What Does the White Dress Symbolize in the Great Gatsby: Decoding its Meaning

In “The Great Gatsby” by F. Scott Fitzgerald, the white dress is a symbol that holds significant meaning throughout the novel. It represents purity, innocence, and sophistication. The main character, Daisy Buchanan, is often seen wearing white dresses, which in the book symbolize her complicated personality. The white dress is a vehicle that draws attention to Daisy’s character and her unsettled nature.

Throughout the novel, Fitzgerald uses the white dress symbol to contrast Daisy’s conflicting desires and her complex personality. While she appears to be a delicate and refined woman, the white dress points to her hidden desires and her struggle to reconcile her feelings with her social status. Daisy’s white dress symbolizes her desire to be free from the constraints of society and her inner turmoil that prevents her from attaining true happiness. The white dress is an integral symbol that helps to underscore the central theme of the novel, which portrays the struggle of the human spirit against the constraints of social norms and expectations.

In conclusion, “The Great Gatsby” is a novel filled with symbols that help to convey the deeper meanings of the narrative. The white dress is one of the most significant symbols used in the text, representing purity, innocence, sophistication, and Daisy’s complex nature. As the novel progresses, the white dress symbol takes on new meanings, highlighting the conflicting desires and beliefs of the characters. Ultimately, the white dress symbol is an essential tool used by Fitzgerald to explore the struggle for self-discovery and to show the limitations imposed by society on the individual.

The History of the White Dress

As a symbol of purity, innocence, and virginity, the white dress has been a fixture in Western bridal tradition for centuries. However, the significance of the white dress did not become widespread until the Victorian era. Before then, brides often wore dresses in a variety of colors, and it was not uncommon for women to wear their Sunday best on their wedding day.

The white dress as we know it today can be traced back to the wedding of Queen Victoria and Prince Albert in 1840. The young queen chose to wear a white dress adorned with lace and orange blossoms, sparking a trend that has lasted over a century.

While the white wedding dress was becoming increasingly popular in the late 1800s and early 1900s, it was not yet the norm. In fact, many women still wore dresses in different colors, including black, which was seen as a symbol of elegance and sophistication.

By the time The Great Gatsby was published in 1925, the white dress had firmly cemented its place as the go-to wedding dress for women of all classes. It was seen as a symbol of purity and innocence, a way for women to escape the darkness and corruption of the world around them.

The Evolution of Fashion in the 1920s

The 1920s was a significant decade in the history of fashion, marked by a rebellion against the rigid and conservative styles of the past. This era saw a rise in new trends and innovations in clothing, hair, and makeup that continue to inspire designers and fashion enthusiasts to this day.

  • Flapper fashion: One of the most iconic styles of the 1920s was the flapper look, characterized by short hair, loose dresses, and a more masculine silhouette. This style was a reaction to the corsets and long hemlines of the previous decade, and symbolized a new era of freedom and independence for women.
  • Art Deco influences: The 1920s was also marked by an obsession with Art Deco aesthetics, known for its geometric shapes and bold colors. This was reflected in clothing through the use of angular patterns and metallic fabrics, as well as in accessories like beaded necklaces and feather headbands.
  • Cultural influences: The 1920s was a decade of cultural exchange and globalization, which was reflected in the new styles of clothing that emerged. The popularity of jazz music and dance, for example, inspired new styles of flapper dresses that were designed to move and flow with the body.

In The Great Gatsby, the white dress symbolizes the purity and innocence of Daisy Buchanan, the object of Jay Gatsby’s affection. However, the dress is also a representation of the frivolity and excess of the 1920s, a time when people were more concerned with superficial appearances than with the deeper issues of society.

Characteristics of 1920s Fashion Examples in The Great Gatsby
Loose, flowing dresses Daisy’s white dress at Gatsby’s party
Short hair and boyish figures Daisy’s “bobbed” hair
Art Deco patterns and metallics Jordan Baker’s beaded dress
Emphasis on the body in dance and movement The dancing at Gatsby’s party

The Great Gatsby is more than just a story of love and ambition – it is also a reflection of the cultural and social changes that were taking place in the 1920s. The white dress, in particular, symbolizes both the innocence and excess of this era, reminding us of the complex history behind great works of literature.

