Fitzgerald, Fashion, Jay Gatsby, and Money
In 1924, Fitzgerald wrote an article for his pet publication, The Saturday Evening Post, entitled,“How To Live on $36,000.” The average America annual income was in the zone of $1200. Annoying? Yes. Provocative? Yes.
Fitzgerald lived his entire life on a fiscal cliff. His father, Edward Fitzgerald, was unable to hold down a job and relocated his family several times during his son’s early life. Fitzgerald was conflicted as to his place on the social totem pole. His paternal grandmother was a descendant of the Scotts and the Keys, families who had been in the country since the seventeenth century. Francis Scott Key was a distant relation and the author was named for him. Fitzgerald’s mother’s family, the McQuillans, established a successful wholesale grocery in St. Paul but lacked the highbrow background Fitzgerald admired. They were “straight 1850 potato famine Irish.”1
Much like Jay Gatsby, Fitzgerald spent money—partying, moving, traveling, drinking. Fitzgerald scholar, Matthew Bruccoli writes, “It is not entirely paradoxical that he threw his money away. His carelessness with money expressed his superiority to it.”2 At twenty-two, Fitzgerald spent his last $30 he had on “a magenta feather fan for a girl in Alabama.”3 The girl was Zelda Sayre.
Despite his perpetual money problems, a young Fitzgerald always managed to strike an impression. Henry Mencken, the leader of the era’s literati, wrote in his memoirs, “He was a slim, blond young fellow, tall and straight in build and so handsome that he might even have been called beautiful.”4 Fellow Princeton graduate and playwright Lawton Campbell remembered seeing the Fitzgeralds shopping on the Champs Elysees, with Zelda in a military blue dress she called her “Jeanne D’Arc dress” and Scott in one of his well-tailored suits. He noted, “They were so smartly dressed and striking.”5
Later in his life, when the author was in dire financial straits and living in a motel in Hendersonville, North Carolina, his appearance deteriorated. A longtime friend, Nora Flynn, visited often and remarked, “I can still see his room with collar buttons on the bureau, and neckties hanging from the light fixture, and dirty pajamas all over.” Fitzgerald himself commented on the situation in his ledger: “My underwear I started with was a pair of pajama pants—just that…washed my two handkerchiefs and my shirt every night, but the pajama trousers I had to wear all the time and I am presenting it to the Hendersonville Museum.”6
Read more on the style of Scott and Zelda.
1. Arthur Mizener, The Far Side of Paradise, 2.
2. Matthew Bruccoli, Some Sort of Epic Grandeur, (New York: Carroll & Graf, 1993), 270. On page 204 of the biography
Bruccoli recounts examples of how Fitzgerald was also careless with other people’s money, and once collected watches
and jewelry from guests at a dinner party, went into the kitchen and cooked them in a pot filled with tomato soup.
3. F. Scott Fitzgerald, The Crack Up, 14.
4. H.L. Mencken, My Life as Author and Editor, (New York: Knopf, 1989), 256.
5. Nancy Milford, Zelda, (New York: Harpers & Row, 1970), 104.
6. Arthur Mizener, The Far Side of Paradise, 257.