Ben Marks of Collector's Weekly says: "When Baz Lurhmann's The Great Gatsby came out on DVD recently, our associate editor, Lisa Hix, noticed something poking out from under all the women's costumes: Boobs. Having written quite a bit about 1920s fashion, Hix knew that the female silhouette of that decade did not include curves, so she started making inquiries with fashion historian Jonathan Walford and Alice Jurow of the Art Deco Society of California.
"As luck would have it, she also got a chance to speak with Gatsby's costume designer, Catherine Martin, on the phone to find out why Martin felt it would be in keeping with the period to give the film's actresses curves and cleavage."
For the body-hugging fit of the film’s clothes, Martin, who is also married to Great Gatsby director Baz Luhrmann, says she took inspiration from a recent exhibition of the clothes designed by 1920s innovator Jeanne Lanvin at the Museé des Arts Decoratifs in Paris.
“It was interesting to see clothes in person, styled on a mannequin, and then see a model of the period in the same clothing, in a black-and-white photo,” she says. “I noticed how ethereal and extraordinary the clothes seemed on these very neutral dummies and how incredibly frumpy the clothes looked on the person wearing them in the photograph.
“I think that what we understand as a ’20s silhouette is very much from the snapshot or from the social pages,” she continues. “But when you see the sketch of the creator, there is a big disconnect. What we chose to do, because we wanted to really capture the spirit of the ’20s, is really look at a lot of illustrations that people drew of the clothes.”
In other words, Martin’s movie is more about the fantasy world of the 1920s in the minds of forward-thinking designers, and not how it looked in real life. And she believes the ’20s ideas about sex appeal were much closer to 2013’s. But to Walford, it’s more like Martin imposed modern reality-TV standards of beauty onto Gatsby, which was set during a time when people admired an entirely different aesthetic.
“Frankly, I am a bit shocked by Martin’s quotes regarding the 1920s -- that she considers the clothes frumpy looking,” Walford says. “She was the wrong costumer to get the job if she can’t see the beauty in the real 1920s silhouette. We just happen to be in an era where the trappings of femininity are back in style—cleavage, big butts, and curvy long legs. Look at television: The Real Housewives shows are all about the artificiality of femininity.”
Mark Frauenfelder is the founder of Boing Boing and the editor-in-chief of MAKE and Cool Tools. Twitter: @frauenfelder. His new book is Maker Dad: Lunch Box Guitars, Antigravity Jars, and 22 Other Incredibly Cool Father-Daughter DIY Projects