Time travel to the Roaring Twenties, four days a year, on a little patch of paradise off the tip of Manhattan. Pip Cummings joins the dapper dandies and flapper floozies for a whirl around an outdoor dance floor.

The passion for ‘20s fashion has been running hot for a while now: elevated to the catwalks by a slew of tastemakers, from Ralph Lauren to Gucci; recreated on TV by Emmy Award-winning series Boardwalk Empire (now going into its third season) and scooping the Oscars pool with that gorgeous French confection of 1920s Hollywood, The Artist. In November, fine jewellers Tiffany & Co. will release their ‘20s-inspired Ziegfeld collection (in pearls, onyx and silver) ahead of the mid-2013 release of director Baz Luhrmann’s bold, 3D treatment of the American literary classic The Great Gatsby.

For a few, truly glorious days every summer, New York’s Governors Island is the setting for the Jazz Age Lawn Parties; a vista of flappers, finger curls, waxed moustaches and seersucker suits. Jazz era devotee Michael Arenella, along with his Dreamland Orchestra, began running the parties in 2006. The highly charismatic Arenella is no fair-weather aficionado – he’s devoted himself to the “hot dance music of the 1920s and early 1930s”, transcribing musical scores from old 78 records, faithfully wearing the clothing, driving a collection of vintage cars and was recently featured in the New York Times, on a flea market expedition during which he purchased his third gramophone player.

What goes on: For two days in June and two days in August, the lawn parties feature a huge wooden dance floor; stalls selling vintage clothing and refreshments; swimwear parades; vintage cars to hitch a ride around the Island in; competitions in Charleston dancing and tug-of-war, plus vintage-style portrait photography (in 2012, subjects posed on a crescent moon). The Dreamland Orchestra provide the live dance music and when they take a break, old 78 records are played on antique phonographs.

What to wear: The day always yields a madcap mix of vintage eras, with styles ranging from the 1920s to ‘40s. Even those adhering to the Jazz Age often get it wrong in flapper wear, which is more suited to a nightclub than the demure look suitable for a lawn party. For a more authentic look, wear a dropped-waist dress in a soft colour or print, in cotton or chiffon, with a cloche hat. Accessorise with a parasol or shawl.

Even so, the not-quite-right costume-party feel of the day is completely endearing, and makes for vivid eye candy. Do try to make some effort to dress up; it makes the day so much more fun. Parasols can be easily purchased on Canal Street in Manhattan, around Chinatown, or throw on some long faux pearls and a cloche hat or head scarf. Chaps, a white shirt with pleat-front trousers, brogues and a boater or fedora will look just dandy.

Jazz Age Lawn Party, New York (Pip Cummings)

What to bring: In theory, you need not bring anything with you but money. Food and drink tickets (alcoholic or soft beverages) are available on arrival and the catering is delicious. You might prefer, however, to bring your own picnic hamper and line up just once, for drinks. (Alcohol cannot be brought to the island but is for sale at the lawn party).

Entry tickets are also on sale on arrival, but you can save time by buying tickets online ($15). Get on the mailing list for Michael Arenella and his Dreamland Orchestra and you will be notified when advance tickets go on sale

Bring picnic rugs, to stake out a little piece of paradise in the shade, and don’t forget your camera. You might even consider taking a few dance classes in advance.

How to get there: Governors Island is a short, free ferry ride from either Pier 6 in Brooklyn Bridge Park (at the foot of Atlantic Avenue, corner of Columbia Street) or the Battery Maritime Building in Manhattan, at 10 South Street, adjacent to the Staten Island Ferry. For more details please visit the website.

Follow Holiday Goddess editor Pip Cummings on Twitter. You can read Pip’s features on New York City in The Holiday Goddess Handbag Guide to New York, available for the iPad and other tablets at the Apple store.

Holiday Goddess Editor Pip Cummings




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