style icon: zelda fitzgerald

Most people know Zelda Sayre Fitzgerald as the wife of famous American writer F. Scott Fitzgerald. The two became celebrities after the success of This Side of Paradise, and newspapers couldn’t get enough of the young, good looking couple that seemingly lived for a good time. But Zelda had already cultivated a wild reputation as a young girl back in Montgomery, Alabama where she would dive off rocks in a nude-colored swimsuit that left everyone wondering whether she was clothed. But she was more than just a party girl (thought her husband famously named her “the first American flapper.”); she had artistic aspirations of her own. She painted, wrote magazine articles and short stories — her husband even drew on her diaries for his work. At 27, she became obsessed with becoming a ballet dancer and practiced incessantly, often 8 hours a day. Her quest for a separate creative identity continued well into her later years, and it’s that unique style that we’re honoring here in today’s Style Icon. — Amy Azzarito

Image above: Zelda Sayre via F. Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald Museum

Image above, clockwise from right: Asymmetrical Cloche, $17.90; Lollia in Love Classic Petal Bubble Bath, $33.95; New French Dictionary, $10; Baltic Amber Earrings, $120; Vintage Tennis Racket, $25; Vintage Small Plate, $53; Edie Velvet Chaise, $649; Ilia Arabian Knights, $24; Geronimo! Balloon Set, 2 for $180

More of Zelda after the jump . . .

As the ’20s progressed, the couple’s partying went from youthful fun to depressing; they fought frequently, and Scott slipped further into alcoholism. In April 1930, Zelda was admitted to her first psychiatric hospital in France, where she was diagnosed with schizophrenia. She was in and out of various hospitals, and then in 1932, while at a hospital in Baltimore, she finished her first novel and sent it to Scott’s publisher. Scott was furious — her novel drew on their shared experiences that he had hoped to use for

Tender is the Night. He went over the book carefully and forced Zelda to remove anything he had planned to use. The book was not well-received by critics, and Scott called her a plagiarist. The experience crushed Zelda. She never published another novel and was in and out of psychiatric hospitals for the next 10 years. F. Scott died in 1940. Zelda, along with nine other women, died in a fire in 1948 at a hospital while she was awaiting electroshock therapy. Though both died believing themselves failures, public interest in their lives increased after the 1950s. Then in 1970, while still a graduate student at Columbia, Nancy Milford wrote a biography

of Zelda that changed the narrative and portrayed Zelda as someone who went mad as a result of stifled creativity. Mitford’s account recast Zelda as a feminist icon.

Image above: French Evening dress, ca. 1925, from the collection of the Metropolitan Museum of Art

Image above, from clockwise: Peony (Zelda’s favorite flower); Studded Capezio Ballet Slipper, $48; A Tiny Celebration, $6.50; Vintage Ribbon, $8; False Eyelashes, $15; Odette Sofette, $1695; Yayoi Forest, Stars in the Sky Earrings, $350; Perfume Stick Roller, $48; Biscuit Recipe (While living in Connecticut, Zelda especially missed Southern biscuits.); Ahoy Headwrap, $35; Bob Ross Deluxe Paint Set, $99

  1. Shauna says:

    I think the author’s name is Nancy Milford. Nancy Mitford was also an author, but she died in 1973.
    Love that Ahoy Headwrap, by the way!

    1. Amy Azzarito says:

      You are correct, Shauna! Thank you! (Love that headwrap too!)
      xo Amy

  2. What an interesting style icon. It would be fun to compare with the wild child reputation of today. As an aside I love the ballet slippers.

  3. Absolutely adore this post. I’ve been fascinated with the Lost Generation lately.

  4. how2home says:

    Zelda Fitzgerald is such an interesting style icon! Love all the products you have on there!

  5. Rochelle Lavin says:

    I love this. I wish today’s clothing would move closer — at least for a time — to the one that spawned that lovely peach dress. Love the affordable cloche, too.

  6. It’s really such a sad story, love turning to poison. What an awful way to die!

  7. Patricia Flournoy says:

    I have the Nancy Mitford book which I pick up every now and then…They were an interesting, if not ill-fated pair.

  8. Elisabeth says:

    I went to the same middle school that she attended (Baldwin Middle School in Montgomery) and we were told there that she used to haunt the dance room. Ever since then I’ve been really interested in her.

  9. dana mccoy says:

    we have a connection with the fitzgerald’s and their great history here in asheville, n.c. so much that i named my daughter after her.
    what a great story.

  10. I wonder if there is any way to read the original novel that Zelda wrote BEFORE Scott redacted it and made her remove all the most compelling parts. Thank you for a fascinating post.

    1. Amy Azzarito says:

      Frances – That is a very good question. Princeton has the F. Scott archives, but I’m not sure if an early manuscript exists…. it seems like it must… would certainly be interesting. – Amy

  11. Morgen says:

    After taking a class on the Fitzgerald’s in college, I’ve always felt that Zelda was trying desperately to find her own creative voice. Something that I relate to. I had not heard about Nancy Milford’s book. I’ll have to check that out.

  12. Thank you so much for the followup, Amy. It would be sad if the original was completely lost. But it can’t hurt to try and contact the Princeton archives and see if an original exists. I’ll give it a try! I love Design*Sponge. It’s a great Design blog, but so much more.

    1. Amy Azzarito says:

      Thanks, Frances! Let me know if you end up finding out anything. I did a few google searches but came up empty handed. I think she sent the manuscript to the publisher before F. Scott got his hands on it, so maybe it’s in an archive somewhere. Very interesting!

  13. Well, I just found this, and it is pretty wonderful. Who wouldn’t want this lovely nasturtium painting on their wall?

  14. joni wheeler says:

    Zelda was a terrific painter – she did street scenes of New York and Paris that are so whimsical with the most amazing color palette. Everyone should check her out.


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