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throwing a 1930s party

Franklin Roosevelt

Franklin Roosevelt

The decade of the 1930s is unique and often overlooked, coming between the raucous Roaring Twenties and the severe decade of the 1940s. The stock market crash of 1929 set the tone, with the Great Depression hovering over the entire world, holding on until the onset of World War II. Nonetheless, lessons learned from World War I caused a surge of technological research , while every other area sought to tone down the twenties.
So how would you set up a party to reflect this period in our history? Well, food can be pretty open, since the wealthy still traveled and reveled. Every item should be served is a florid way – no crackers and cheese, but rather petit fours. Chocolate chip cookies made their debut in this decade as well. Make ration cards for your guests – they would get a specific number of them as they come in the door, and these cards would be redeemed for drinks – this can also help you control the drinking so that everyone could go home safely. Or give each person one ration card and have the bartender punch it with each drink. Chip ice off an ice block kept in a cooler which is covered with wood to simulate an ice box.
This was the time when color film was introduced; you could have a tape of the Wizard of Oz playing in one room. In another, if you can find them, you could have tapes of Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s fireside chats playing. The host could dress up like FDR, with glasses, a cigar and even a wicker wheelchair.
The thirties were a wonderful time for music, with the introduction of Swing. Play swing and jazz music in the background. The LP (long-playing vinyl record) was introduced in this decade, so if you can find a record player, go for it.
Décor can either be severe, reflecting the effects of the Depression, or rather posh as experienced by those who survived the Crash – think Hercule Poirot or Agatha Christie. Until the advent of the income tax, every household had servants, so see if you can con young people into donning maids’ outfits and courtsying. And you should have a responsible adult playing butler/bartender. Art Deco was the rage, so If you can, leave out any geometric furniture or decorating accessories you can. If you are not familiar with Art Deco, the Chrysler building is a famous example. Also think back on Myrna Loy movies, with the draping and arches everywhere. Items which had started to become part of the American household include telephones (the tall thin type), electric lights (but no neon) and the great large radio.
You will of course ask your guests to dress the part. For women, this means bias-cut dresses with handkerchief hems, preferably in chiffons or other flowing material, exposing only the lower half of the shin. There were no uplift bras in those days, but slips were de rigeur, and shoes were often t-straps, with heels no higher than two inches. Hats were a necessity, and many of the right style are available these days of the Princess Kate fascination. Hair was not bobbed, as from the twenties, but short hair was simple and smooth. Long hair should be in buns, with distinct parts on the side. Formal wear is very flowing and floor length. Gloves are a must, elbow-length for formal wear and wrist-length for day wear. Men can consider striped jackets and boater hats, as seen on a barbershop quartet. Ties were more often bowties; long ties were wide and had garish geometrical prints. No t-shirts or polo shirts – only suits or sport jackets. Fedoras were very popular — every man wore a hat outside, and they can certainly be allowed in the party. Formal wear was also bow ties, but cummerbunds instead of vests. The bowler was popular, both for day and formal wear, replacing the top hat. Laurel and Hardy wore bowlers. Men should consider adding a small mustache, as with Rhett Butler in “Gone with the Wind”.


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