1920's Party Help
March 20, 2007 7:59 AM   Subscribe

I am going to be throwing a 1920's themed party. All the guys are coming as mobsters (pin striped suites) and all the girls will be wearing little cocktail dresses (no sense in making them all go out and buy a flapper dress unless they want to). Other than having all the liquor in one of the bathrooms (think prohibition) what other ideas do you all have? Food, specific beverages, anything as I am kind of at a loss for what else to do.
posted by thebwit to Food & Drink (37 answers total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
I think you'll have to do the Charleston, a lot. Try watching The Cat's Meow for an idea of how rich folks partied back then.
posted by vytae at 8:06 AM on March 20, 2007

If you have time, good source material could be F. Scott Fitzgerald novels, particularly The Great Gatsby and Bernice Bobs Her Hair.

They remain highly readable and entertaining; they may be almost a hundred years old, but they're still good. :)
posted by Malor at 8:09 AM on March 20, 2007

Decorate the room like a speakeasy. Have guests say the password (included on the invitation) to get in. Have a bouncer/doorman. Serve drinks in tea cups and coffee cups (to hide the fact that you're drinking booze). Thigh flasks. Guns. Gambling. Boas.

Also, everything you could possibly want to know is probably covered here - music, decor, food, etc.
posted by iconomy at 8:13 AM on March 20, 2007 [1 favorite]

Well, you definitely need jazz. The jazz age and all. Also, I bet you can find online some cool red scare propaganda. You could have them lying around, maybe. Just for shits 'n giggles.

And for added authenticity, check out real headlines from the 1920's and print some out, maybe.

Also, this page has a couple "classic" 1920's cocktails.
posted by sneakin at 8:18 AM on March 20, 2007 [2 favorites]

Decorate with some art deco posters.

If you can't buy one locally or get one shipped in time, you can always try searching for a low-rez thumbnail online and blow it up on your computer.

Googling for "art deco poster" will get you most of the way there or go to Corbis and search for art deco illustrations. Like this. Or this. (those links might break later)
posted by GuyZero at 8:22 AM on March 20, 2007

You will need a hobo or two wandering around scrounging up lint and chickenbones.
posted by mattbucher at 8:23 AM on March 20, 2007

Get some timely music, like some big band swing-y-type stuff. For dancing the Charleston, etc.
iconomy's link looks AWESOME - consider having a party favor for each guest - cheap plastic fedoras for the gents, cheap feather boas for the ladies.
Add some fringe and/or tassles to your window treatments.

As for food and beverages, you might want to stick to what you know your friends enjoy. It would be a shame to go for historical accuracy at the expense of your friends enjoying themselves.
That said, maybe replace your usual chips-and-salsa with a sour-cream-based dip and some crackers - keep the food generally white-bread-ish.
For drinks, hard liquor was the name of the game. No beer, little if any wine. Again, if this bums your friends out, sacrifice the historical accuracy in the name of pleasing your guests.
posted by Sprout the Vulgarian at 8:27 AM on March 20, 2007

Bath tub gin

and ban all immigrants, especially the Chinese and Indians

oh and randomly accuse people of being communist
posted by CAnneDC at 8:31 AM on March 20, 2007 [1 favorite]

Blackface. Also, why all the pinstripe? How about a portly guy in a tophat and monocle?
posted by DU at 8:34 AM on March 20, 2007

You'll need some hot club jazz.
posted by contessa at 8:40 AM on March 20, 2007

Track reccomendation:
Jurassic 5 - Swing Set
posted by phrontist at 8:42 AM on March 20, 2007

Here's a few ideas:

* Drag out an old Monopoly board
* Set up a photo area, like some fake-bars of a jail cell with a 20's headline "gangster nabbed!" beside it
* Take a few cloth headbands and tape big black ostrich feathers in them, for guests who want to jazz up their 20's look. Also find some long strings of fake pearls and red lipstick!
* To add to the whole prohibition thing, it might be worth trying to find some cheap flasks to have lying about / let people drink out of.

We had a party like this and it was a total blast - everyone looked amazing and the photos were brilliant.
posted by ukdanae at 8:42 AM on March 20, 2007

A still would be a nice touch. I think you can homebrew moonshine in a pressure cooker if you're looking to have some authentic booze. Definately have a doorman and a password. A bust by the fuzz would be good as well.
posted by craven_morhead at 8:43 AM on March 20, 2007

A still would be a nice touch. I think you can homebrew moonshine in a pressure cooker if you're looking to have some authentic booze.

This is: a) illegal in the US (not really a big deal); b) really dangerous, particularly over a gas burner (probably a Big Deal).

