Photos by Amber Permsap, Johanna Austen, and Erin Ellis
Darlings, it’s the summer of 2018! Or is it 1928? Political climate aside, this summer is all about stepping back in time. All over the country there are 1920s themed picnics and parties to attend. F. Scott Fitzgerald is raising a glass somewhere to the fact that all of these years later we still love Gatsby. Even outside of our required reading, we just can’t get enough.
One of New York’s most anticipated events is the Jazz Age Lawn Party which is held on June 16 & 17 and reprises August 25 & 26 at Governor’s island. Creator of the event, Michael Arenella and His Dreamland Orchestra, are just one of the bands to regale picnicking guests. With world famous dancing acts, dance contests, pie contests, and fashion shows, you may need that second weekend to take it all in.
In my own hometown of Philadelphia, I host the women’s fashion contest for Deco on the Delaware, held on August 4. Attendees can tour the historic Glen Foerd Mansion, enjoy gourmet picnic lunches, take a boat out on the river with their favorite lover, or spend a small fortune on divine vintage vendors. Antique automobiles and bicycles are sure to impress. Of course guests can Charleston their way around the dance floor to their heart’s content. When you tire, there are always lawn games to be played or (shh!) cocktails to be sipped. You will need to wet their whistle after cutting a rug, after all.
The best part is that it’s all in the name of a good cause. Proceeds go to towards preserving the Glen Foerd estate. Their mission is not only to preserve the historic estate, but provide the community with a range of educational and nature based activities and experiences. They host programs like kayaking, ecology, environmental preservation, gardening, bee-keeping, and more.
This year we’ve got even more reason to celebrate in Philadelphia. Michael Arenella, founder of New York’s Jazz Age Lawn Party, the event that started it all, has joined the board for Glen Foerd Estate. I sat down with him on a Sunny winter afternoon in March at the Estate to discuss all of his events.
Michael let me in on the story of how the whole affair got started in the first place. A grounds keeper at Governor’s Island, which is a military base in New York City, approached Michael and told him he should host a party there in 2005. He was 27 years old. He assembled his orchestra in the grass, and told his friends about it. It was right before Facebook. In fact he didn’t even own a computer, so it was all word of mouth. He told his friends “let’s have a party”.
About 50 friends showed up that first year. Today 4,000 people attend per day, with 16,000 attendees total in 4 days! He now hosts several large events each year: Deco on the Delaware in Philadelphia, and Jazz Age Lawn Parties in New York, Miami, and starting in 2020, London! With obvious interest in his events, I wanted to know what makes people so interested in this time period?
In Michael’s words, “It was a time for exploration. We were all of the sudden, mobile. With that came art, literature, and women’s liberation. And the whole concept of the flapper girl was not to be cute. The concept of the flapper girl was subversive. Cutting off of the hair was to be androgynous. Taking off your corset…blurring the gender lines. Underneath all of this, it was prohibition. It was illegal to drink. It created this tension. This amazing, exciting, electric, taboo, naughty, underground world of the speakeasies. All of this stuff going on made for this very evocative, crazy time. And it was exciting, and people were living again. We had just come out of a dark era, WWI. The atrocities that people saw numbed us, and we were ready to live again. Reckless abandon! Forget the Victorian era; that macabre baroque way of life. Let’s be current. Do the Charleston!”
Michael believes that people feel this way again. They fear the mayhem they see in the world and need a way to escape, so they seek experiences.
I asked him what kind of big changes we can expect to see at Philadelphia’s Deco on the Delaware. He assured me that he doesn’t want to completely change it, but refine it and give it more focus.
One modification would be the configuration. Meaning, he would like to move the location of the band and dance floor to the tennis courts. It’s a shadier area closer to the river. We decide to take a walk in our mud boots through the melting snow. Moving a snake sunbathing in our path, we made our way down to the location of the old tennis courts to have a look around. The brick laid area was a magical, forgotten place, which I can’t wait to see come to life again this summer.
Expect many more additions this year, including a 100% Philadelphian co-ed dance troop: The Fishtown Footers. Of course Michael Arenella and his Dreamland Orchestra will be serenading the crowd for the first time at this event.
Back inside the warmth of the mansion, we talked more in the bright sunroom. I thought readers who are attending the Deco on the Delaware for the first time might want to know what kinds of activities they won’t want to miss.
“I think this location is a real gem. Not only historically, but ecologically. Obviously Glen Foerd is situated on the river.” We turn around in our seats to look out of the oversized windows down to a serene river view under blue skies. New this year, he told me, would be boat rides from Philadelphia to the estate with Evan Cory Levine and His Singular Band playing for guests onboard.
Michael has been a Bucks County Resident for 3 years now, and has always loved the area. “This is a place that is really dear to my heart and I’m in it for the preservation of this place and its mission.”
Flappers and dandies newly committed to attending these events will need to know how to prepare. For those of you who want to dress up, but don’t know where to begin, I asked my fellow fashion judge to give readers a few tips.
Martin Murphy is the owner of Ransome & Gwynn, Fine and Vintage Menswear. He gave this advice: “The simplest approach is to go for the spirit of the occasion and not worry about nailing all the details of 1920s dress. Look at photos of 1920s picnickers and see what you’ve already got in your closet that will embody that look. To me, to be dapper means to give attention and care to your appearance with the aim of making it pleasing to yourself and to others. In other words, it’s showing that you care through your appearance.” Martin applies this practice to his style on a regular basis.
As for me, I think it’s all about ingenuity, and simply style. I love a coordinating outfit that was obviously planned out. Little details like pins and stockings go a long way. A themed outfit is so much fun. Last year’s fashion contest winner sewed coordinating 1920s Philadelphia Athletics baseball uniforms for her boyfriend and herself! It’s important to remember that the whole point of these events is to let loose and have fun. Your attire shouldn’t be a burden. In fact, a little effort goes a long way. Regardless of whether you dress up a little or a lot, we want you to come and enjoy yourself.
Pack your picnic basket and mark your calendars for the most anticipated vintage events of the summer.
“As soon as you walk in the clock stops and any sort of reminder of time is gone. My goal with the event is to take people out of the hustle and bustle and connect with a simpler idea of life”. Michael Arenella may not be Gatsby, but he knows how to create an unparalleled party.
Is it a coincidence that the Jazz Age has come back into popular consciousness in the last 10 years? Maybe. Or maybe it was because of Michael Arenella and his whimsical imaginings.
Head over to my blog for more easy tips on how to put together a Daisy inspired look for your 1920s event of choice. As always, vintage style, not vintage values.
Xo Etta Nouveau