The Roaring Twenties, a period marked by radical social and cultural changes, was a time of great excitement and rebellion in the United States. One of the most iconic aspects of this era was the prohibition of alcohol, which gave rise to a clandestine world of speakeasies and lavish parties. In this blog, we'll delve into the background of the Prohibition Parties, the fashion trends of the time, the type of dancing that dominated the scene, famous Prohibition parties, and how these parties have evolved into modern events.
The Birth of Prohibition Parties
The Prohibition era, which lasted from 1920 to 1933, was a nationwide constitutional ban on the production, importation, transportation, and sale of alcoholic beverages. The 18th Amendment to the United States Constitution, also known as the Volstead Act, was responsible for enforcing this prohibition.
Prohibition did not result in the complete eradication of alcohol. Instead, it gave rise to a thriving underground economy. Bootleggers produced illegal liquor, and a network of secret bars, known as speakeasies, sprang up in cities across the nation. This era witnessed the rise of organized crime as gangsters like Al Capone and Lucky Luciano became infamous for their involvement in the illegal alcohol trade. However, it also gave birth to a unique and rebellious form of socializing, epitomized by Prohibition Parties.
Prohibition parties played a central role in shaping the Prohibition era, influencing public policy, and contributing to significant social, cultural, and political changes. While their efforts led to the national ban on alcohol, these gatherings also resulted in a form of civil disobedience, a collective act of resistance against a prohibition that many Americans disagreed with. Prohibition parties were inextricably linked to speakeasies, which served as the covert venues where revelers gathered to consume illicit alcohol.
From Prohibition Parties to Speakeasies: A Tumultuous Tango
Many of the speakeasies hosted famous parties that drew in celebrities, gangsters, and socialites. A renowned speakeasy and jazz club was the Cotton Club, located in Harlem, New York. This club featured live music and performances by legendary artists like Duke Ellington and Cab Calloway. Other famous speakeasies include the Stork Club, The Blue Angel, and the Savoy Ballroom that was an epicenter of the Jazz Age.
To gain entry to a speakeasy, you often needed to know a secret password or have connections within the establishment. The clandestine nature of these venues added an element of excitement and exclusivity to the party scene, as people engaged in an elaborate cat-and-mouse game with law enforcement.
Speakeasies were often tucked away behind inconspicuous facades, adding to their mystique. The combination of secret entry, live jazz music, and creative cocktails made these venues a hub for social activity, where people could openly flout the Prohibition laws.
Prohibition parties represented a celebration of personal freedom, where people could openly flout the law and enjoy themselves without restraint. The behavior and fashion at these parties marked a shift in societal norms. Women were at the forefront of this transformation, embracing new freedoms and lifestyles.
Women's Changing Roles: A Look at Their Behavior at Prohibition Parties
Prohibition parties provided women with a unique opportunity to break free from the societal constraints of the time. These gatherings were a platform for them to express their newfound independence, defiance of authority, and a rejection of traditional gender roles.
Women who attended Prohibition parties often defied the conventional expectations of their roles. They sought personal freedom, social equality, and a sense of liberation that was hard to come by in the early 20th century. Women seized the chance to meet new people, including men from different walks of life. This mixing of social classes and backgrounds was a significant departure from the norms of the time.
Prohibition parties embodied a sense of hedonism, with people indulging in illegal alcohol, dancing, and revelry. Women enthusiastically participated in this celebration of pleasure, and they weren't afraid to enjoy themselves to the fullest. Many women took on the role of the "life of the party." They were often the ones who led the dancing, set the tone for the evening, and encouraged others to shed their inhibitions.
Swinging with the Spirits: Prohibition Parties and the Charleston Dance
Prohibition parties were synonymous with lively dance floors and energetic dance styles. Women played a central role in keeping the party spirit alive through their dance moves. The most iconic dance of the era was the Charleston. This high-energy, quick-paced dance became a sensation and was characterized by its fast footwork, kicking, and the twisting of the knees. It perfectly matched the lively, rebellious atmosphere of the time, as people celebrated their defiance of the prohibition laws with frenetic dance moves.
Another lively dance style, the Black Bottom involved quick footwork and hip movements. It was known for its syncopated rhythm and was a favorite at Prohibition parties. A smoother dance, the Foxtrot allowed for close contact between dance partners. Women and men twirled and glided across the dance floor to the sounds of jazz music. The Lindy Hop, which emerged in Harlem, involved acrobatic moves, spins, and lifts. It was a dance style characterized by its energy and enthusiasm.
All these dances showcased the liberated spirit of the era, and they were all about fun, freedom, and self-expression on the dance floor. The 1920s saw a cultural shift towards more progressive, adventurous forms of dance, marking a departure from the rigid, formal dances of the previous decades.
Flapper Fashion: The Clothes They Wore
One of the most remarkable features of Prohibition-era parties was the distinctive fashion worn by women. The "flapper" style became all the rage. These young, modern women defied traditional norms by cutting their hair short, donning knee-length dresses, and often wearing cloche hats. The dresses were designed to allow for freedom of movement, reflecting the newfound independence and rebellion of women in the 1920s.
The Flapper look embodied the spirit of the Roaring Twenties – bold, carefree, and unapologetically stylish. Flapper dresses featured much shorter hemlines than the conservative attire of the time. They typically ended above the knee, allowing for more movement and reflecting the spirit of liberation.
Flapper dresses were designed to be loose-fitting, which was a stark departure from the form-fitting silhouettes of previous generations. This style allowed women to dance and move with ease. Flappers were notorious for their love of fringe and beads. They often paired their outfits with long strands of pearls, which became an iconic accessory of the time.