Get yourself some nice rye whiskey, instead. It was popular leading up to prohibition, but never quite recovered. Mix up some Manhattans!
posted by uncleozzy at 9:00 AM on March 20, 2007

I went to a 1920s prohibition party a few years ago. They also had a password. And unless you live in a really small place, or have friends who aren't extremely into costume parties, don't underestimate the ability to find decent flapper dresses.
Also, if you have smoking friends, what about providing cigarette holders? Always glamourous.
posted by MissSquare at 9:10 AM on March 20, 2007

Get your 1920's slang on!

As host you should be in full character. For everyone else, maybe print up some English > 1920's Hispter Slang translation guides?

Take a drink every time someone says 'copacetic'?
posted by miagaille at 9:10 AM on March 20, 2007 [1 favorite]

download some mp3s of 1920's radio commercials, or radio shows, and intersperse those with the jazz. and don’t forget King Tut, he was big then.
posted by andrewzipp at 9:19 AM on March 20, 2007

Don't forget the syphilis.
posted by Jay Reimenschneider at 9:20 AM on March 20, 2007 [1 favorite]

Bathtub gin, gun-toting mobsters, ragtime music & syphillis! Fun stuff.

Lordy, if eighty years from now someone decides to have a 2000s party... how boring is that going to be in comparison? Is everyone just going to sit around on old laptops & cell phones bitching about what a douche Kevin Federline is?
posted by miss lynnster at 9:29 AM on March 20, 2007 [1 favorite]

I remember a spread in Budget Living magazine featuring an awesome Prohibition-themed cocktail party. Unfortunately in my decongestant-fueled haze I can't seem to google anything specific about it. I'm sure anyone who had a subscription could help you out (except for me because with the aformentioned haze, I can't remember if I stashed my issues somewhere clever or recycled them. Sorry.)
posted by wallaby at 9:33 AM on March 20, 2007

My darling girlfriend did this for her 30th birthday party (say goodbye to the roaring 20s, see? (like my Cagney impression?))

Here's the info off her info webpage she put together to answer these kinds of questions. Some of the links might be dead since it's been a few years and the business locations are focused on the DC area since that's where we are.


In general:

Just about every costume and party shop has 1920s-style clothing and accessories. Many nicer shops have higher quality dresses and suits you can rent if you are so inclined, but it's easy to figure out how to make a more modern article of clothing look right. Accessories to consider: cigars, flasks, pocket watches on chains, long cigarette holders, long strings of pearls, feather boas, feather and sequin bands and gun holsters (leave your firearms at home, though).

Since it's October, there are lots of costume and party shops open right now. You should not have problems finding one, or you can order something from the Internet. Plus, if you wait until November 1, you're sure to get a good deal!

Local stores that can help outfit you:

The Costume Studio
This Capitol Hill store specializes in period looks up to 1930, offering about 1,000 costumes. All costumes are for rent with accessories included. Prices range from $30-$50.
35 Eighth St. NE, Washington, DC 20002-6025
Phone: 202-544-5843

Costumes Creative
This large store has more than 15,000 costumes for rent and more than 100 for sale. 1920 shimmy dresses are among the inventory.
9168 Brookville Rd., Silver Spring, MD 20910-1808
Phone: 301-587-6275
http://www.costumescreative.com/ (search for gangster and / or flapper)

For the Dames:

Women's gowns in the 1920s were made of expensive materials like silk, velvet, chiffon and taffeta and sometimes featured elaborate beadwork. They often wore decorated combs, scarves and ribbons with feathers attached. Cloth hats were worn during the day.

Dresses did not often end above the knee - the shortest length worn during this time was only slightly below the knee.

To use flappers' tricks to accentuate your legs, wear stockings with back seams and rouge or powder your knees. Recreate the makeup style of a flapper by using a pale powder on your face, bright rouge circles on your cheek apples, and bright, flashy-colored lipstick accentuating the curves of the upper lip in a "rosebud" pout, or "Cupid's bow" shape.

Long hair was almost always in chignons at the nape of the neck because short hair was more fashionable at the time. Most women bobbed their hair and wore it sleek, however finger waves were very popular.

Web sites that might help:

* Fashions in the 1920s http://www.fashion-era.com/flapper_fashion_1920s.htm
* Flapper Fashions http://www.rambova.com/fashion/fash4.html
* History of Fashion 1920 - 1930 http://www.vintageblues.com/history2.htm
* Shoes and Fashion in the 1920s http://www.centuryinshoes.com/decades/1920/1920.html
(and there is a ton more, just do a Google search)

For the Gents:

Many 1920s styles for men look surprisingly contemporary. Tuxedoes in the twenties were virtually indistinguishable from those worn today. Tuxes in the 1920s were often worn with a silk brocade vest. Knickers, pants that end around the knee worn with v-necked sweaters and English driving caps, were popular during the day. Bow ties or regular ties, especially in black (or white), are appropriate neckwear. Pin striped suits with vests were popular (even among gangsters). Men almost always wore a hat outside of the home.

