Round up your flappers and dappers and bring back the roaring ’20s with our themed party guide!
To get that prohibition vibe going, fill your bathtub with ice and mini bottles of gin, then put flasks and boxes of candy cigarettes out on tables. Low lighting and black and white tablecloths extend the speakeasy feel. You might also use costume accessories like feather boas and long pearls as centerpieces. You can even set out bowls of goldfish (the snack kind or the real kind), which were swimming with popularity in the ’20s. Finally, put large feathers (available at craft stores), calla lilies or carnations, and ferns in vases and hang art deco posters on the walls — try Alphonse Mucha prints, for example.
Ladies can get the flapper look for less by buying fringe from the fabric store and using double-sided tape to temporarily attach it to a plain cocktail dress, preferably one with a straight waist and a hem below the knee. For an instant authentic hairstyle, get a wig — try a Louise Brooks bob or a Mae West-like finger wave. If you prefer to style your own hair, sweep it back in a chignon if it’s long, since short hair was considered the bee’s knees at the time. Accessories are also key, including headbands with feathers, cloche hats, long pearl necklaces, feather boas, cigarette holders, beaded shawls and seamed stockings. Finish the look with thin brows, rouge on the apples of the cheeks and eyeliner-rimmed eyes.
Guys should look spiffy in pinstriped suits with vests, tuxedos and black shirts with black or white ties, bow ties, pocket squares or ascots. Part the hair in the middle and slick it down with pomade. Top off your costume with a fedora, a pocket watch, a hip flask and wing tips or spats.
The fun begins at the front door — appoint a doorman for your speakeasy who demands a password (note it on your Evite invitation). To capture the swankiest costumes on film and give your guests a memento of the party, take Polaroid pictures or set up a photo booth where you can use a camera or iPhone. For entertainment, screen a silent movie like the original it-girl Clara Bow’s It, turn on some swell jazz from the era, like Duke Ellington or Al Jolson, and play poker or craps. You could also teach guests how to dance the Charleston or play a game of Mahjong, which was first sold in the US in 1920 by, bizarrely enough, Abercrombie & Fitch.
If your guests aren’t the adventurous type, order in chow mein or serve spaghetti and meatballs (Chinese and Italian food were wildly popular in the ’20s). Otherwise, it’s good old (emphasis on old) American food.
For hors d’oeuvres, set out celery sticks, breadsticks, olives, radishes, salted nuts, caviar, deviled eggs or shrimp cocktail. For starters, go with fruit cups, Caesar salad, Waldorf salad or — and this is where it might get a little weird — salmon loaf or sardines in aspic (basically tomato Jell-O). If you’re serving a more substantial meal, consider baked ham, roast beef and Yorkshire pudding, chicken à la king, or serve a nut loaf as a nod to Dr. George Washington Carver and the beginnings of the vegetarian health food movement. Side dishes might include succotash, pickled beets, biscuits or carrot loaf (yes, they certainly were loaf lovers in the ’20s). For dessert, try pineapple upside-down cake, icebox cake or junket (custard made with rennet).
Combine ginger ale with a little grenadine and garnish with a lemon slice and a maraschino cherry for the ultimate Prohibition mocktail, the Shirley Temple. But it wouldn’t be Prohibition without the hooch, so be sure to also mix up a pitcher of that wallop-packing mighty cousin of the mojito, the mint julep, popularized in the ’20s classic novel The Great Gatsby.
Mint Julep (serves 20)
- 1 cup water
- 1 cup sugar
- 6 sprigs of washed and dried fresh spearmint, plus sprigs for garnish
- 4 cups bourbon
Combine sugar and water in a medium saucepan and bring to a boil. Simmer until sugar is dissolved, three to five minutes, then cool. Meanwhile, put six mint sprigs in a pitcher and use the back of a spoon to bruise them. Pour sugar syrup over mint sprigs and refrigerate overnight. Add bourbon to the pitcher and stir. Fill a small glass with crushed ice, pour the mint julep mixture over it and garnish with fresh mint sprigs.