Not All That Glitters is Gold
Not All That Glitters is Gold: The Use of Wardrobe to Reflect Characters’ Inability to Confront Internal Strife
Warning: This piece contains spoilers about The Great Gatsby and Euphoria.
When someone alludes to the 20s, one decade usually comes to mind: the 1920s–the Roaring 20s–a time of extravagance as well as change, a theme of many a party and a time of aesthetic glory. This year, the world enters the ‘20s once again. 2020 was off to a tumultuous start, to say the least, but many parallels can be drawn between both the 1920s and the 2020s up until this point. For one, the Wall Street boom in the 1920s drove significant changes in the political and economic atmosphere of American society, evoking a cultural shift in the way people viewed money. In 2020, politics and the pandemic have brought about a cultural change as well. Because of the growing reliance on the stock market in the 1920s, society became fairly more unpredictable, the Wall Street bubble growing increasingly precarious throughout the decade. In 2020, America has faced similar unpredictability due to COVID-19 and society bringing issues such as police brutality, white supremacist attitudes, and the dehumanization of immigrants at the border to light.
As society becomes progressively uncertain, many people who experience trauma or pain turn to escapism to flee from the chaotic emotions they face. The 1920s saw flashy, grandiose fetes and soaring alcohol sales (Prohibition who?) and in present day, the same coping mechanisms are somewhat similar though drugs have become increasingly popular as well. Baz Luhrmann’s film The Great Gatsby, based on the novel by F. Scott Fitzgerald, uses wardrobe, specifically jeweled, sparkly clothing, as a symbol of escape from the internal pain Daisy Buchanan (Carey Mulligan) faces while living an opulent life in the 1920s. HBO drama series Euphoria does the same, employing glitzy wardrobe and makeup to illustrate how the protagonist of the show, Rue Bennett’s (Zendaya) drug addiction allows her to flee from the anxiety and confusion while faced with an uncertain future.
Daisy Buchanan is the very picture of extravagance with her plush, lavish dresses complemented by jeweled headdresses and an affluent life in East Egg. Though riches have strolled into her life by way of her ignorant husband Tom (Joel Edgerton), Daisy is lacking in one area of her life— love. Before Tom, Daisy was in love with Jay Gatsby (Leonardo diCaprio), and although their marriage fell through due to circumstances, Daisy never left Gatsby’s heart. Living directly across the bay from Daisy, Gatsby throws exorbitant soirees that fully encompass the spirit of the Roaring 20s at his mansion in an attempt to draw her attention, until Daisy finally decides to attend one. Inside, Daisy’s love for Gatsby hasn’t withered either, but she’s wary of growing close with him again for fear of going down a path her marriage forbids and getting her heart broken by Gatsby once more. Daisy is laden with diamonds and fur, her gown adorned with so many jewels it’s practically reflective, and a band of gemstones encircles her head. Daisy’s outfit, a sign of her wealth, is also a mask for the vulnerability she feels near Gatsby. His presence reminds her of the life she could have had, the life that narrowly slipped out of her fingers, and that pain gnaws at her. So, in a time where parties and wealth are perceived as the cure for everything, Daisy flaunts her gleaming gown as a suit of armor, each diamond reflecting her pain back outwards and helping her appear as radiant as ever despite her growing feelings of darkness within. The glittering nature of her dress speaks to her need to present her most shining self to Gatsby and others, as if she believes that by convincing everyone else that her life is sparkling perfection, she’ll believe it too.
Using glitter to display an unrealistically splendid front is not a tendency limited to wealthy-in-everything-except-love socialites from the 1920s, a fact demonstrated by Euphoria’s Rue Bennett, a present-day high school student who struggles with anxiety, ADD, and an addiction to drugs. In the first episode of the show, Rue narrates her background of addiction, which was engendered by her history of anxiety and furthered by being over-prescribed coupled with the reluctance to open up to others about what she’s going through. While she narrates, she’s shown at a party drinking and getting high, wearing an emerald sequin-infused top and glitter on her eyes. Juxtaposed with the dark, moody lighting of the party, Rue’s top glimmers with a shine akin to a sea of mirrors. Her gleaming outfit illustrates how alcohol and drugs allow Rue to deflect her underlying pain and slip on a facade of happiness. Drugs have the power to make Rue’s world sparkle and take away her pain at times when she desperately needs that relief, and the sequins on her top and the glitter on her eyes reflects that.
Rue and Daisy live a century apart and yet they are bonded by the way their clothing choices symbolizes their hesitancy to confront emotional pain. Today’s world is full of change and unpredictability, and wearing a mask, glittery or not, has become part of daily life–in more ways than one. For those who feel like they are wearing more than one type of mask, you are not alone, and no one’s glittering exterior is exactly representative of any individual experience.