We’re always up for a good party and nothing can quite match a well-executed theme party. In honor of The Great Gatsby film coming out in May, we thought it’d be fun to help you plan a Gatsby-themed party that would rival even the Anchorage Museum’s Bootlegger’s Ball.
The classic book by F. Scott Fitzgerald actually details two kinds of life during Prohibition when alcohol was illegal. There are the gorgeous house parties that Jay Gatsby put on at his estate in West Egg, and there are the shenanigans those crazy kids got up to when they partied at speakeasies (where you could actually drink, if illegally) in New York City. We think both are equally exciting and we’ll give you tips so you can choose which type of party you want to have.
Costumes and Hair
Carey Mulligan is lucky. Ladies can get away with wearing the same type of costume to either type of Gatsby party. Boyish, flapper figures were in style during the Roaring Twenties and loose-fitting dresses were all the rage. A super-long string of pearls is a classic accessory for this look as is a jeweled or feathered headband to complement your bobbed and waved hair. Or you could opt for a classic cloche hat.
The only change we’d suggest between the country party and the city party is that a speakeasy demands a more dramatic color palette whereas dreamier pastels are just right for the country.
The 1920s is when athletic clothes for men first became available and if you’re headed to a party on someone’s estate, you’ll want to go with this more casual look. We don’t mean sports jerseys. Instead, wear a collarless button-up shirt with a sweater knotted jauntily across your chest. The pants should be a slimmer cut (but not skinny) and have cuffs. Short, sleek hair was all the rage.
Men headed for a speakeasy-type party get to play gangster dress-up. Try on a three-piece suit with narrow lapels. The pants should have the same fit as above and again, the shirts are collarless. Don’t forget to add a hat to tip at any ladies you might run into.
A house party is properly announced with paper invitations. If you want to go the extra mile, you can even have them engraved. If you do use something like Evite, make sure to use words or images that suit the 1920s theme.
If you’re having a speakeasy party, you don’t want a paper trail for the cops to follow. Tell your friends about the party verbally and make a game to see if they can keep it secret from each other. Don’t forget to require a code word for entry.
Your West Egg-type party can be held at a grand estate in the country if you have access to one. Bonus points if that estate is on the water in view of a lighthouse. However, we think the Jade Room at the Fairbanks Princess Riverside Lodge would work just fine in the absence of a Gatsby mansion.
But not everyone has Baz Luhrmann’s $120 million budget to spend on a Gatsby extravaganza. Don’t dismay, F. Scott Fitzgerald and his wife Zelda threw raging parties in their living room. Simply roll up the rug and move the sofa.
A speakeasy-type party requires a dark bar or a basement. Any place that feels both secret and festive is perfect. Don’t be confused by Anchorage’s SpeakEasy, which is a venue for spoken word poetry. It’s also cool, but doesn’t quite fit the theme.
When you picture the boyishly-thin Flapper, you might think people in the 1920s didn’t eat at all. In fact, heavily sauced foods like potatoes au gratin and vegetables with hollandaise were all the rage among the upper crust. Sweets were often served in lieu of alcohol, so try a fruit cocktail with marshmallows. Alaskan salmon canapes would be a fantastic way to start a Gatsby-inspired meal. Or go daring with Chinese food, which gained popularity during the 1920s. For sample menus, check out Food Timeline.
Did you know speakeasies played a role in popularizing Italian food in America? Pastas and meatballs, often found in immigrant neighborhoods, were regularly served at speakeasies. Perhaps there was something good about Prohibition after all.
Though soft drinks were a popular substitute for alcohol during the 1920s, Gatsby’s rumored past as a bootlegger means that alcohol would have been available at any party he hosted or attended. If you can stomach it, you could go with moonshine for its authenticity. We think Leonardo DiCaprio would approve if you turned to Great Britain—where alcohol was still legal to serve—for cocktail inspiration. You’ll find gin was popular at that time. Alaska Distillery offers a Bristol Bay Gin that is too tasty to be moonshine, but we’d recommend sacrificing authenticity for taste in this case.
If you have a phonograph, you’re golden for a West Egg party, because there’s lots of fun music from the 1920s. Oddly, the go-to classic “The Charleston” was actually not released until 1923. We say go with it because it’s a recognizable song and dance and quite fun. Save an extra bottle of moonshine back for any who makes a fuss.
Speakeasy parties should look to the Jazz Age for inspiration. Find recordings by masters like Al Jolson, Louis Armstrong, and Fats Waller and dance the night away.
Will you host a West Egg party or a Speakeasy Party?