LaReeca Rucker has been a journalist for more than 20 years, and her work has appeared in newspapers across the nation. She spent a decade as a features writer and multimedia journalist with The Clarion-Ledger in Jackson, Mississippi, where she was also a USA TODAY contributor. She is a freelance journalist and support journalism instructor in the University of Mississippi's Meek School of Journalism and New Media in Oxford, Mississippi.

Old is New Again: 'The Great Gatsby' inspiring fashion

LaReeca Rucker:
The Clarion-Ledger

On Saturday nights, all the cool girls slip on their drop-waisted dresses and head out to the speakeasy, where they listen to jazz music and dance the Charleston, swishing and swaying strands of pearls and fringe late into the night.

It's 1922, and America is roaring. Fast forward 91 years, and it's fun to be a flapper again.

We have seven years to go before we see whether the twenties will roar again or be defined by another adjective, but things were wild back in the day when F. Scott Fitzgerald wrote and published "The Great Gatsby," set in 1922. The remake of the original film, starring Mia Farrow and Robert Redford, hits theaters Friday, with Carey Mulligan and Leonardo DiCaprio reprising the roles.

David B. Carter, associate professor of Mississippi University for Women's Department of Music and Theatre, said it was an era of optimism and growth after the horror of World War I.

The war also acted as a definitive break between traditional Victorian values and the modern world.

"Young people, in particular, saw no reason to follow their parents' social mores," he said. "They had money, free time, nifty gadgets like the automobile and the phonograph, and no desire to a way of life that was dull and constricting."

There was a dark side, however. "The generation coming out of the war had a deep mistrust for the elder generation that made the mistakes that led to war," Carter said, "so there was a sense of rootlessness, a sense of loneliness of the bright shiny façade of the age. They were the 'lost generation.'"

Fashion reflected the newfound liberation of the younger generation, particularly for women. "When men went off to war, women had to work at, normally, masculine jobs — jobs where a corset wasn't practical," he said.

"And once that corset came off, it wasn't coming back on. So you see women moving away from the hourglass silhouette and adopting a more androgynous look."

The '20s were trending with "drop-waisted dresses, lots of fringe and long strands of pearls, which looked good while dancing; and hair that was bobbed and styled into a permanent wave. The bustline was de-emphasized, and the silhouette was long and straight."

For men, the "college man" look was popular.

"This was characterized by a suit with a crisp white shirt and a wide tie in a Windsor knot, a letterman sweater, also with the Windsor knot tie, and a wool knit trouser that flared to a wide bell-bottom, known as 'Oxford bags,' " Carter said.

"Prominent designers of the day included Coco Chanel, one of the first (if not the first) to include pants in a women's fashion collection; and Paul Poiret, who popularized the first harem pants and the hobble skirt."

Carter said the new movie is already influencing fashion.

"Many spring collections have looked to the movie and the '20s, in general, for inspiration for their spring collections," he said. "These include Marc Jacobs, Tory Burch and Gucci."

Stephanie Jo Abby, 25, is a third-year MFA costume design candidate at the University of Southern Mississippi who just won the prestigious Kennedy Center American College Theatre Festival National Award for Design Excellence in Costumes. She will graduate in May.

"The Great Gatsby takes place in 1922, during the Roaring Twenties, an era of social, artistic and cultural dynamism," she said.

"Jazz music blossomed and the 'flapper' redefined modern womanhood."

Suggestions to get the "Gatsby" look:

• A vintage store can be your best friend because there is nothing better than finding pieces from the actual period, says Stephanie Jo Abby.

• For the ladies, you can easily get a similar look with a slinky, spaghetti strap dress, T-strap heels, a long string of faux pearls and a flashy pair of long dangly earrings.

• Belting low on the hip can give the illusion of the dropped waist of the period.

• A cute headscarf can give an unsuspecting piece new life and a flare of the '20s.

• For the men, a three-piece suit with a bow tie is a perfect.


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