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How to party like ‘The Great Jay Gatsby’ without Jay-Z’s ‘$100 Bills’


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I recently held a small party at my home for one of my dear friends who accepted a new journalism job and began packing her bags to move to North Carolina. I tried to plan ahead as much as possible to make sure I had enough food and activities to keep things moving from the afternoon to the evening. However, aside from the honoree’s closest friends from work, I wasn’t exactly sure who would show up, who would not, and how many would ultimately find their way to my house.

Thinking it best to be over-prepared than under-prepared, I decided to put together a basic table of party food with chips, cupcakes, dip, fruit and the celebratory cake. I then asked those who came to bring an item to ensure we had enough.

Everything seemed to be going smoothly in preparation, but around midnight before the party, I still felt like something was missing – an element that would tie everything together and make the small event more fun and interesting.

That’s when it struck me. I’d been writing a lot of pop culture stories about the remake of “The Great Gatsby,” and the movie was opening that weekend. Would it be possible to throw a Gatsby party? And if so, how?

I’m not rich, so I don’t have those “$100 Bill(s)” to throw around like Jay-Z sings about on the new “Gatsby” soundtrack. Yep, no “Benjamin Franklins filled, folded just for the thrill.” But I did have a long sequined flapper dress hanging in my closet that I haven’t worn to anything since I purchased it in a thrift store several years ago. So I decided I’d throw “The Great Gatsby Going Away Party,” become a flapper hostess, and try to come up with a few more ideas that would tie this all together.

Shortly after midnight, I got to Googling, and ran across several sites, including Pinterest, that offered tips on how to throw a Gatsby or 1920s-themed party. Here are some of the ideas I found and a few I came up with that may help you throw your own scaled-down Gatsby bash, because as we all know, not everyone can throw a party like Jay Gatsby or Jay-Z.

photo (21)Saturday morning, when I went to a local store to retrieve a couple of bags of ice for drinks, I picked up some plastic headbands, because every woman who attends a Gatsby party needs a fascinator or something decorative for their hair.

I made one for myself using a peacock ornament, and because I’m a crafter and have practically every kind of craft supply under the sun, I pulled out a bag of multi-colored feathers, some junk jewelry and my hot glue gun, and created about eight fascinator headbands that would double as party favors.

I put them outside on a bench along with a couple of vintage men’s hats and a chalkboard sign that I created the day before using an old vintage picture frame and chalkboard paint. I bought some sidewalk chalk at the store that morning too and wrote “The Great Gatsby Going Away Party” on the sign. Guests were encouraged to pick up a fascinator or hat when they entered.

2. What’s the password? The morning of the party I posted: “The password is “gangster” on my Facebook page. I hoped it would seem mysterious and cryptic, and that some of the guests would read it before coming. (If it wasn’t last minute, you could create party invitations and print the password on them.)

I also text-messaged guests the password. The reason for doing so is an idea stolen from the Web. I’m sure many do not need this history lesson, but in the 1920s, because of prohibition, drinkers met secretively in places called speakeasies, and they generally were not allowed to enter without a password. So my guests had to remember that “gangster” was their ticket to the party.

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3. Bring out the antiques. I am a collector of antique and vintage items, so I decided to display some prominently to give the party a more vintage feel. I own a couple of old world globes and saw on Pinterest that globes were sometimes used for going away party decorations, so I decided to make them part of the centerpiece.

To be cute, I taped a cutout picture of North Carolina – the state my friend is moving to – on one globe, (mainly because I had printed it out earlier in the week with the intention of doing something with it, but couldn’t think of another way to use it.)

Since my friend is a journalist and admires vintage typewriters, I pulled mine out and placed it on the bar in my kitchen beside a bottle of wine surrounded by a circle of green-stemmed martini glasses and a vintage table sign that reads “Reserved” that I picked up at a thrift store a few years back. (The martini glasses were $1 each from The Dollar Tree.)

I also remembered the vintage hat collection I have and decided to implement them in some way. How, I wasn’t exactly sure, but I figured an idea would come to me.

4. Blend the 1920s with the 2010s. My den doubles as an office, so I hooked my laptop to my television and began searching for 1920s media on the Internet. First, I tuned into a Pandora channel that played 1920s jazz. Then, I found a YouTube video about the 1920s showcasing the music, fashion and people of the time. Lastly, I pulled up my Netflix account in another browser window and pressed play on “The Great Gatsby” classic film with Robert Redford and Mia Farrow. (Yes, you can watch it there if you haven’t seen it.)

photo (8)5. Ain’t no party like a Gatsby party ’cause the Gatsby party don’t stop. The table was prepared, everything was seemingly in order, and guests began to arrive. Each took a fascinator and came inside (after saying the password, of course.)

6. We ate our first round of food, and then it was time for our first activity – a painting party. (OK. This is not at all Gatsby-related, but it’s something I came up with before going with the Gatsby theme, so bear with me.)

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I printed out four color copies of a photograph I had taken of a metal owl lawn ornament used for a story we recently ran in the paper. I bought several small canvases, acrylic paints in a variety of colors, and set up a table outside where we gathered to paint.

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photo (5)I was the (amateur) instructor, and what resulted was a relaxing afternoon with friends as we created our own unique owl – each with its on color scheme. When we finished, we gave the paintings to our friend because we knew she’d need art for her new walls. I hoped they’d be a cute reminder of each of her friends and their individual personalities.

4. The massive crowds begin to arrive!!!! . . . Well, really only four more people. It wasn’t long before a few more guests arrived. A prize was given to the person who painted the best owl. And then it was time to cut the cake. (This was actually a “going away, pre-birthday, Great Gatsby party,” and my friend is perpetually 25. . . Also, I did not pen the unreadable words on the delicious store-bought cake.)
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photo (11)5. Remember those vintage hats? After another round of food, we gathered in the den, where each guest chose their own hat from a box and sat to have their picture taken. Earlier, I text messaged each person with a quote from the book The Great Gatsby. After taking their picture with my iPhone, they were asked to read the quote in a dramatic fashion, and I filmed them. (I have spared them the embarrassment of posting the pictures here or any mortifying video clips.)

photo (17)6. Post-party presents. After the party, I was able to make each person a vintage-style photo collage of my guests wearing the old hats. They only cost a couple of bucks each to print. I also picked up some $1 frames from The Dollar Tree and framed the photos as post-party gifts. And I produced a vintage-style video of our guests reading their “Great Gatsby” lines and sent the secret YouTube link to those who came. (This was pretty easy since I’d made a similar video the day before for work.)

7. Goodnight Gatsby. The night ended with more eating, a round of playing a very difficult version of Trivial Pursuit, and gifts for our honoree. Earlier in the week, I asked all of my coworkers to e-mail me one word describing our departing colleague. I Photoshopped the words in a rectangle using different fonts, printed it out and framed it. She also received a wooden box, below, that she can put special things inside that make her happy.

photo (13)8. Conclusion . . . Not everybody has the financial means throw a party like Jay Gatsby, but you have to remember that he had ulterior motives when shelling out tons of cash for his big bash(es). He wanted to win the heart of a lost love. While my Gatsby party wasn’t elaborate by any means, I hope that it was a fun night for everyone who came and an honest expression of gratitude for a special friend who has moved on to an exciting new adventure.

To read about a Mississippi family who dressed in full Gatsby attire to attend the movie premiere, check out this story.

Got a comment? E-mail me at or Tweet me at @lareecarucker.


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