Make your '20s party roar

Polish the silver and wash the crystal. Dust off that tux and shimmy into that flapper dress. Look rich. The Roaring '20s are back, and that can only mean one thing: It's time to jazz things up and entertain in style.

Maybe not next weekend. But soon, according to Drew Vanlandingham, an event planner and designer who owns the Vanlandingham Design Studio in Ellicott City.

"In the next six months, he said, "there will be Gatsby-themed parties everywhere."

But it's not just this summer's luxurious big-screen rendition of "The Great Gatsby" — with a fabulous mansion, gorgeous cars and the beautiful people to match — that has sparked an interest in all things vintage.

Popular TV shows like "Downton Abbey" and "Boardwalk Empire" have been showcasing the 1920s for the past few years. Designers from Marc Jacobs, Ralph Lauren and Topshop are joining in with fall collections that will feature '20s-inspired looks. And AMC is planning another retro series, this time set in the 1920s-era New York car industry.

So while the long Memorial Day weekend is traditionally a time for reflection and enjoying a good cookout, we're looking ahead to socializing in sophisticated style.

"Of course, we can't all be Jay Gatsby, but we can party like him," said Andrew Bruchey, the owner of the Parisian Flea, a vintage shop in Hampden that specializes in barware, jewelry, and accessories.

Bruchey said emulating Jazz Age glamour requires adopting a posh look and over-the-top attitude. "It's time for elegance," he said, adding that people are already gravitating away from parties with "red Solo cups" and disposable party ware.

That's good because he says cocktails are key to that era and can form the perfect basis for an entertaining '20s-style evening.

"My customers already embrace the whole cocktail concept. It's not just a drink but a social thing," he said.

When it comes to playing host, Bruchey likes to bring out the champagne and classic cocktails. Admitting to being a bit of a purist, he said "that means using the right glasses."

He suggests champagne saucers for the bubbly — you can sip and chat at the same time — and small cocktail glasses (perfect for refills) for gin martinis that have been stirred, not shaken, in a pitcher.

Vintage cocktail shakers, swanky ice buckets, punch bowls and anything with silver trimming complete the look, said the Baltimore native.

Bruchey said shoppers at his vintage boutique are already getting into the Gatsby spirit. He said that in addition to retro drinkware – "I have a hard time keeping cocktail items in stock" — he has seen an upswing of interest in flashy rhinestone jewelry and long strings of beads.

"We are back to a new generation that loves to party with style," said the 30-year-old shop owner. "Sure, you can party, but you better be wearing a bow tie."

When it comes to dressing the part, there is no substitute for the "real deal," according to Cindi Ryland, owner of Retropolitan, an Annapolis-based shop that specializes in vintage clothing. Ryland said she is seeing an upswing in demand for Jazz Age attire.

"The Victorians wore dresses that accentuated their waistlines and got bigger on the bottom," she said. "In the '20s, women went the other direction. It was a way to express their freedom. They smoked cigarettes in long holders and cut their hair."

Ryland said that above all, a long, narrow silhouette is crucial. Dresses should not reveal a woman's shape and are particularly appealing when adorned with beading. She outfits women from top (preferably with bobbed hair and a cloche hat) to bottom (toe-in shoes with Louis heels). As for the gents, Ryland said that the proper fit is crucial: slacks should fit in the body and hang a little shorter in the leg than is stylish now. Tuxes are great. A wide-brimmed hat and shoes with capped toes complete the look.

Vanlandingham said that with the emphasis on luxury, even those hosts with constrained budgets can inject some jazz into entertaining.

"I pay attention to detail," he said.

He starts with the table, keeping the covering a basic black cloth but infusing a dash of glamour by adding glitzy toppers. Centerpieces, he suggested, should be kept simple, not only as a way to keep the budget under control, but in keeping with the streamlined style of the '20s. For a whimsical look, add a vase or dinnerware with polka dots — very '20s.

As for food, Vanlandingham advises emphasizing the presentation and not trying to please today's palates with yesterday's menus (e.g., maybe skip the sardines in aspic).

"Put the petit fours on a silver platter," he said. And because few people have sterling silver serving pieces locked away in a vault, he thinks a good alternative is to pick up vintage silver plate trays and bowls for the occasion.

Try serving wine in crystal carafes and spirits in cut-glass decanters with identifying silver tags. Don't forget silver candelabra for a romantic feel, he added. Instead of using uninspired matched sets of dinnerware, scour vintage stores and purchase inexpensive and mismatched plates. Pull the look of the table together with matching silver chargers.

Then there's the matter of music, a key component to any party. A saxophone player, a pianist, an upright bassist and a drummer would be ideal, said Vanlandingham. Can't afford a jazz combo? Try mixing scratchy recordings from another era in with modern renditions, he suggested.

Of course, there was a little thing called Prohibition in the 1920s, and Bruchey concluded that even though the consumption of alcoholic beverages is no longer illegal, there remains a certain excitement caused by yesteryear's taboo.

"There is," he said, "that feeling of being a little bit naughty."


The Vanlandingham Design Studio, 8090 Main St., Ellicott City; 870-917-8861;

The Parisian Flea, 843 W 36th St., Baltimore; 410-235-1287; Find them on Facebook

Retropolitan, 14 Annapolis St., Annapolis; 410-263-0800;

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