The acclaimed HBO series Boardwalk Empire has recently thrust the look and sounds of Prohibition-era America into the eyes and ears of modern-day viewers. The costumes, the music and the lingo are so fascinating and alluring that it may be natural for people to want to bring some of that stylishness into their own lives, if only for the space of an evening. Here are a few inspirational ideas and tips if you’d like to throw your own Prohibition-themed party.
The 1920’s brought about changes in women’s fashion that are still in style today. Corsets fell out of use, and dresses took on a tube-like, functional design with little adornment and skirts that ended slightly below the knee (this allowed women to move about and dance with greater ease). Happily, this means that women have a variety of costume options readily available. You can buy something off the rack at a department store or a thrift store or find plenty of sexy flapper costumes online. Fun accessories would include a long cigarette holder and a long bead necklace (if you have any beads lying around from Mardi Gras, those would work fine). Getting the flapper hair and the flapper makeup can take a little work, but there are some excellent online tutorials.
If you’re a guy, you may not necessarily have a suit or tuxedo hanging in your closet. Not to worry: you can find 1920’s gangster costumes pretty easily at physical shops or online. Also, if you’ve got a pair of khakis, a flannel or broadcloth shirt and a belt or suspenders (suspenders are an especially nice touch), you’ve got a perfectly acceptable 20’s costume. As an added bonus, the flat caps worn by men during this period have a certain hipster cache today. This means that you can find one fairly easily and even look stylish wearing it around in your day-to-day life.
Here’s where the fun really starts. This is a prohibition party, after all. Don’t know how to make a Mary Pickford or a Mint Julep? No problem: here’s a list of recipes for 1920’s cocktails. If you want some non-alcoholic options, just go down to the supermarket and pick up some ginger ale and some glass bottles of Coca-Cola. And as always, if you choose to drink, please be responsible (call a cab, pick a designated driver, etc.).
In this age of Youtube and Spotify, it’s pretty easy to develop your own selection of 1920’s tunes to play at your party. The work of Louis Armstrong and Scott Joplin are good places to start. If you’re not sure where to go from there, here’s a list of popular songs from the period.
If you want to not just look but sound the part, read through the work of some of the writers of the time. F. Scott Fitzgerald and Ring Lardner are excellent choices (if you don’t still have your high school copy of The Great Gatsby, your local library’s probably got a few dozen). If you really want to show off your wit, however, look to celebrated humorist Dorothy Parker and her Algonquin Round Table companions.
Saint Valentine’s Day Massacre
This is a fun option if you’d like your party to have more of a gangster theme. Buy some toy revolvers and tommy guns. If you’re aiming for historical accuracy, have a couple of people dress up as cops. If you really want to go all out (and don’t care about messing up your costumes), poke a few holes in your shirts and jackets and smear some fake blood around them. This isn’t just something for the guys: girls can get in on the fun by dressing up in a man’s costume. This option could also give ladies an excuse to wear mustaches (and who doesn’t love mustaches?).
Marie Sumner enjoys researching and writing about fashion, history and art.