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How to Throw a 1920s Party

Posted on 3rd June 2013
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With all the talk lately regarding the premiere of "The Great Gatsby," and the recent growth in popularity of shows and films set in the 1920s, it seems to us at Karnival Costumes that lots of you will be looking to try a 1920s or Great Gatsby themed costume party of your own! In this blog post we’ll try and cover the major bases and provide you with some ideas and tips on creating the right atmosphere and for selecting the right 20’s costumes, entertainment, drinks and food so that you’ll have no trouble throwing a bash that the Great Gatsby himself would be happy to attend! 


Nothing says partytime like a good invitation.  For a 20s themed bash you have plenty of choice ranging from buying premade invitations at your local party shop through to designing and printing your own using your own computer and printer.  Take some time and care with your invitations as it creates a better impression and the better the party invitation, usually, the better the party!  For a classic twenties themed invitation, what could be more recognisable than a Tommy Gun cutout.  Using around 120g plain black card, download the classic Thompson Sub-Machine Gun shape and use its silhouette to trace around and then cut out your invitation blanks.  On the reverse include all of the normal party detail; reason (if applicable), place, time, dress-code etc.  Other alternatives would be a flapper silhouette, gangster, violin case.  For more ides on how to creat the perfect party invitation for your Gangster Costumes party, see our blog post: Fun Gangster Themed Party Invitations.


The quickest and easiest way to set the scene for any party is with the choice of the right, or appropriate costumes. If you’ve read our article on the Roaring Twenties, you already know that the 1920s were a time of style revolution in women’s clothing, so your own 20s costume as well as those of your guests should reflect the vibrancy of that distinct style!
Dress waistlines were lowered to the hips and the level of hemlines was raised significantly and supporting undergarments along with stiff corsets were all discarded making way for an altogether more boyish figure with many women trying to achieve a flat chested look with some even taking to wearing trousers and manly looking suits.  The hairstyle of the period was the Bob and this was accessorised by women wearing fashionable headbands, cloche hats, and long strands of beads.
During this period of social change and clothing revolution, men’s styles also underwent an overhaul during the twenties.
The major change was that, like the hemlines on women’s dresses, suit jackets became shorter as the longer coats became unfashionable. Trousers became wider in the leg creating what was to become known as the Oxford Bag or Baggies look. Smart suits were still the order of the day and these were worn with a matching vest or waistcoat over a smart shirt and tie.  Ties of the time became longer and started to get wider, almost to Kipper Tie proportions. White Spats became the rage and men routinely wore a hat with the most popular styles being fedoras and the flat newsboy caps.
As host for the night, it might be worth investing in a few fedora hats and feather hat-bands so that any guest who tries to enter not wearing a costume can be given something suitable to get them into character.

Achieving the Look!

Karnival Costumes has a wide variety of 20s costumes for women.  Some of the more risqué styles you may want to keep back for those er, more adult parties!  As with most things, you have a basic choice and that is whether to follow the female gangster route or the more colourful and stylish Thoroughly Modern Millie look!  Regardless of which style you choose to wear, don’t forget to include your 20s costume accessories; long string of pearls, small sparkly handbag, bobbed wig and either a feathered headband or a cloche hat.
Another way to find a costume for your party is by looking in your own wardrobe. Choose a sleeveless dress with the lowest waistline and add a few sequins or beads to give it the 20s look.  If you have small, black pumps and a long pearl necklace, you're well on your way to a creating your fancy dress and again, there are plenty of themed 20s costume accessories available on-line.
For men, the dapper look would be a black or white, pin-stripe suit and some of these even come with attached shirt fronts, tie, top pocket hanky and fedora.  Alternatively these additional items are available on-line from our selection of 20’s costume accessories.
Unless you’re likely to find a three piece double breasted suit hanging in your wardrobe, you’ll either need to buy on-line or alternatively you could either borrow from a friend who isn’t attending or perhaps take a trip to a local Charity Shop where you might just find what you are looking for. Wing-tipped shoes are not a necessity and you can easily get a pair of white spats to wear over your normal own black shoes and a smart fedora hat is easily sourced on-line and at Karnival Costumes we have an entire range of these in a range of colours and finishes in an affordable collection of 20’s Costume Hats. 


Dancing.  The 1920’s was the period when people went mad for dancing in an energetic way.  That said, your guests will not feel like breaking into dance the moment they arrive so we would suggest a little period background music. You could opt for the earthy blues of Bogan or Bo Carter but we would suggest something a little simpler and more easy listening and movie soundtracks for films about the period usually provide the right mix.
If your guest list includes lots of people who have never met before, then a quick game of Who Am I will prove to be the perfect ice-breaker as guest mingle with each other.  Simply create a number of cards each of which should have the name of a publicly known figure of the time.  These should not be shown to the guest, but simply attached to the back of their costume.  During the evening they should ask theo9r fellow guests questions so as to find out who they are.  You can extend this by creating a ‘score sheet’ onto which guests can write their guesses, perhaps with a small prize for any correct answers.
Create a photo booth.  Everyone likes to keep a memento of their time at your party and we stock a selection of very affordable pre-made photo backdrops which will aloow your guest an easy way to create a very memorable keepsake.
After a few cocktails or rounds of drinks and when the dancing starts, you may want to run this tutorial on how to do the Charlston which was THE dance craze of the time! An extremely popular dance step in the twenties, and every bit as much fun and simple to learn today as it was back then!

Party Decoration

An era of prohibition and gangsters both of which provide plenty of decoration scope for your Twenties costume party.  We have a range of pre-cut silhouettes representing the time and these look cool against a plain wall or window. Remembering that this was a time of prohibition and a time when breaking the law was seen as the right thing to do, you could make yourself some plain cardboard sleeves for each of your spirit bottles which can be decorated with your own labels, and we would suggest that you have a stock of brown paper bags so as to hide and beer bottles or cans.

Food and Drink

During the time of prohibition the alcohol most widely available was bootlegged liquor, something akin to moonshine and in an attempt to mask the taste and roughness of these brews, the idea of creating a mixed drink grew even more popular. As an alternative to your normal bar offerings, why not try mixing some mint juleps, gin rickeys, and other prohibition cocktails.  For the non-drinkers and younger guests why not try some non-alcoholic cocktails or perhaps think about creating a few flavoured milkshakes behind your bar as an alternative to Cola and other soft drinks.
Unless you want to emulate the Great Gatsby’s parties at which guests were provided with a lavish array of hors d'oeurves, spiced baked hams crowded against salads of harlequin designs and pastry pigs and turkeys, we would suggest that you provide a much scaled down version of normal buffet party foods and as for the baked ham – what’s wrong with pre-sliced ham and bowls of pre-washed salad?
So go on, create your own 20’s themed party and enjoy the company of your guests – yes even all those Al Capones’ and Bugsy Malones’.  Let us know about your party and share with us your pictures and comments on your night.
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