How to plan an authentic “The Great Gatsby” themed Party: An infographic

A few weeks ago I was given the task to put together the data for an infographic about how to plan a Great Gatsby themed party. Yes, we are aware that it has been done before (quite a lot, actually), that is why it was important for us to give it our own unique spin. I quickly decided I wouldn’t reference any of the movies* and would only take the novel as canon.

* Till this day I haven’t seen the Baz Luhrmann version. I have only seen the Francis Ford Coppola rendition and I barely remember it since it was over ten years ago.

So I bought a copy of The Great Gatsby and started reading. Quickly (to my horror) I realised that there wasn’t a lot of data in there that would serve us for an infographic. There are references to the “many”, “wild” and “lively” party goers that attend Gatsby’s soirees, but nowhere does it state just exactly how many people are assisting these events. And in order to plan a party well, the first thing you need to know is how many people are coming. Otherwise it would be like a surgeon operating without knowing what’s actually wrong with the patient. Okay, nowhere near as dramatic, but you get my point.

Patiently, I read the book with a notebook and pen next to me to write down any trivia that might help us with the infographic. For a while there was no luck. Frustrated, I was about to scrap the whole project until I met with Hayley, our graphic designer, and as we went through everything I had gathered. The following quote stood out to us:

‘Every Friday five crates of orange and lemons arrived from a fruiterer in New York — every Monday these same oranges and lemons left his back door in a pyramid of pulpless halves…’
– The Great Gatsby (41).

At first, it might not seem like much, but then we started thinking: Could it be possible to calculate the number of guests at a Gatsby party just with this information?

Calculating the number of guests:

Note: Keep in mind, that even though I tried to make these calculations as accurate as possible, there is still a lot of guesswork involved and therefore it shouldn’t be taken too seriously. This is more of a hypothesis than a study, if you will.

As soon as I put my thinking cap on, the first problem arose. How big were those crates? And how many lemons did they carry? Nowhere does it say. As I soon found out, there are crates of an infinite number of sizes. A crate of lemons could carry anywhere between 10 to 200 units.

That’s about when I started looking at wholesale websites and ran across an American company called Pearson Ranch which sells 35 pounds cartons of lemons. That sounded about right and since Gatsby did everything big, he would probably order something similar to those. On the site it says that the box contains anywhere from 65 to 200 lemons. This didn’t help me very much, so I went with the next logical thing: Pick the midpoint between each of the numbers which is 133 (rounded up).

Great, now I had the number of lemons, but I still needed to figure out what they were used for. Since in the text clearly states that the fruits left the house in “a pyramid of pulpless halves…” (41), it is safe to assume that every single lemon was used, which made it easier for me to calculate. It is clear that the lemons are used on cocktails, since they’re mentioned all throughout the novel, but nowhere does it say which cocktail. A quick Google search led me to French 75, which according to Esquire, was a famous drink during the prohibition years in the US when the story takes place. The drink is perfect for a Gatsby party because A, it includes champagne which is quite popular among the characters in West Egg and B, its recipe lists lemon juice as one of the ingredients. Having this data allowed me to make the following calculations:

  1. Each French 75 cocktail requires 1/2 oz. of lemon juice
  2. 1/2 oz. equals to 1 tablespoon (US)
  3. On average, one lemon has 2 tablespoons of juice in it
  4. Which means you can prepare 2 French 75 cocktails per lemon

Then…

There are 133 lemons in 1 crate

And 665 lemons in 5 crates

Which means that five crates of lemons would allow you to prepare around 1330 French 75 cocktails.

french 75

That still doesn’t tell us how many people attended the parties

I know! In order to get to that number I needed to know how much each person drank on average. Once again, I turned to the canon for answers. In the book there are three passages that show us the kind of drinkers that attend Gatsby’s parties. First it is the man himself who didn’t drink very much (if anything at all) because his main objective was to reconnect with Daisy, not to have fun.

‘It was indirectly due to Cody that Gatsby drank so little. Sometimes in the course of gay parties women used to rub champagne into his hair; for himself he formed the habit of letting liquor alone.’
– The Great Gatsby (97)

Since there is another scene in the novel where Gatsby is seen holding a drink, we’ll assume he has at least one per party. Gatsby would be the first type of guest, the moderate one who doesn’t drink or has one cocktail at most. Then there are the second type of drinkers. In this case we’ll use the novel’s narrator Nick Carraway as an example:

‘I was enjoying myself now. I had taken two finger-bowls of champagne, and the scene had changed before my eyes into something significant, elemental, and profound.’
– The Great Gatsby (48).

