Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Gatsby in Uniform

I often think about Ralph Lauren and The Great Gatsby in the same breath. And ever since August, I’ve added the Olympics to my exhale.

As TV watchers know, Ralph Lauren designed the Olympic opening ceremony uniforms for the USA team. It’s both ironic and fitting that Lauren outfitted the athletes in preppy navy jackets, white trousers, and a white driving hat—an ensemble that wouldn’t have been out of place in the film The Great Gatsby. Of course, you also know that Lauren made Gatsby’s clothes for that film and arguably, those clothes were as much the star of the film as was Robert Redford.

The Great Gatsby is both a novel and film about manufacturing one’s identity. Jay Gatsby rose from his working-class roots as Jimmy Gatz to court, lose, and temporarily woo back Daisy, a wealthy Midwestern beauty whose roots were planted firmly in WASP culture.

And he did it by wearing his military uniform, which functioned as a class leveler.

Daisy’s husband, Tom, once noted that the only way Gatsby could legitimately get near Daisy’s house was if he were to deliver the groceries to the back door. But in his uniform, he wasn’t “Mr. Nobody from Nowhere”; rather, he was able to penetrate Daisy’s society, which should have been off-limits to him.

Ralph Lauren, too, famously changed his name into what has become an international symbol of WASP style and culture, in the process gaining access to and ultimately holding the key to elaborate lifestyle fantasies, as depicted in his advertisements.

But these Olympic athletes don’t need a uniform to hide behind; they have their original talents to gain them entry to the Olympic Games. Putting Ralph Lauren uniforms on these athletes smacks of deception, as if, like Gatsby, the athletes were poseurs rather than the “real thing.”

If you want to argue, though, that Ralph Lauren represents the self-made American man à la Gatsby, (and we can add woman here too), then the choice of his clothes was brilliant, for these athletes were participating in the Games not only to achieve personal bests but also to forge their name in the national consciousness, to “make something of themselves.”

Although Ralph Lauren’s Olympic uniforms can be seen as homogenizing diversity among athletes (and Suzanna Mars has a fine post on this), they’re also, in the Gatsby tradition, a symbol of personal transformation. I’d bet that most of the American athletes would have been fulfilled to leave the Games newly crowned an Olympian. But do they want to represent Lauren’s cultivated WASPy style?

In other words, should Lauren's uniforms be one-size-fits-all? Can they be anything else? I like made-to-measure, myself.

9 comments:

WendyB said...

You know I have a necklace inspired by Mia Farrow in Gatsby.

miss cavendish said...

I just saw it! I used "Mia" as a search term on your jewel site. It's lovely--feminine and delicate . . .

Songy said...

well regardless of all the criticism I read.. his uniform looks much much better than what Aussie athletes had to wear. It was an utter... disaster if you ask me.

Runaway Gallery said...

great connections. i love gatspy

Sal said...

As someone who generally believes that perception is reality, I'm always drawn to literary characters who lie about social status to gain entry. Lying is abominable, overall, and I don't typically condone it ... but social status has nothing to do with talent, intelligence, skill, worth, or anything really besides luck. If you're embedded in the upper crust, it just means you were lucky enough to get born that way. And anyone who can cheat a system that is based solely on luck - like a card counter at a casino - wins my curiosity, if not affection.

I had no idea Lauren had changed his name, but I think he's a decent rep of the self-made man and therefore a worthy candidate for Olympic uniform design. And the thing about uniforms is ... well, they naturally homogenize.

ambika said...

What an interesting post. I would have drawn a parallel based on appearances between Lauren's prep chic look & Gatsby but had no idea about the other similarities.

enc said...

Keen insights and questions, miss cav. I enjoy a bit of preppy, but I can't take on the whole identity or look even though I was brought up steeped in that "culture." I take bits from it and mix them with the "anti-prep": punk.

ThursdayNext said...

As much as I did not like how the wonderful novel lost so much when it was interpreted on screen for the film, the costumes were wonderful...and my favorite part of the book is when Gatsby throws all his colored shirts on the bed to impress Daisy and illustrate just how shallow those two could be...

Mary-Laure said...

OH MY GOD.
Robert Redford on that picture made my heart flutter - don't tell anyone plllllleeeeaaaase...
And Mia Farrow is an exquisite Daisy.

When it comes to F Scott Fitzgerald, I may like "Tender is the night" better.