possibly an improvement from hourglasses with tennis rackets.
posted by XMLicious at 7:04 PM on July 4, 2014 [4 favorites]

i really love the great gatsby and i really love baz luhrmann, which is exactly the reason that i refuse to watch baz luhrmann's great gatsby. i always thought it would have been interesting to see what current day robert redford could do with it.

i do love this post, though.
posted by nadawi at 7:12 PM on July 4, 2014

My favorite worst example of this sort of thing was Lost in Austen, in which NO ONE comments, ever, on the heroine's modern, undisguisable haircut. Between that and the heroine's being, well, dumb, I just could not take that movie seriously at all.
posted by jenfullmoon at 7:36 PM on July 4, 2014 [2 favorites]

Not totally authentic of course, but the costumes are a highlight of the Australian TV series Miss Fisher's Murder Mysteries, which is set in the late 1920's. Interview with designer Marion Boyce. Some nice costumes.
posted by gudrun at 7:40 PM on July 4, 2014 [10 favorites]

"Flappers" and "Bootleg" - women wore loosely fitting boots, so the shafts of them were "flapping" against their calves, and could, just coincidentally, accommodate a flask of illicit hooch.

Form follows function.
posted by Slap*Happy at 7:44 PM on July 4, 2014 [3 favorites]

while i love that story about flappers - apparently false.

As the adoption of the term in America coincided with a fashion among teenage girls in the early 1920s for wearing unbuckled galoshes, a widespread false etymology held that they were called "flappers" because they flapped when they walked, as they wore their overshoes or galoshes unfastened
posted by nadawi at 8:57 PM on July 4, 2014 [2 favorites]

an interesting post about the bootlegger etymology - i'd be interested to read more about different positions on that.
posted by nadawi at 9:03 PM on July 4, 2014

Wouldn't the primary era of the flappers been pre-prohibition?
posted by sourwookie at 9:18 PM on July 4, 2014

Never mind, wasn't thinking, brain fart, ignore my previous comment.
posted by sourwookie at 9:22 PM on July 4, 2014

OK, so this is where language and history get awesome - the term "flapper" may have actually existed before the fashion for women to wear too-loose-boots, and bootlegging may have predated the fashion of women to wear too-loose boots -

Yet, wear too-loose-boots they did, during prohibition, as it was the fashion.
posted by Slap*Happy at 9:39 PM on July 4, 2014

The Wikipedia about flappers doesn't say anything about boots, loose or otherwise.
posted by bleep at 9:45 PM on July 4, 2014

well the wiki article mentions it and says it's a false etymology - one that gained prominence because the shoe thing coincided with a critical mass of women being called flappers. it was the fashion, but the fashion isn't the reason for the name, it seems.
posted by nadawi at 9:53 PM on July 4, 2014

I remember hearing an amazing interview on CBC with women who were young in the flapper era... they talked about wearing their corsets to the dance, and then discarding them in the bathroom, and how the men only wanted to dance with the women who dared discard their corsets because it was so sexy to be able to feel their bodies under the dress.

Unfortunately I couldn't find it again ... but did find this interview with Dr. Jane Nicholas of Lakehead Unviersity about her book Modern Girl on flappers and how they defied convention.

Her interview strongly echoes the idea in the Sociological Images article that flappers were rebelling against the customs of the age. (Love the images in that article, great post!!)
posted by chapps at 9:54 PM on July 4, 2014 [8 favorites]

That Wikipedia article about flappers leads to this article about Olive Thomas, who was one of the most beautiful people ever (imo) and had such a sad, sad life.
posted by potsmokinghippieoverlord at 3:59 AM on July 5, 2014 [1 favorite]

The Smithsonian Magazine series on flappers has some interesting stuff: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, Part 5.
posted by gudrun at 7:38 AM on July 5, 2014

Yep, the Flapper style was supposed to a radical, dramatic break with the past - encouraged by post war trends of novelty, Youth, speed, and innovation. It was a costume for dancing, drinking, and staying out all night, totally in ethos with the new machine age.