Fitzgerald’s Use of Color Symbolism in The Great Gatsby

One of the most prominent themes in The Great Gatsby is the use of color symbolism. Throughout the novel, F. Scott Fitzgerald uses colors as a tool to convey deeper meanings and themes. White is one of the most significant colors in the book, symbolizing various ideas and emotions. Here’s a closer look at what the white dress symbolizes in The Great Gatsby:

  • Purity: White has long been associated with purity, virginity, and innocence. The white dress that Daisy wears when we first meet her embodies her beauty and perfection, as well as the idealized image that Gatsby has created of her in his mind.
  • Deception: While white can represent purity and innocence, it can also be used to mask deception and dishonesty. Throughout the book, many of the characters wear white to hide their true intentions or to put up a façade of respectability. For example, Daisy’s white dress symbolizes her purity and innocence, but it also represents the facade she puts up to hide her infidelity and the evil she is capable of.
  • Death: In some cultures, white is a symbol of death and mourning. This is reflected in The Great Gatsby when Gatsby is murdered in his white pool, which symbolizes the corruption and destruction of his dream. Furthermore, the white dress that Daisy wears to Gatsby’s funeral represents the death of their relationship and the illusion that Gatsby had created around her.

Overall, the white dress in The Great Gatsby is a powerful symbol that represents a range of emotions and themes. From purity and innocence to deception and death, white is used to convey the complex and layered relationships between the characters and the world they inhabit.

Color symbolism is just one of the many literary devices that make The Great Gatsby an enduring classic. By using colors to represent emotions, themes, and even character traits, Fitzgerald creates a rich and nuanced world that still resonates with readers today.

Daisy Buchanan’s Characterization Through Fashion

In “The Great Gatsby,” Daisy Buchanan is a character known for her wealth, beauty, and ultimately her self-absorption. One significant way that the author, F. Scott Fitzgerald, characterizes Daisy is through her fashion choices, specifically her preference for white dresses.

  • Symbolism of White: White is a color often associated with purity, innocence, and even spirituality. In Daisy’s case, it represents her facade of purity and innocence that she uses to manipulate those around her.
  • Distancing Herself from Reality: Daisy’s obsession with white dresses shows her need to distance herself from the harsh realities of her life. She hides behind a pristine facade, refusing to acknowledge her own complicity in her unhappy life.
  • Convenient Choice: Wearing white is also a symbol of wealth, as it shows that she has the means to maintain her clothing’s cleanliness – something that is not accessible to everyone. For Daisy, it’s a convenient fashion choice that further solidifies her status as an elite.

Through her fashion choices, Daisy continuously attempts to maintain her innocence, despite actively participating in corrupt behavior. She portrays herself as an angelic figure, masking her true character and intentions.

Fitzgerald uses this characterization to showcase the destructive nature of the elite’s obsession with appearances. Daisy’s plight is relatable to the modern audience, where people are continually trying to preserve their perfect image at any cost. In the process, they forego their authentic self and turn to superficiality and materialism, leading to loneliness and tragedy.

Daisy Buchanan’s White Dresses – A Closer Look

To further understand the symbolism behind Daisy’s white dresses, here’s a breakdown of every instance in which she wears one:

Occasion Description Symbolism
Introduction Daisy wears a white dress as she reunites with Gatsby, whom she hasn’t seen in years. Represents nostalgia for a time when she was pure and innocent. It also symbolizes her attraction to Gatsby’s wealth and influence.
Buchanan’s House Party Daisy wears a white dress as she tries to manipulate Gatsby and Tom. Shows her manipulation of the two men and her ability to use her facade of purity and innocence to gain power.
Hit and Run Accident Daisy wears a white dress when she hits and kills Myrtle while driving Gatsby’s car. Symbolizes the ease with which Daisy can hide her culpability and unwillingness to accept responsibility for her actions.

Daisy’s preference for white dresses may seem like a superficial fashion choice, but it ties back deeply to her character’s conflicts and personality. The dresses are a representation of the lengths Daisy will go to maintain her illusion of innocence and highlight the danger that comes with the obsession with appearances.

The Symbolism of White in Literature

White is a color that has long been associated with purity, innocence, and goodness. In literature, white is often used symbolically to represent these qualities and to contrast with darker or more sinister elements in a story. In F. Scott Fitzgerald’s “The Great Gatsby,” the color white takes on a particularly significant role, particularly when it comes to the clothing worn by the characters.

