Glamour and luxury

Material dreams 

A crucial aspect of this novel is Gatsby’s achievement of the dream of wealth and the signifiers of power. Such conspicuous consumption was increasingly possible for members of society who had not inherited their wealth, but the old wealthy families regarded the newly-rich with scorn and suspicion. Gatsby claims to have inherited his wealth, lost it and then gained it for himself. The rumours which he inspires are largely related to his suspected criminality, and Fitzgerald leaves this aspect of Gatsby deliberately vague and suggestive.

Nick says to Gatsby in Chapter 5, ‘Your place looks like the World’s Fair’ which was an allusion to the large-scale public exhibitions of nations’ wealth and economies and immediately associates Gatsby with showiness, trade and commerce. (It could also be a play on words, suggesting that the world is being fair to Gatsby, giving him a second chance to be with Daisy.) Furthermore, Daisy’s visit to Gatsby’s house resembles an exhibition, as Gatsby shows off his excessive wealth and accumulated possessions, including a ‘soft, rich heap’ of shirts.

In Chapter 8, Nick presents Gatsby’s account of his relationship with Daisy. In this account, an observation is made that money has the power to insulate people from the passage of time and the sufferings of the real world:

Gatsby was overwhelmingly aware of the youth and mystery that wealth imprisons and preserves, of the freshness of many clothes, and of Daisy, gleaming like silver, safe and proud above the hot struggles of the poor.

Material / cloth

In a materialistic world, there is much emphasis on actual material and clothing. Gatsby’s generosity in replacing a woman’s dress, damaged at his party, is noted with reference to the shop and the price of $265 (Croirier’s is a fictional reference, possibly playing on the meaning of the French word ‘croire’, ‘to believe’) but this is not appreciated for long before the sense of an ulterior motive is considered:

There’s something funny about a fellow that’ll do a thing like that.

Gatsby’s clothing

The clothes worn by Jordan, Daisy, and the partygoers are considered in some detail, but it is Gatsby’s clothing which seems to be most significant. Aside from the scene in his bedroom where he tosses out his shirts (Chapter 5), Gatsby is careful about his clothing, and Nick notes his choices very precisely throughout the novel:

  • When he collects Nick in his car in Chapter 4, he is wearing a ‘caramel-coloured suit’
  • For his meeting with Daisy, he wears a white flannel suit, with silver shirt and gold tie
  • His most interesting choice is a pink suit, not because pink is now strongly associated with femininity, but because it elicits different responses from Nick and Tom. Nick refers to ‘his gorgeous pink rag of a suit’ as he says goodbye to Gatsby just before his death, but Tom mocks the pink suit as evidence that he is not an ‘Oxford man’.

Gatsby’s flamboyant attire, perhaps like his mansion, is an advertisement of wealth as part of his claim to be worthy of Daisy. She is very impressed, and cries ‘stormily’ when she is presented with this evidence:

‘They’re such beautiful shirts,’ she sobbed, her voice muffled in the thick folds. ‘It makes me sad because I’ve never seen such - such beautiful shirts before.’

For his final appearance in the novel, following Daisy’s choice to remain with Tom, Gatsby dons a bathing suit, almost abandoning the attempt to impress or deceive by outward appearances. Once he relinquishes the material signs of his wealth he is merely referred to as an ‘accidental burden’. 


There are numerous references in the novel to objects which act as status markers. In Gatsby’s case, he numbers among his possessions a hydroplane, two cars, two motorboats, a mansion with a pool and its own beach and his ‘toilet set’ made of gold. His clothes are similarly opulent and he has an excessive number of shirts. Furthermore, Gatsby has servants (a chauffeur, a butler, a gardener) and hires people to work for him at his parties, as well as commanding a number of people involved in his criminal activities, such as Slagle.

The description of Gatsby carrying his pneumatic mattress is particularly poignant as it counterbalances the more elaborate vehicles he owns and shows him operating alone:

Gatsby shouldered the mattress and started for the pool. Once he stopped and shifted it a little, and the chauffeur asked him if he needed help, but he shook his head and in a moment disappeared among the yellowing trees.
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