Prohibition was ratified in January 1919, but didn’t go into effect until a year later, in January 1920. So what to do during that final year of alcohol? “A bacchanalia of jollity and nummery” — also known as costumed danced parties.
Never have there been so many [costume balls], within the memory of the Oldest Dancing Man. Heretofore artists and “the Broadway crowd” have been content with half a dozen masquerades during the Winter, but this year, partly as a reaction from the war, partly because the advent of prohibition has cast its shadow before, the number of these gay fêtes and the attendance at them have surpassed all records.
At few other events could you find such a mixture of classes, professions, and walks of life:
Never has Gotham abandoned itself to such a bacchanalia of jollity and nummery. The costume ball is a social melting pot, and has drawn Park Avenue equally with Broadway, Washington Heights equally with Greenwich Village, debutantes equally with chorus girls. Artists and brokers, writers and bankers, actors and merchants, those conspicuous in the fashionable world and those known best to readers of the 15-cent magazines have commingled in scenes of brilliant revelry with others inconspicuous in any walk of life.
And the costumes were something else:
Clowns in spangles and aborigines in tiger skins have adorned the dancing floors. Red Robin Hood has one-stepped with [the goddess] Astarte, the Toreador [bullfighter] with a ballet girl, Pierrot [a sad clown character from French pantomime] with Maud Muller [a maid from an 1800s poem], the Red Indian with a Khorassan [Persian] maiden, the acrobat with Gretchen, and all who could with the chorus girls who arrive after the theatres close, attired often in the abbreviated garments they wore on the stage.
Sounds like a blast! Maybe we should institute Prohibition again a year from now.
High Carnival of Costume Balls as Prohibition Draws Near: Oriental Note Dominates the Revels, Where Harem Girls, Dervishes, Geishas, and Maharajas Are the Order of the Evening — Midnight Festivities Attract Throngs to Hotels and Dancing Halls
Published: Sunday, April 27, 1919