  • The White Dress. One of the most memorable uses of white in “The Great Gatsby” is the white dress that Daisy Buchanan wears when she is first introduced to the reader. Daisy’s dress is described as “white as innocence” (Chapter 1), and it serves to reinforce the idea of Daisy as a pure, innocent figure. This characterization is complicated and somewhat subverted over the course of the novel, but the white dress remains an important symbol of how others see Daisy, at least at the beginning of the story.
  • White as a Status Symbol. In addition to its symbolic association with purity and innocence, white clothing in “The Great Gatsby” also serves as a signifier of wealth and status. Many of the wealthy characters in the novel are depicted wearing white clothing, which is described in elaborate detail. This emphasis on white clothing highlights the extreme wealth and luxury of the characters, as well as the way that they use their appearance to distinguish themselves from those who are less fortunate.
  • The Whiteness of Race. Finally, it’s worth noting that the color white takes on additional layers of meaning in “The Great Gatsby” because of its significance in relation to race. The novel takes place during the era of Jim Crow laws and segregation, and the use of white clothing can be read as a way of reinforcing whiteness as a source of power and privilege. This is particularly evident in the scene where Gatsby’s father shows Nick a book in which Gatsby kept a list of “general resolves” (Chapter 9). One of these resolves is to “be better to parents” and “not throw any more parties,” and it is written in the margin next to the word “Note,” which is itself written over a reference to “Nordics.”


In “The Great Gatsby,” the color white serves a variety of symbolic functions, from representing purity and innocence to signifying wealth and status. However, the novel’s use of white is also complicated by its historical context and the ways in which whiteness was used to justify power and privilege in the United States. Overall, the use of white in “The Great Gatsby” demonstrates how color can serve as a powerful tool for conveying meaning and subtext in literature.

Symbolism of white in literature
Purity and innocence The white dress worn by Daisy Buchanan
Wealth and status The elaborate descriptions of white clothing worn by wealthy characters
Race and power The references to whiteness and “Nordics” in Gatsby’s book of resolves

Couture vs. Ready-to-Wear Dresses in the 1920s

The contrast between couture and ready-to-wear dresses in the 1920s was significant. Couture dresses were custom-made for the individual wearer, using high-quality fabrics and intricate detailing. These dresses were luxurious, expensive, and exclusive to wealthy women who could afford them. On the other hand, ready-to-wear dresses were mass-produced and sold in department stores. They were more affordable and accessible to middle-class women.

  • Couture Dresses:
  • 1. Made-to-measure for individual clients
  • 2. Expensive and exclusive
  • 3. Used high-quality fabrics and intricate detailing
  • Ready-to-Wear Dresses:
  • 1. Mass-produced for department stores
  • 2. More affordable and accessible
  • 3. Made from lower-quality materials and less intricate detailing

In The Great Gatsby, both types of dresses are mentioned and worn by the characters. The wealthy women, such as Daisy and Jordan, wear couture dresses to showcase their wealth and high social status. Meanwhile, the less wealthy characters, like Myrtle, wear ready-to-wear dresses that show their lower economic status.

The contrast between couture and ready-to-wear dresses highlights the socioeconomic differences of the era. It also signifies the changing times as fashion became more accessible and democratized. The shift towards ready-to-wear clothing paved the way for contemporary fashion and helped shape the industry as we know it today.

The Symbolism of the White Dress in The Great Gatsby

One of the most iconic dresses in The Great Gatsby is the white dress that Daisy Buchanan wears. Throughout the novel, the white dress symbolizes Daisy’s innocence, purity, and beauty.

White is often associated with purity and innocence, and Daisy’s white dress represents her idealized image as a young, beautiful woman untouched by the corrupt world around her. However, as the novel progresses, Daisy’s true nature is revealed, and the white dress becomes a symbol of her superficiality and inability to face reality.

The white dress also represents the excessive wealth and extravagance of the characters in the novel. The white color is traditionally associated with weddings, and the elaborate white dress showcases the wealth and extravagance of the wealthy characters in the novel.

Symbolism of the White Dress in The Great Gatsby Meaning
Purity and Innocence Represents Daisy’s idealized image as a young, beautiful woman untouched by the corrupt world around her.
Superficiality As the novel progresses, the white dress becomes a symbol of Daisy’s superficiality and inability to face reality.
Wealth and Extravagance The elaborate white dress showcases the wealth and extravagance of the wealthy characters in the novel.

The white dress symbolizes the societal expectations placed on women during the 1920s. It highlights the importance placed on a woman’s appearance, purity, and innocence rather than her intellect or personality. The white dress serves as a reminder of the constraints put on women during this time and the pressure to conform to societal norms.

The Role of Gender in Fashion

Gender role and identity have been significant factors in fashion throughout history. This can be seen in various fashion items that are gender-specific, like the suit for men and the dress for women. The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald reflects the culture and fashion of the 1920s, where gender roles were beginning to shift. One particular fashion item that represents gender roles in the novel is the white dress.

