The Roaring '20s, also called the Jazz Age, was a time of stark contrasts. People of the time saw both an increase and decrease in freedoms. The period brought a step forward in women's rights, the influx of American jazz music and the desperation of the Great Depression. These aspects all come together to provide a wide range of inspiration for a '20s party centrepiece.
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Pearls, feathers and flappers
Dress up any regular centrepiece by adding one or two symbols of the '20s. One of the most recognisable and feminine symbols of the era was the long string of pearls. Hang a strand across your flower arrangement, or replace the flowers with a bouquet of ostrich feathers. An artfully draped feather boa could wrap lazily around a framed photo of a flapper or one of the ingenues of films of the time, such as Clara Bow.
If you're willing to buck the superstition against placing a hat on a table, pair a cloche hat and gangster-style fedora, stacked together at a rakish angle. Add a feather boa or place the hats on a man's formal scarf to help the items stand out. For an informal display, rest a bouquet of flowers in a cloche hat or allow the flowers to spill over the brim.
A '20s centrepiece can be as simple as a single object or set of related objects, and art deco pieces serve this function perfectly. The shine of silver or chrome, the play of lines and geometric shapes, feminine curves and sunburst patterns are eye-catching. Art deco tea and cocktail sets bring together several of these features. Consider a different art deco piece at every table to set each one apart. Place a mirror or a mat of pinstripe or flannel suit cloth beneath the pieces to draw attention to the selected items. If you don't have art deco pieces of your own, ask family and friends if they have treasures you can borrow. Reproductions or items that suggest details made famous by the art deco movement would also serve in place of antique pieces.
Jazz and blues
To play off music's influence on the era, a jazz- or blues-themed centrepiece would be appropriate. Use a 78rpm record, inexpensive copies or prints of 1920s "Life" magazine covers and vintage photos of jazz greats such as Duke Ellington and Louis Armstrong to create a small collage or backdrop for a collection of music-related items. Trumpets, trombones and saxophones figured prominently in jazz and blues, and guests could keep small musical instrument party favours as mementos. Antique shows, flea markets and online auction sites are good sources for materials, and reproductions of artwork, photos and posters are available online through various poster and memorabilia sites.
Black and white
For a more formal centrepiece, an arrangement of white calla lilies will evoke the era without being over the top. The website Aisle Dash suggests gardenias, gladioli and camellias as reminiscent of the '20s. These striking flowers can contribute to a simple black and white colour scheme, another reminder of the era. For a whimsical display with height and humour, place a vase inside a top hat and fill it with one or more of these dramatic white flowers. As an alternative black and white combination, focus on a less definitive centrepiece by pairing a flower arrangement with a fringed tablecloth for a more subtle '20s reference.
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