Prohibition, as a legal and cultural phenomenon, defined the 1920s. In 1919, the United States government passed the 18th Amendment to the Constitution, which prohibited making or selling "intoxicating beverages." The amendment remained in effect until the early 1930s. Meanwhile, bootleggers and speakeasy owners defied the federal law, and organised crime flourished. Gangsters, such as Al Capone and Lucky Luciano, became media-sensationalised folk heroes. Evoke the gritty glamour of these clandestine night clubs and speakeasies at your 1920s themed party.
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Things you need
- 1920s period costumes
- Yards of fabric
- Smoke machine
- Round tables
- Tea lights
- Dim lighting elements
- 1920s period music
- Music player
- Buffet table
- Italian food
- Glass bottle sodas
- An assortment of liquor
- Vintage liquid containers
- Old bathtub or large basin
- Prize for dance contest
Book a venue with few windows and an urban feeling. Since speakeasies operated in secret, you'll want to make your party venue feel "hidden." Recruit one or two of your larger male friends to act as bouncers at the door of the club. Your bouncers can require guests to know a secret password before allowing them to enter.
Send invitations to all your guests with the details of the party, including the venue, the date, the time and the theme. Use invitations with pictures that evoke your theme, such as 1920s vehicles, cocktail glasses or 1920s-era Art Deco elements. Advise your guests to show up in gangster and moll costumes, and give them the secret password.
Decorate the venue with period-era decor If you didn't book a place that matched your theme, this step will help authenticate your party's setting. Set up a fog machine to give the atmosphere a smoky, noir-like ambience. Drape fabric over the walls to hide windows and to give the room a sultrier appearance. Remove major furniture if you're hosting the party at your home, and set up several round tables covered in silk fabric. Leave space at the centre of the room for a dance floor.
Turn off any overhead lights and add two or three tea lights to the centre of each small table. If candlelight isn't enough, you can add more light, but be sure to keep everything dim.
Play period music. The 1920s was known for its popular, very danceable, horn-centric Jazz music. For dancing, play songs like "Charleston," recorded by Paul Whiteman and His Orchestra; "I Wish I Could Shimmy Like My Sister Kate," recorded by Muggsy Spanier and His Ragtime Band; "Jazzbo Brown from Memphis Town" recorded by Bessie Smith; "Minnie the Moocher," recorded by Cab Calloway and "St. Louis Blues" recorded by Bessie Smith and Louis Armstrong. For a lounge-type nightclub theme, play songs by Ida Cox, Bessie Smith and Ella Fitzgerald.
Hold a Charleston dance contest. Have someone familiar with the dance give everyone a few quick lessons, and then hold a dance-off. Give the winning couple a prize.
Set up a buffet. Speakeasy food often consisted of stale pretzels or salted ham, but you can use the gangster theme to guide your food choices. Set up an Italian buffet that includes garlic bread, Chicago-style pizza, spaghetti and meatlballs and cannolis.
Prepare your alcohol ahead of time by removing the liquor from each labelled bottle and pouring it into large, unmarked and vintage-looking containers. Fill a large basin or a salvaged bathtub with ice, and then add your re-bottled booze. Remember what liquor is in which bottle, or use a permanent pen to mark the liquor type on the bottom of each container. Treat your teetotaling guests to sodas in glass bottles.
Dress the part yourself. As the host, your costume should be flawless. If you're a woman, you could wear a flapper outfit, complete with a sleeveless, baggy, knee-length dress, feather boa, bobbed hair and headband. Add a few long beaded strands around your neck to finish your look. If you're a man, dress very formally. Wear a rolled collar, single-breasted tuxedo, a waistcoat and a bowtie. For gangster wear, find a double-breasted suit in black or navy with pinstripes. Slick your hair to the side.
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