To celebrate the impending New Year's Eve holiday, I'd like to take you back to 1899 in the USA, the last year of the "Gay Nineties". What made the nineties gay, (as in happy)? There was no income tax, for one thing. There was an air of affluence as established families made their fortunes and lived the high life. The witty plays of Oscar Wilde were popular, and society scandals were big news including Wilde's trial and conviction for gross indecency with other men. Can you imagine?
Although initially a derogatory term, the suffragette movement began during the 1890's, with women vying for their right to vote. You can see in the illustration below how women were depicted as more athletic and independent than, let's say, Scarlet O'Hara and her ilk:
Just getting from point A to point B wasn't easy back in the day. Street cars were the best mode of transportation if you lived in the city. We're going to run some errands to prepare for our party tonight, so let's hop on the street car and go to the bank first.
A scene from a bank, showing the clothing people wore during a typical day circa 1890's:
This structure was built in 1899. Let's go inside and prepare for our party!
It's a good thing we tidied up the house earlier:
Let's start the food prep. We're going to need a modern food mill like the Universal Food Chopper, patented in 1897. This ad helpfully shows that it can chop a hog, head first! Good to know.
It's quite possible we'll make one of the delightful dishes we had at Christmas time:
For dessert we'll have something very elegant, perhaps a Charlotte Russe or Blanc-Mange:
We've hired some showgirls for after dinner entertainment:
One of them has some specialized high wire skills that she will be demonstrating in the garden if the weather cooperates:
We expect our guests will be dressed to the nines:
If you can't wear your finest dress on New Year's Eve, when can you?
Whole birds were often found attached to ladies' hats and were secured with a with a large hat pin:
Although not as colorful, men's fashions were important too. The men will all look dapper:
Last but not least, we need the proper libation to make a toast at midnight! Instead of champagne, we're going to have Absinthe, a potent alcoholic beverage that was popular at the time.
Stories of seeing the "Green Fairy" after drinking the reportedly hallucinogenic beverage abound. An "Absinthe kit" including the proper spoon and sugar cube is part of the ritual necessary for proper drinking of the concoction.
Once our spirits are high, we'll sing some songs around the piano. Tin Pan Alley produced numerous wonderful songs during this era in familiar sheet music form, known as "cakewalk" or "ragtime" in which blues and jazz were incorporated. Many were novelty songs just perfect for a sing-along.
I'd like to suggest starting with "The Band Played On", "Ta Ra Ra Boom De Ay" and "Hello! Ma Baby (Hello Ma Ragtime Gal)" to get things started.
Tin Pan Alley
Chances are, there will be dancing until the wee hours. When the feet wear out, the men will retire to the library to smoke cigars while the women will have plenty of time to gossip until the sun rises. Breakfast will be served and hangovers will be avoided if at all possible!
Happy New Year,