Women paired their dresses with cloche hats, which were bell-shaped and snug-fitting. These hats framed the face beautifully and became a symbol of flapper style. T-strap shoes with a low heel were the footwear of choice, offering comfort and style for dancing the night away.
Prohibition Parties Reimagined
While the original Prohibition era has long passed, its spirit lives on in modern Prohibition parties, which draw inspiration from the Roaring Twenties. Many cities across the United States host speakeasy-inspired events in secret or historic locations, offering attendees the chance to experience the ambiance of the Prohibition era. These events have become a popular way to relive the past and experience the glitz and glamour of the era.
Attendees often dress in Roaring Twenties-style attire, with women donning flapper dresses, cloche hats, and long strands of pearls. Men typically wear three-piece suits, fedoras, and suspenders. Jazz bands and swing orchestras are commonly featured, recreating the lively music of the era. The Charleston, Lindy Hop, and other dances of the time are often taught and enjoyed on the dance floor.
Creative mixologists craft cocktails reminiscent of the Prohibition era, featuring classic ingredients like gin, whiskey, and bitters. These cocktails often come with whimsical names and presentations. Party organizers go to great lengths to recreate the ambiance of speakeasies. Dim lighting, velvet ropes, and ornate decorations help transport guests back in time. Some modern Prohibition parties even incorporate interactive theater elements, allowing attendees to become part of a roaring, immersive experience.
Jazzing Up Prohibition Parties: Governors Island's Roaring Connection to Modern Times
One of the most appealing modern prohibition parties is Governors Island Jazz Age Lawn Party. Held annually on Governors Island in New York, this event is a fantastic recreation of a 1920s-style gathering. This event has become a beloved tradition, transporting attendees back in time to an era that continues to captivate the imagination. Each year, it attracts thousands of time travelers from near and far, who come together to discover the music and zeitgeist of the 1920s.
An enchanting aspect of the event is the fashion. Attendees go all out, dressing in their best 1920s attire. Women don flapper dresses, cloche hats, and long strands of pearls, while men sport three-piece suits, fedoras, and suspenders. The dedication to authentic fashion is striking, and it adds an extra layer of nostalgia to the event.
Live jazz music is at the heart of the Governors Island Jazz Age Lawn Party. A roster of talented jazz bands and orchestras takes the stage, playing the vibrant and iconic tunes of the 1920s. Attendees dance to the swing and jazz rhythms that defined the era. The Charleston, the Lindy Hop, and other popular dance styles of the time are brought back to life, creating an electrifying dance floor where guests twirl and tap the day away.
Of course, no party would be complete without refreshments. The Governors Island Jazz Age Lawn Party offers an array of culinary delights reminiscent of the 1920s. Classic cocktails such as the sidecar, the French 75, and the gin fizz are on the menu, adding to the vintage atmosphere. Mixologists craft these drinks with precision, offering a taste of what it was like to enjoy a cocktail during the Prohibition era.
The event features a range of activities and entertainment that transport attendees further into the world of the Roaring Twenties. A vintage motorcar exhibition showcases classic automobiles from the era, while a Great Gatsby Garden offers a space for relaxation and socializing. Talented performers put on dazzling shows that capture the spirit of the time.
The Governors Island Jazz Age Lawn Party isn't just about nostalgia; it's an interactive experience where attendees become part of the show. The event encourages participation, making it a true celebration of the era.
Transcending borders: The Enchanting World of London's Candlelight Club
The allure of Prohibition-era speakeasy parties has transcended borders, finding a captivating home outside the United States, with England emerging as a vibrant hub for these clandestine affairs. While the term "speakeasy" may evoke images of 1920s America, the spirit of rebellion, jazz, and secret gatherings has taken root across the pond.
In the heart of England, hidden behind unassuming doors and veiled in an air of mystery, modern-day speakeasies have become a popular trend. London, in particular, has embraced this trend with venues like the Candlelight Club leading the charge.
The Candlelight Club is not merely a venue; it is an experience carefully curated to immerse attendees in the glamour and allure of the Roaring Twenties. Nestled in secret locations across London, the club embraces the clandestine nature of its speakeasy inspiration. The allure of the Candlelight Club lies not only in its elusive locations but also in the meticulous attention to detail that transports guests to an era of jazz, flapper dresses, and clandestine soirées.
The hallmark of the Candlelight Club is its series of events, each meticulously crafted to capture the essence of the Jazz Age. As the name suggests, candles are the primary source of illumination, casting a warm and intimate glow upon the revelers. The carefully chosen venues, often undisclosed until the last moment, add an air of mystery to each gathering, elevating the experience to more than just a night out.
Prohibition parties were a hallmark of the Roaring Twenties, embodying a spirit of rebellion, liberation, and cultural transformation. Women played a central role in these gatherings, defying societal norms through their behavior, embracing the flapper fashion, and dancing with uninhibited enthusiasm. Prohibition parties were a manifestation of the desire for freedom and a rejection of the constraints of their time.
While the original Prohibition era is long gone, the spirit of the Roaring Twenties lives on in modern Prohibition parties, where people don vintage fashion, dance to jazz music, and celebrate the audacious, adventurous essence of a bygone era. These events pay homage to a time when society pushed the boundaries, challenging conventions, and embracing the freedom to have a good time, no matter what the law said. So, whether you're sipping a classic cocktail or dancing the Charleston in your flapper-style dress, events like the Governors Island Jazz Age Lawn Party allow you to relive the past and experience the same sense of freedom and glamour that characterized Prohibition parties during a pivotal period in American history.
NB All ladies in the photo's wear dresses from La Vie Delight.