Many iconic parties went down in history through the years, whether they were ancient roman parties or high society new york glamor extravaganzas. You can’t have a good party without the right tunes, booze, and snacks. But you can’t have an absolutely legendary party without life-sized desserts and extravagant outfits. These parties have been remembered in history for their decadence in everything from the menu to the venue. Lead by their example for a truly incredible party or just a crazy ritzy New Year’s Eve bash to throw one of your own famous balls in history.
Iconic historical parties
First, let’s go over to Russia where Nicholas and Alexandra were famous for many things as the rulers of Russia like the famous parties. One of the famous balls, the Russian 1903 ball that was held in the Winter Palace in St. Petersburg, is legendary for two reasons: the rumblings of the Russian revolution outside and the opulent fancy dress.
A grand concert took place in the Hermitage Theatre, the feast was so big that it spanned three rooms, and iconic photographs were taken to document the beautiful, ornate jewel filled 17th-century costumes. The Grand Duke Alexander Mikhailovich said that it was the last spectacular ball in the history of the Russian empire.
The Black and White ball
Next, we have the Black and White ball, another one of the famous balls. Truman Capote hosted this 1966 party and as you can probably imagine, it consisted of a ton of celebrities like Mia Farrow, Frank Sinatra, Lauren Bacall, Candice Bergen, and Henry Fonda attended the soiree with socialites like Lee Radziwill and Gloria Vanderbilt. The guest list itself was definitely one to write home about because it was so fabulous. The decadent party was held to celebrate the great newspaper publisher Katharine Graham, but it was really just an excuse to get 540 of Capote’s closest friends together into The Plaza’s Grand Ballroom.
Guests were told to wear their fanciest black and white evening wear and masks were also required to go with the masquerade theme. The ladies were expected to carry fans. While it might sound like a very strict dress code, the aesthetic of the masquerade balls became so famous that many other celebrities and party throwers later copied it.
The Vanderbilt Ball
Next, we have one of the most famous balls, the Vanderbilt Ball. The way the Museum of the City of New York describes it, this was the very ball that completely changed New York City society. Before this 1883 soiree, Caroline Schermerhorn Astor was the one who called all the shots for the social scene. She completely refused to acknowledge the fabulously wealthy Vanderbilt family and had turned her nose down on them. But Alva Vanderbilt finally got her moment to shine when she sent out her invitations for a housewarming party at her new Fifth Avenue mansion and somewhat “forgot” to include Astor’s daughter Carrie.
So the Astors formally acknowledged the Vanderbilts and later attended the party, along with nearly 1200 other extravagant guests. This was a costume party and New York’s elite did not disappoint when it came to showing out. Kate Fearing Strong’s taxidermied cat head hat was extremely memorable and very hard to forget. The most memorable outfit, however, belonged to Alva’s sister-in-law. Alice Vanderbilt arrived in the now extremely well known “Electric Light” dress, a yellow satin number with batteries hidden underneath. Those helped her torch light up, which in turn helped her look like a glamorous Statue of Liberty.
The Bradley Martin Ball
Another one of the famous balls that should be recognized is The Bradley Martin Ball. Manhattan millionaire Bradley Martin and his wife Cornelia knew exactly how to increase publicity. According to The New York Times, the couple’s 1897 biggest party of all time was the talk of the town and the subject of interest and discussion wherever the members of the gay world, not just in New York but in the other large Eastern cities, have assembled for almost three weeks leading up to it.
During that time, guests prepped their historical party costumes. One came dressed as Pocahontas, and another dressed as Catherine the Great. The hostess dressed up as Mary, Queen of Scots with a whopping $60,000 gown. The party took place at the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel, where she decked it out with canopies of orchids and roses, even decorating the candelabras with Louis XVI-era beautiful beaded handbags or silk pouches that were bursting with flowers. Although many later condemned the ball as an exercise in tacky excess, the guests clearly enjoyed themselves.
The Thousand and Second Night
In the history of partying and famous balls, there is also the Thousand and Second Night, the costume gala. In 1911, the famous fashion designer Paul Poiret put together his “Thousand and Second Night” costume gala, and he stuck to his theme very seriously. If guests showed up without a costume, they were told to leave or put on some “harem” trousers from Poiret’s spring collection.
Once they were suitably dressed to Poiret’s liking, attendees walked past an enormous golden cage containing Poiret’s wife and a chorus singing songs that were Persian. They then listened to actor Édouard de Max recite selections from the play One Thousand and One Nights. Guests could also simply play around with the monkeys and macaws that were roaming free in the garden, alongside several beautiful ballerinas who were dancing around during this example of famous balls.
The Surrealist Ball
Another hit in the famous balls list was the Surrealist Ball. Marie-Hélène de Rothschild’s thing was swanky parties and knowing how to throw them. The baroness was very famous in French society for the extravagant, star-studded galas that she hosted in the Rothschild country home. While many consider the 1971 Proust Ball to be her best soiree thrown, the 1972 Surrealist Ball had a lot more flair and attention to detail.
When talking about attention to detail, we mean that invitations were printed backwards, requiring a mirror to decipher them, every place setting included a furry charger plate, and the centerpieces were pretty insane, like a mess of limbless dolls, for example. For dessert, the crowd ate out of a pudding shaped to resemble a life-size naked woman resting on a bed of roses. Guests included the wonderful Audrey Hepburn, who wore a bird cage on her head, and Salvador Dali, who could not have possibly fit in better.
The Les Noces Premiere party
The history of parties wouldn’t be the same without the Les Noces Premiere party. Out of all the historical parties, you would probably expect that a ballet party would be stiff and not very fun, but this Parisian premiere was the complete opposite. Succeeding the first performance of Igor Stravinsky’s ballet Les Noces, wealthy locals George and Sara Murphy decided to throw one of these famous balls in the composer’s honor in 1923. The party took place on a large barge on the Seine River.
Since all florists were closed on Sunday, the day of the party, Sara Murphy decided to get creative with the centerpieces. She piled clowns, fire engines, and toy cars on every table. The guests were overtaken by the whimsicality of the decorations, including Pablo Picasso, who completely rearranged them into a mini mountain topped with a cow atop a fireman’s ladder. As to not be outdone, filmmaker Jean Cocteau dressed up as a captain and ran around the barge with a lantern telling everyone the barge was sinking. But nobody could steal the spotlight of the man of the hour. Igor Stravinsky ended the wild night by jumping through a huge wreath as if it was a circus hoop.
History would not be the same without a little bit of partying. These vivacious parties transformed society, highlighting the elite and shaping pop culture. This New Year’s Eve, you could have a party of your own that reimagines your year with the Pourhouse’s 20th anniversary Crystal Ball party.
Iconic parties will always be remembered in history. They encapsulate some of the best, most free moments of life, so choose to experience an extravagant party for yourself, although limbless dolls and costumes might not be included.