People forget hiw HORRIFED people where of the flappers. In a world where women where being told to not talk on the phone or learn to drive they wanted to drive cars they owned! Really fast! Maybe they wouldn't date! They would just DO WHATEVER THEY LIKED. They dressed like men but wore huge strings of pearls and didn't wear corsets and listened to this awful nergo music - it was too much. Popular figured where calling them literally demonic (there was no possible way they could make good mothers one sermon I read said, so of course this will lead to the death of the white race so we have to outlaw these kinds of dresses right away ) and the mainstream where so happy when the depression and second war promptly got rid of them. We even soften them today, making them seem like cute Funtime party girls, a passing fad, something silly and designed to please men rather than the shocking, terrifying avatar of a new type of future and role for women they where.
posted by The Whelk at 8:21 AM on July 5, 2014 [33 favorites]

Joan Crawford's energetic performance in Our Dancing Daughters (1928) captures the peak of the Roaring Twenties shortly before the great Crash of 1929.
posted by cenoxo at 9:02 AM on July 5, 2014

The 1920's is my favorite decade and I am a regular in the NYC Art Nouveau scene. I find how people adapt the clothing of the time really interesting just because that style has never really made a comeback and it's been so long ago that finding twenties items in Vintage Stores isn't easy (I have two authentic dresses, a hat, and a purse). So you really wind up getting a similar affect of modernizing the flapper look- lots of drop waists and pearls. But even then it tends to go beyond that, like I said, I go to many of these events and I've seen it run the gamut from the 20s through the 50s oftentimes intermingling.

I would have thought that the movie would of made the 20s cool again, and while there seemed to be a really brief rise in popularity, it really didn't seem to last.
posted by KernalM at 12:11 PM on July 5, 2014

I've loved the era as well, the hats, the cropped hair, the velvet, lace and silk. Real 1920s dresses seem to me always have have a bit of geometric pattern to them, be they black and white silk or green and white velvet. I found this wasn't as pronounced in the film in favour of flower patterns that felt foreign to the era.
posted by dabitch at 5:50 PM on July 5, 2014

Yeah and I wonder if the style's resistance to coming back, or that it comes back in more palatable versions of the real thing, is cause the era was so experimental and outright strange - I'm friends with lots of Peoplpe who do historical and recreation costumes and we often talk about what you could get away wearing without comment today and ...yeah none of the flapper fashions are going to blend in even if they're streamlined and comfortable - compared the the other looks of the century it's so. Freaking. Werid.
posted by The Whelk at 8:18 PM on July 5, 2014 [1 favorite]

(I did once successful argue that the more extreme flapper looks where moe like wearing full on New Wave asymmetrical face makeup than anything someone would wear to the store, but then you get into the idea of club wear and some of the peroid stuff totally fits that.)
posted by The Whelk at 8:20 PM on July 5, 2014 [1 favorite]

As a person with large breasts, I'm pretty sure flapper era clothing is never coming in for me because I cannot imagine that being comfortable or flattering.
posted by jeather at 8:27 PM on July 5, 2014

That's why some women bound theirs. Think awesome sportsbra and the freedom to not bounce when you're out dancing, with a flowing dress that hugs nothing, so there's no tightness anywhere. It's not the Twiggy-skinny & straight of the 60s era, it's curvy ladies not being trapped by cinched waists.
posted by dabitch at 8:30 PM on July 5, 2014

I know some people like that, but I find that much binding uncomfortable. Maybe it would look fine if I managed to flatten myself that much, but as I won't, it would not. It's too bad, because I do like the aesthetic in general on people who aren't me.
posted by jeather at 8:33 PM on July 5, 2014

The Wikipedia about flappers doesn't say anything about boots, loose or otherwise.

Wikipedia doesn't know the secret knock.
posted by Slap*Happy at 8:40 PM on July 5, 2014 [1 favorite]

I know the "love the style .. but...on me.." mismatch. I've cut my hair to mimic Louise Brooks perfect short bob many times, and it still won't suit me no matter how hard I try. I have a pointy head.
posted by dabitch at 8:42 PM on July 5, 2014

The interview with Marion Boyce, the costume designer for Miss Fisher's Murder Mysteries, that I linked above (here's that interview link again), has this to say about those of us with larger breasts/fuller figures and 1920's fashion:

Question: Given that the flapper look was designed for a very androgynous, slim-line body, what late 1920s fashion would you recommend for the more robust woman?

Her answer: The flapper was more 1925. We're working in the late 1920s, with clothes getting towards the bias cut. It's one of the periods where they decide to eliminate busts and would wear elastic to flatten their busts and completely get rid of them. There are a lot of bias cuts that people can still wear with busts. They've just got to make sure that if it is bias cut it will give you a womanly shape. If it is cut in the straight, it will be just a sack. If you cut things on the bias, then you can still wear 20s fashion without it looking boxy and unflattering.
posted by gudrun at 9:21 AM on July 6, 2014 [2 favorites]

Re the bias cut in and near the 20s... Here's a fascinating article (with video clips) about Madeline Vionnet, queen of the bias cut, and her designs.

Some of these would definitely flatter a larger bust more than a boxier style Must go find sewing kit.

So includes a short mention of her management practices, which included maternity leave!! Would love to learn more about that!
posted by chapps at 10:37 AM on July 6, 2014 [1 favorite]

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