The white dress symbolizes both purity and sensuality in The Great Gatsby. Women wore white dresses to indicate modesty, but the sheer and flowy fabrics used also highlighted their curves and bodies. Women in the 1920s were challenging traditional notions of femininity and sexuality, and the white dress was a symbol of that rebellion.

  • The white dress in the novel represents the tension between tradition and modernity. Women were still expected to be modest and pure, but the changing times allowed for more freedom and expression in fashion.
  • The white dress also represents the power of wealth. In the novel, Daisy and Jordan wear white dresses to represent their wealth and status. It was a luxury to wear a white dress as it required constant cleaning and care, which only the wealthy could afford.
  • Fitzgerald uses the white dress as a symbol of the illusion of the American Dream. Gatsby’s obsession with the white dress-wearing Daisy represents his desire for the idealized version of the American Dream, which he believes can be achieved with wealth and status. The white dress becomes a metaphor for Gatsby’s unattainable dream.

In conclusion, the white dress in The Great Gatsby represents not only modesty and purity but also sensuality, rebellion, power, and illusion. It is a symbol of the changing gender roles in the 1920s, where women were challenging traditional notions of femininity and sexuality.

As fashion continues to evolve, gender roles and identities will continue to influence the industry. The white dress in The Great Gatsby serves as a reminder of the power of fashion and its ability to reflect and shape society’s attitudes towards gender.

The Significance of Tom’s Affair with Myrtle Wilson

In “The Great Gatsby,” Tom Buchanan’s affair with Myrtle Wilson is a crucial part of the story’s plot. Through this affair, F. Scott Fitzgerald reveals the complex social dynamics and moral corruption of the time period. The white dress, which Myrtle wears during the course of the story, has significant symbolism that is representative of several themes.

  • The white dress represents Myrtle’s desire for social mobility and higher status.
  • The white dress symbolizes Myrtle’s desire to escape her mundane life and experience the extravagance of wealthy socialites.
  • The white dress also serves as a metaphor for Myrtle’s innocence and purity, which is ironic given her adulterous actions.

Tom’s affair with Myrtle not only illustrates the moral decadence of the wealthy elite but also highlights the power dynamics between men and women during the 1920s. Tom’s class privilege and physical strength give him dominion over Myrtle’s body and her life, which he exercises with impunity.

In addition to the white dress’s symbolic meaning, the number 8 also has significance in the story. The number 8 is a recurring motif throughout the novel and represents wealth, prosperity, and material success. Tom’s wealth and social status are the source of his power, and he uses it to control those around him, including his mistress Myrtle. Additionally, the number 8 is present in several scenes, including the oculist’s billboard and the Jazz Age glamour party, both of which represent the excesses of the time period.

Characters Number 8 Connection
Jay Gatsby Gatsby’s wealth and prosperity come from his illegal bootlegging ventures, which he uses to create his extravagant parties and lifestyle, representative of the 1920s excesses.
Tom Buchanan Tom represents the old-money aristocracy of the time, which enjoys wealth and prosperity that has been passed down for generations. He uses his privileged position to dominate Myrtle and exert power over those around him.
Myrtle Wilson Myrtle’s desire to escape her mundane life is rooted in her desire for financial success and social status. Her association with Tom and his wealthy friends grants her access to this affluent lifestyle, but ultimately leads to her demise.

Overall, the white dress and the number 8 are both important motifs that serve to convey the novel’s themes and ideas. Through Myrtle’s affair with Tom and her desire for social mobility, Fitzgerald exposes the moral decay and power dynamics of the 1920s, while the recurring symbol of the number 8 emphasizes the extravagance and materialism of the time period.

The Comparison of Daisy’s White Dress to Romeo’s Description of Juliet

The use of color as a symbol in literature is a common practice. The color white, in particular, is often associated with purity, innocence, and perfection. In F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby, Daisy Buchanan wears a white dress, which carries significant meaning throughout the novel.

  • Daisy’s white dress represents her purity and innocence at the beginning of the novel. She is seen as a symbol of hope and light throughout the story.
  • As the novel progresses, Daisy’s character changes, and the white dress becomes a symbol of her corruptness and moral decay. She uses her beauty and charm to manipulate the men around her, including Jay Gatsby.
  • The white dress represents Daisy’s wealth and status in society. Her extravagant lifestyle and expensive clothing signify her high social standing.

