Gloria Gilbert is Cooler Than Daisy Buchanan
She had gone in the Yale swimming-pool one night in a chiffon evening dress.
The Beautiful and Damned’s Gloria Gilbert is one of the best examples of Fitzgerald’s use of fashion as a means of defining a character. She is a modern woman, the type whose “fur-trimmed suit was gray—‘because with gray you have to wear a lot of paint,’ she explained—and a small toque sat rakishly on her head, allowing yellow ripples of hair to wave out in jaunty glory” (61). Gloria is an attention seeker, and had been the focus of what “her mother was glad to say, (were) entirely unfounded rumors about her—for instance, that she had gone in the Yale swimming-pool one night in a chiffon evening dress” (81). Gloria and her possessions are described in vivid detail and give insight into the woman herself. Her wedding ring “was of platinum set around with small emeralds; Gloria insisted on this; she had always wanted an emerald wedding ring” (150). When her husband returns home from the army and is frantic to find her, he finds only “a negligee of robin’s-egg blue laid out upon the bed diffused a faint perfume, elusive and familiar. On a chair were a pair of stockings and a street dress; an open powder box yawned upon the bureau. She had gone out” (356). The only tangible aspects of Gloria are her possessions; there is no “real” Gloria, only her accoutrements.
At the height of her courtship with Anthony, Fitzgerald describes Gloria’s appeal by focusing on her appearance and its power. He writes:
The Minnies and Pearls and Jewels and Jennies would gather round her like courtiers, bearing wispy frailties of Georgette crepe, delicate chiffon to echo her cheeks in faint pastel, milky lace to rest in pale disarray against her neck—damask was used to cover priests and divans in these days, and cloth of Samarand was remembered only by the romantic poets. She would go elsewhere after a while, tilting her head a hundred ways under a hundred bonnets, seeking in vain for mock cherries to match her lips or plumes that were as graceful as her own supple body.
Noon would come—she would hurry along Fifth Avenue, a Nordic Ganymede, her fur coat swinging fashionable with her steps, her cheeks redder by a stroke of the wind’s brush…the doors of the Ritz would revolve, the crowd would divide, fifty masculine eyes would start, stare, as she gave back forgotten dreams to the husbands of many obese and comic women (108).
Gloria’s obsession with her own youth and beauty is best exemplified in her quest for a squirrel coat. Her pursuit of the squirrel coat began one day, when her husband returns home from drinking. When he asks her what she’s been doing and she responds, “Reading a magazine—all full of idiotic articles by prosperous authors about how terrible it is for poor people to buy silk shirts. And while I was reading it I could think of nothing except how I wanted a gray squirrel coat—and how we can’t afford one.” The comment sparks an argument between the always-bickering couple and “throughout the…winter one small matter had been a subtle and omnipresent irritant—the question of Gloria’s gray fur coat” (389). And still:
Gloria went without the squirrel coat and every day upon Fifth Avenue she was a little conscious of her well-worn, half-length leopard skin, now hopelessly old-fashioned…So Gloria’s heart was very bitter, for in one week, on a prolonged hysterical party during which Anthony whimsically divested himself of coat, vest, and shirt in a theatre and was assisted out by a posse of users, they spent twice what the gray squirrel coat would have cost (390).
At the end of the book, when she has complete control of both Anthony and the fortune she helped lose and then win back, that Gloria still does not get her squirrel coat. Instead, she opts for “a Russian sable coat that must have cost a small fortune” (448).