Baz and the Book: Ivy Middle Man Nick Carraway's White Flannel Pants

Baz and the Book: Ivy Middle Man Nick Carraway’s White Flannel Pants

Gatsby Poster Nick

At some point in this movie, Nick Carraway must wear white flannel pants.

Spectator shoes; white bucs; button-down collared shirts. They all started in the Ivy League in the years before WWI, but white flannel pants were par excellence of Ivy Style. Since the early 1900s, Princeton graduates wore blue blazers and flannel pants on commencement day, and it became closely associated with the university. In This Side of Paradise, Amory Blaine observes the ensemble in its campus context on his first day at Princeton:

“Several times he could have sworn that men turned to look at him critically. He wondered vaguely if there was something the matter with his clothes…He felt unnecessarily stiff and awkward among these white-flannelled, bare-headed youths who must be juniors and seniors, judging by the savoir faire with which they strolled.”(230)

Across the Ivy League, white flannels were an upperclassmen thing. Freshies hadn’t the gall to don them.

Nick Carraway went to Yale. His flannels to Gatsby’s party say what Gatsby’s clothes do not: “I fit in.” Everyone at that party knew the cultural meaning of those flannel pants: privilege and education. A powerful combination in American culture.

Fitzgerald was always at odds with that combination. In his own life, Fitzgerald was, as leading scholar Matthew Bruccoli said, “in the club on a guest membership.” Fitzgerald’s keen eye for detail, his charm, and his Princeton degree gave him entrée to a higher socioeconomic stratum. But he and Gatsby didn’t belong there. Nick does and his clothing tells us that.

Images Warner Bros.

Read more on F. Scott Fitzgerald’s Princeton Style.