Interestingly, this use of white as a symbol of purity and innocence can be seen in William Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet. When Romeo first lays eyes on Juliet, he describes her as “The sun for sorrow will not show his head/ Go hence, to have more talk of these sad things:/ Some shall be pardon’d, and some punished:/ For never was a story of more woe/ Than this of Juliet and her Romeo” (Act 5 Scene 1). Juliet is often seen wearing white, symbolizing her purity and innocence.

The comparison of Daisy’s white dress to Juliet’s description in Romeo and Juliet shows the power of color symbolism in literature. Both characters use the color white to represent their purity and innocence, but as their stories progress, their white clothing becomes a symbol of their corruption and moral decay.

Ultimately, the use of color symbolism emphasizes the theme of the corrupting influence of wealth and status in both of these literary works.

Social Class and Fashion in The Great Gatsby

In F. Scott Fitzgerald’s novel, The Great Gatsby, clothing represents more than just a fashion statement. It is a symbol of social status, illustrates the divide between the rich and the poor, and is a reflection of the decadence and extravagance of the 1920s.

  • The Color White:
  • One can’t talk about fashion in The Great Gatsby without mentioning the infamous white dress worn by Daisy Buchanan. In the novel, Daisy wears a white dress to a party at Gatsby’s mansion, a dress that embodies purity and innocence. However, this symbolism is ironic, as Daisy herself is far from pure and innocent, engaging in an affair and ultimately causing destruction in the lives of those around her.

  • The Divide Between Classes:
  • The divide between the wealthy and the poor is also apparent in the clothing of the characters in the novel. The wealthy wear extravagant clothing made from fine materials, while the poor characters, such as George Wilson and his wife Myrtle, wear clothes that are worn and faded, highlighting their financial struggles. The stark difference in attire emphasizes the social and economic distance between the rich and the poor in the novel.

  • The Extravagance of the 1920s:
  • The 1920s was a period of decadence and excess, a time of short hemlines, bobbed hair, and bold makeup. This is reflected in the clothing of the characters in the novel. The women wear flapper dresses, adorned with beads and sequins, while the men wear three-piece suits with fedoras. This fashion represents the newfound freedom that came with the end of World War I and the rise of the Roaring Twenties.


In summary, fashion in The Great Gatsby is a way to symbolize social status, highlight the divide between classes, and reflect the extravagance of the 1920s. The clothing worn by the characters plays an important role in conveying the themes and messages of the novel.


– Fitzgerald, F. Scott. The Great Gatsby. Scribner, 2004.

– Bruccoli, Matthew J. A Brief Life of Fitzgerald. University of South Carolina Press, 1994.

Word Part of Speech Definition
Purity Noun The quality of being untainted by sin or moral wrong.
Extravagance Noun The act of spending money or using resources in an extravagant or wasteful way.
Decadence Noun Moral or cultural decline as characterized by excessive indulgence in pleasure or luxury.
Flapper dress Noun A dress style popularized in the 1920s, characterized by a straight, loose, slightly dropped waistline, and narrow skirt.
Hemlines Noun The level of the hemline of a dress or skirt, measured from the floor.

What Does the White Dress Symbolize in The Great Gatsby?

1. What is the significance of Daisy wearing a white dress in The Great Gatsby?
Daisy’s white dress represents her pure and innocent appearance, which is ironic considering her true nature.

2. Does the white dress symbolize anything else?
In addition to symbolizing purity, the color white represents wealth and luxury in the novel, highlighting the lavish lifestyle of the characters.

3. How does Gatsby react to seeing Daisy in her white dress?
Gatsby is enchanted by Daisy’s appearance in the white dress, and it reinforces his infatuation with her.

4. Are there any other characters who wear white in The Great Gatsby?
Myrtle Wilson is also described wearing a white dress in the novel, which symbolizes her desire to elevate her social status.

5. What does the contrast between the white dress and other colors represent?
Colors like green and yellow represent greed and deception in the novel, making the white stand out as a symbol of purity and honesty.

6. Why is the white dress mentioned so frequently in the novel?
The repeated references to the white dress emphasize Daisy’s beauty and allure, which are key factors in the novel’s themes of desire and disillusionment.

7. How is the symbol of the white dress used in the film adaptations of The Great Gatsby?
The use of the white dress as a symbol of Daisy’s beauty and wealth is a consistent theme across film adaptations of the novel.

A Final Note

Thank you for reading about the symbolism behind the white dress in The Great Gatsby. Hopefully, this article has deepened your understanding of the novel and its themes. Be sure to come back for more engaging literary discussions!