If you came here looking for sequined gowns or Oxford bags, you are in the wrong place, old sport. My material culture has slightly more “culture” than “material.”
True, I am a costume curator, with a few feather-filled exhibitions under my belt. But somewhere between the E building at FIT and the PhD hooding ceremony at Carnegie Mellon, I came to prefer documents to garments.
F. Scott Fitzgerald was a document guy, and he left behind a slew of them. I have read the fiction. I’ve read the essays. I’ve read the letters written in apology after a night of binge drinking that ruined someone’s party and others’ reputations. I’ve read the ledger’s that documented the cost of his haircuts at J. Honore’s in Princeton. I’ve read the poems and I’ve even read “The Vegetable,” his ill-fated Broadway play produced in 1923. I’ve read enough to be able to say, I know Fitzgerald. I know Fitzgerald, and I’m not sure how much I like him.
Americans like him. They like the packaged, tied-up-in-a-beaded-bow Fitzgerald who writes about “flappers,” youth, and unrequited love. That’s the easy Fitzgerald, the fun one. My Fitzgerald is far more complicated. He was a man plagued by an addiction, crippled by insecurities and haunted by the idea that “life has nothing to offer but youth.” To me, Fitzgerald’s fiction isn’t about the 1920s; it’s about something far more enduring. It is about class.
What you’ll find here is the fusion of Fitzgerald’s work and my own. I use literary and material culture analysis mixed with a healthy heap of cultural history to try to understand “how” and “why” Fitzgerald used clothing in his commercial fiction. The results: a primer on the “who’s who” and “what’s what” of American society in the late 1910s and early 1920s. More significantly, you’ll see first hand how the study of clothing can add texture and tangibility to American history—documents, objects, and all.
Deirdre Clemente, PhD
Associate Director of Public History
University of Nevada Las Vegas