Men wore their hair parted down the middle, slicked down by pomade or hair grease (hair gel will work in 2004).

Web sites that might help:

* Men's Fashions of the 1920s http://www.murrayontravel.com/carolnolan/fashionhistory_1920mens.html
* Men's Fashions http://www.angelfire.com/co/pscst/men.html
(Sorry - there's not as much information on the web dedicated to you guys)
posted by phearlez at 9:52 AM on March 20, 2007 [1 favorite]

She adds:

I put out a list of 1920s slang on the table so people could adopt gangster or flapper speak for the night

Other ideas: Serve chips in violin cases instead of bowls (like guns), buy foil wrapped chocolates in the shape of champagne bottles, dollar bills and guns for party favors

Make a CD of 1920s music including the charleston (which is a REALLY easy dance)

Decorate with feather boas and hats (or provide all attendees with them) - these can be ordered from Oriental Trading Company

And here's what such a shindig looks like.
posted by phearlez at 9:53 AM on March 20, 2007

Hearken to Uncle Ozzy -- distilling your own liquor is Bad News unless you know what you're doing. You run a small but not-small-enough risk of poisoning someone or exploding your kitchen.

As for rye, it's starting to make a comeback and there are some great bottles out there. Sazerac makes both a good younger rye and a near-perfect 18-year if you can find it. Michter's and Van Winkle also have some good, more reasonably priced bottles.
posted by sonofslim at 10:00 AM on March 20, 2007

you could have a "pseudo-stocking centre"- where the girls rub bronzer on their bare legs then use a ruler and marker/eyeliner to draw a line up the back, thus approximating the look of seamed stockings- i remember reading that makeup was they stocking substitute when stockings became expensive.

sally hansen spray-on legs is a bit anachronistic, but it's easy to apply and won't rub off on the couch. make sure they spray it on in an easy-to clean part of the room- it's pretty non-transferable once it's on the skin, but while it's being applied, you wouldn't wanna get any spray mist on your white bedspread.

i like the password idea.
can you turn your mail slot into a slidey peephole?
posted by twistofrhyme at 10:06 AM on March 20, 2007

Hot Jazz
Et cetera.

Googling 1920s 78s will get you tons of other resources. It would be so, so cool to have an entire 1920s party with no music that wasn't recorded off ancient 78s. Be discerning and make sure you listen to everything first, because a nontrivial percentage of pop songs that were hits in the 20s were novelty tunes with fairly racially charged lyrics. While that would be very, very authentic, if everyone's been drinking bootleg hooch for hours, things could get tense if your set is at all diverse.
posted by crinklebat at 10:33 AM on March 20, 2007

posted by ObscureReferenceMan at 11:07 AM on March 20, 2007

On the topic of music, were one to email someone whose email is in his profile it's possible a CD made for a similar event could get sent to a provided address.
posted by phearlez at 11:35 AM on March 20, 2007

Vinyl. A boy dressed as a street urchin, asking to shine 'is shoes fo' a ha'penny. Cameras with ridiculously huge flashers. Citizen Kane playing in the background. Newspapers about the "troubles" in Germany. Adverts for Patent Medicine.
posted by markesh at 11:59 AM on March 20, 2007

CAnneDC = hilarious.
posted by sneakin at 12:38 PM on March 20, 2007

What, no cops? Surely if you have a speakeasy, you'd need some corrupt politicians and cops.
posted by chairface at 1:46 PM on March 20, 2007

There's a great 20's party scene in the beginning of Auntie Mame that might serve as inspiration.
posted by 10ch at 2:45 PM on March 20, 2007

Dance marathon? Death of participants not required.
posted by acoutu at 4:21 PM on March 20, 2007

posted by octavia at 6:57 PM on March 20, 2007

Teache everyone to play mahjong. It was a huge craze in the 20's.
posted by orange swan at 8:10 PM on March 20, 2007

Dance marathons were more '30's. Find as many Clara Bow and Louise Brooks dvds as you can and watch them.
posted by brujita at 8:50 PM on March 20, 2007

Dance marathons were very much 1920s. By 1933 or so, a lot of restrictions had been placed on marathons.
posted by acoutu at 10:20 PM on March 20, 2007

They Shoot Horses, Don't They? was set in the 30's.
posted by brujita at 9:24 AM on March 22, 2007

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