Jaynie has extensive experience with party and event planning. She has planned events for groups of 20 to 600 people.
Need Ideas for Your Roaring 20s Party?
The roaring twenties were a decadent historical heyday. Flappers, gangsters, and bootleggers reveled in secret behind the closed doors of the speakeasies that littered the American landscape during prohibition. The atmosphere was sensual and electric. Underground clubs pulsed with ragtime and the music of Cab Calloway, Al Jolson, and Louis Armstrong. Women adorned in feathered headwear, pearls, and Mary Janes kicked up the fringes of their glimmering dresses as they danced. Men in pinstripes and pencil-thin mustaches sipped cocktails and smoked fine cigars in spite of nationwide alcohol bans.
You can recreate this fun-loving, authority-dodging atmosphere in your own home for your closest friends using a few of my favorite roaring 20s party ideas.
Roaring 20s Theme Idea Categories
Your invitations are your party’s calling card. Be sure that they are unique and convey your party's theme and any expectations in advance. I prefer invitations that are either gold and silver on white, or gold and silver on black. Use plenty of feathers, sequins and/or pearls to dress them up. Since this is a costume party, be sure to use your invitations to inform guests that they should wear their best 1920s attire.
In the 20s, when prohibition was in full swing, underground clubs known as speakeasies used to require guests to speak a password in order to enter. This helped to keep the authorities out and the swinging partiers in. Your invitation should include an RSVP number to which guests must call to receive a password. Having a temporary cell phone designated for this purpose is a great idea. The voicemail on the phone can relay the password and ask for the guest’s name and the number of people they will be bringing. I like to use “prohibition” as the password.
2. Decorations and Ambiance
A few well-placed decorations will help you pull your theme together visually. Here are some 20s-themed decor ideas you can use to turn your event space into a modern-day speakeasy jazz club.
Set round tables for 6–8 guests each. Drape black linens over white linens to add color contrast. Centerpieces should include circular fish bowls with a single goldfish in each surrounded by strands of pearls. Keep a deck of cards and a set of chips on each table so that guests can play poker and other card games during the party. A bottle of chilled champagne on each table adds a nice touch of class. If you do this, be sure that you have each place set with a champagne flute. You don’t have to get out your best crystal—disposable plastic flutes are available in most party stores.
In addition to the champagne, feature a bar area complete with a variety of liquors, beers, and wines. Hiring a bartender is great idea because it keeps you from having to work your own party. If your invitation specifies that there will be a cash bar, your guests can purchase their own drinks which can help make the event more affordable for you. Not offering an open bar also reduces the likelihood of guests overdoing it alcohol-wise.
- Cut a piece of black matboard to fit your front screen door. Before adhering it to the door, cut out a circle to be used as a peephole. Peepholes were common features at prohibition-era clubs. Bouncers would look through peepholes before admitting visitors to make sure the police weren’t at their clubs. They would then ask guests for the password. If they knew the password, they could gain admittance.
- I like to play music as guests are arriving, so I usually place an iPod player with a pre-made playlist in an inconspicuous place. Hearing themed music upon arrival can really add to your guests' anticipation of the party.
- For parties with a sizable guest-list, I prefer to use a large tent and host the event outdoors. This offers more flexibility and guests appreciate the fresh air. String white lights around the tent's interior perimeter.
- Check out shindigz.com for scene-setters that will help enhance your 1920s atmosphere. They have fun, reasonably priced backdrops that are sure to add authenticity and appeal to your event. Backdrops include jazz bandstands, retro skylines, and more!
- Place large, potted plants in the corners of your event-space to complete the 20s look. Reuse these later in your home or for future events.
- Create your own jazz-club signs (e.g. “Reed’s Speakeasy”) and hang them at the entrance to your party.
Having a dinner buffet is a great way to entertain and care for your guests. Ensemble dining will give each table a chance to socialize and fill up on great food. Providing a meal also reduces the likelihood that guests will become overly intoxicated.
You can prepare food ahead of time and set up a buffet table with chaffing pans or hire a caterer to do the work for you. Typically, two meat choices, two starches, and a variety of vegetables and other side-dishes will suffice. If you decide not to go the buffet route, you can just set up a simple snack bar from which guests may choose a variety of finger foods throughout the evening.
It's important to make sure that there's plenty to do at your party in addition to eating drinking. Here are some on-theme ideas for fun party activities.
In addition to the pickup poker, gin rummy, and other games that will be going on at each table, you can feature additional gambling opportunities. Hiring dealers and gaming tables is a great way to keep the party going and ensure that you are able to indulge in the fun as well. The dealers will take care of everything from setup to gameplay to cleanup. Blackjack, roulette, and craps are always crowd favorites. Be sure that each guest receives plenty of playing chips when they arrive so that they have something to gamble with.
Set up a prize bar at the back of the tent or party area from which game-winners can exchange their winnings for prizes. Here are a few theme-appropriate prize ideas for a 20s party:
- Bottle of liquor
- Six-pack of beer
- Bottle of wine
- Chocolate cigar
- Chocolate guns
- Pearl strand
- Gun-shaped cigarette lighter
- Disposable camera
Music and Dancing
Be sure that you have plenty of music and a reliable sound system on hand. Music should be from the 1920s and feature plenty of ragtime and swing tunes. If you are using a preset playlist, make sure it is long enough to play continuously for the duration of your party.
Make sure to carve out an area for dancers, as flappers and their dates will definitely want to shimmy like there’s no tomorrow! You might even consider having someone on-hand to give Charleston lessons.
Set up an area in front of one of your themed backdrops where guests can take souvenir photos in the costumes. Nowadays, most people have digital cameras or smartphones, but it's a good idea to keep a few disposable cameras on hand for those who don't.
Bonus Idea: It's a Raid!
Consider having certain guests volunteer ahead of time to dress up as policemen and "bust up" your party at closing time. These guests can quietly excuse themselves about 20 minutes before your party's end-time and change into their uniforms.
If your invitations indicate that your party will end at 1:00 A.M., have your volunteers rush in at about 12:50 A.M. with billy-clubs and announce, “this is a raid!” This is a fun, creative, and on-theme way you can inform your guests that it's time to gather up their belongings and head for their cars.
© 2010 Jaynie2000
Jaynie2000 (author) on October 20, 2010:
You are so right. That looks like a great new series. My husband has started watching. Thanks for weighing in.
20SomethingGirl on October 20, 2010:
A very interesting take on a themed party! I think with the release of "Boardwalk Empire" people are going to be more interested in this era!
Jaynie2000 (author) on October 07, 2010:
Yes, this is a fun one! And you're definitely not old enough to remember the raids! ( -;
Gordon Hamilton from Wishaw, Lanarkshire, United Kingdom on October 07, 2010:
Well, these are definitely different ideas from any party I've ever attended. Love the raid idea to get rid of the stragglers. Only time I've ever come across that is when the police have been very, very real! :) (Naturally, in my much younger days!)