“He’s an oggsford man” – Channeling Gatsby in a Modern Context


Image description: Janelle Monae sings into her microphone at the 2019 launch of the Ralph Lauren Purple Label Fall Collection

“They were smart and sophisticated, with an air of independence about them, and so casual about their looks and clothes and manners as to be almost slapdash. I don’t know if I realized as soon as I began seeing them that they represented the wave of the future, but I do know I was drawn to them. I shared their restlessness, understood their determination to free themselves of the Victorian shackles of the pre-World War I era and find out for themselves what life was all about.”

When Colleen Moore wrote those words, I wonder if she imagined they could be applied so readily to the fashion movements of almost 100 years later. Indeed, such a current fascination with 1920s style is perhaps not nostalgia for the past, but a recognition that it was a time to challenge conventions of years past.

The popular appeal of 1920s fashion has made a huge resurgence as we mark a new ‘roaring 20s’. No more is it just the style of the wealthy, decadent elite of a party-stricken New York — instead, sequins adorn the party dresses on low-cost brands like H and M or Mango, and men’s suit fashion has adopted a modern twist on the party-wear of Gatsby’s day or the robust tweeds worn in the contemporaneous Peaky Blinders of England. 

The idea that a theme should restrict the broader interpretations of its theme is ridiculous.

For various reasons, the boldness and classic design of 100 years prior have a modern appeal to those now able to wear what was once the uniform of a select few. In truth, men’s black-tie has rarely changed at all, and central to the appeal of a 1920s themed party is often the outfits available to the female attendees. Yet, the idea that a theme should restrict the broader interpretations of its theme is ridiculous. Women’s party wear might have adopted the glamour of a Gatsby ball, but not without its fair share of updates for the modern woman. On the higher end, Ralph Lauren’s recent autumn/winter collection featured an array of traditionally male design aspects restyles in the womenswear collection. Janelle Monae, for instance, performed her song “Come Alive (War of the Roses) to the backing of a brass band, in an outfit inspired by a male tuxedo, reworked into a dress. 

The 2020s a time for female fashion to broaden the ideas of black-tie party wear.

In more affordable price brackets, ZARA and H and M’s collections featured double-breasted tuxedo jackets lengthened into dresses and shaped for a more feminine figure. While the dress code of the 1920s was one of a woman free from the fashion trends of the day, so too is the 2020s a time for female fashion to broaden the ideas of black-tie party wear. To feel comfortable in a suit is no more restricted to men, nor is there a lack of middle ground in choice of outfit. The elegance of a gold or silver adorned ball gown can be equally matched by an outfit that borrows traditionally male style conventions. Menswear too can go beyond the standardised black dinner suit, with more options available now than ever. 

In terms of allowing for such an array of interpretation on the dress code, a Great Gatsby or Roaring 20s party allows for an expression of the self in designs both new and old. A tweed outfit is no less acceptable than a white dinner jacket and sequenced skirt no less than a dark ball gown. If you find yourself hosting or invited to a 20s party, remember that you are channelling a freedom of dress code once restricted to a select wealthy few. Challenge the tropes of the theme and wear something you’ve never worn before, perhaps something you’ve not felt confident enough to, and don’t forget that very little will look out of place.

Image Credit: Billboard via Twitter


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