It is stated in the novel that Nick is not much of a drinker and that he had allowed himself to get drunk only a couple of times in his life. I would place him among the average crowd, those who have two or three cocktails at most in a single evening. And then we have the other type of partiers, as portrayed by Miss Baedeker:

‘A massive and lethargic woman, who had been urging Daisy to play golf with her at the local club tomorrow, spoke in Miss Baedeker’s defence:
“Oh, she’s all right now. When she’s had five or six cocktails she always starts screaming like that. I tell her she ought to leave it alone.’”
– The Great Gatsby (102)

For the sake of this infographic, we’ll assume that the information provided by the lady defending Miss Baedeker is true and wasn’t exaggerated. This is the final category, the heavy drinkers. So we have a minimum and a maximum of cocktails that will allow us to calculate.

1 is the minimum number of drinks per person

6 is the maximum number of drinks per person

If we add the minimum and the maximum, we get 7

And if we divide that by 2 to get the mid point number, we get 3,5

3,5 is the average number of cocktails per person at a Gatsby Party

If we divide the total number of cocktails which is 1330 by 3,5, then we get 380.

380 (can we boast?) is the average number of attendees at a Gatsby Party.

Elements for a “The Great Gatsby” themed party

art deco

So if you want to organise a Gatsby themed party as authentic as possible, then you should organise an event for anywhere between 350 and 400 people. Now that we know how many people will be attending, let’s take a look at some of the other elements to host a top notch party.

Venue

In the novel, Gatsby’s mansion is as much as a character as the living beings. It is presented as a big and luxurious place with party decorations fit for a king. Among the decorations found in the book, we have:

  • Decor
    • Several hundred feet of canvas
    • Coloured lights

Feel free to go all out, in fact at a Gatsby themed party it is a must. Gatsby built his house and fortune with the sole purpose of reconquering Daisy because when they first dated he was considered too poor to marry her. In a way, the Gatsby mansion was like a beautiful flower that attracted bees and other insects to pollinate it. If you need more decoration ideas, I’d suggest doing some research on Art Deco, which was a popular aesthetic at the time and as for venues, check out our post on unique UK venues which includes a few Gatsby style mansions up for rental.

Transportation

Gatsby traveled in style, his collection of vehicles included:

  • 1 Hydroplane
  • 1 Rolls Royce
  • 2 Motorboats

In order to plan a party like Gatsby, it’s not necessary to rent a helicopter, but you could consider renting a classic vintage car or bus to have your attendees travel in style.

Drinks

As we already mention the French 75 cocktail is a very appropriate choice for a Gatsby themed party, other beverages you might consider that have been taken straight from the books are:

  • Champagne
  • Gin
  • Whiskey

Other elements that are related to drinking that might help plan the event are a “bar with a real brass rail” and “glasses larger than finger-bowls” for drinking champagne. Finger-bowls? Yes, the ‘flute’ that is widely used nowadays is relatively new; in the early 20th century the ‘coupe’ or ‘champagne saucer’ was the preferred glass for the sparkling drink. Keep this in mind when ordering tableware for your Gatsby themed party.

Food

Dining was important for Gatsby. Some of the treats mentioned on the text are:

  • Hors-d’oeuvre
  • Spiced Baked Ham
  • Salad of Harlequin design
  • Pastry pig and turkey
  • Lemon cake

When reading the novel, one gets the sense that the last thing Gatsby wanted was for people to go thirsty or hungry at one of his parties. That’s why he kept people fed by serving not one, but two suppers in a single evening (the second one after midnight) and he did it with buffet tables.

Music

When planning for the music of a Great Gatsby themed party there is only one word you need to keep in mind: Jazz. In order to keep his guests entertained Gatsby hired an orchestra composed of:

  • Oboes
  • Trombones
  • Saxophones
  • Viols
  • Cornets
  • Piccolos

If you have the budget to hire a full orchestra then go ahead, you’ll be the talk of the town, but it is not necessary for a great party. Sometimes a curated Spotify list and a great set of speakers can do the trick. Jazz legends like Cab Calloway can provide the soundtrack to your unforgettable evening.

Fashion

Fashion is probably the most obvious element to make a Gastby themed party look like a Gatsby themed party. Here are some pointers we can take from the novel:

  • White flannel suits for the men
  • White low-waist dresses for women
  • Shawls
  • French Bob haircut

Another interesting piece of trivia was a dress Gatsby bought for one of his female guests after she tore hers during one of his events. The dress says on the novel that costed $265 which would make it around $3,600 in today’s money. Obviously one doesn’t need to spend that much on clothing to look like a flapper, but I still wouldn’t recommend the cheap party shops either. Instead try your luck with vintage clothing, you can get them at street markets, regular shops or even online. They may not be as inexpensive, but if you look long enough, you can find some great deals.

great-gatsby-themed-party


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