Named for F. Scott Fitzgerald’s famous novel "The Great Gatsby," Gatsby’s Gala — presented annually by Eau Claire Jazz Inc. and UW-Eau Claire — is a step into the carefree and lavish era of jazz music, flapper dancers and speakeasies.
The gala’s dress code: 1920s-era black tie. That’s right, old sport, it’s time to break out the bow ties and feather boas.
After attending the event without really knowing what to expect, I’m here to share with you what I did right (and what I did wrong) so that you can enjoy this glamorous evening to its fullest.
1. Do a little shopping
Don’t let the words “black tie” scare you. It’s possible to attend this event looking classy on a college student budget. Your first purchase will have to be your ticket. Because you’re a student, you can get a discounted ticket at the Service Center on the first floor of the Davies Center.
Next, you’ll need your outfit. Before you hit the mall, see if you have any pieces in your closet that could work. Fashion trends are constantly repeating themselves, and some of the things that were popular in the 1920s are easy to find on the racks today.
For the ladies, think loose-fitting, drop-waist dresses. The more beading or lace the better. Accessorize with tights, long necklaces, elbow-length gloves and a decorative hair clip or headband.
For the gentlemen, if you have a pinstripe suit, you’re set. Otherwise, pair dress pants with a button-down shirt, vest and bow tie. Bonus points for wearing a matching fedora or newsboy hat.
The great thing about the timing of this dance is that you can find a lot of the pieces for your outfit in the post-Halloween sales at places like Ragstock, Icing, Charlotte Russe and Target.
2. Get ready to dance
Take my word on this one: There is a reason why short-heeled shoes were popular in the 1920s. If you're like me and don’t want to buy new shoes for this, please err on the side of comfort when faced with the choice between flats or high heels.
This event spreads across most of the third floor of Davies Center. When I attended, we were directed in through a “secret entrance” as part of the speakeasy theme. It was really well done, but it meant that we had to walk up the back stairs to the third floor. I wore the 5-inch heels that had been hiding in my closet for special occasions and deeply regretted my decision by the time we made it to the top. After hobbling around the third floor checking out everything the gala had to offer, my feet were in no condition for dancing. I eventually had to give in and lose the shoes, and after that, I was able to enjoy the night a lot more.
High-heeled shoes weren’t the only accessory inhibiting partygoers’ dance moves, though. After dancing a few songs, my date was overheating in his suit jacket. There was a coat check on the way in and we ended up going back and checking his jacket pretty early in the evening. By the end of the night, nearly everyone in a suit had dressed down to just the vests or suspenders with shirt sleeves rolled up to the elbow.
3. A look at the past and a new experience
After dancing for hours to the sounds of the amazingly talented UW-Eau Claire jazz ensembles, you’ll be in the mood for some refreshments. Cocktails and other beverages as well as some food options are available for purchase, so bring a little spending money and your ID.
The Gatsby’s Gala planning team usually has a few surprises planned. When I attended those included a photo booth, performance artists, historical displays and dance performances.
Whether your average Friday night includes tearing up Water Street or binge-watching Netflix, it’s always a good idea to step out of your comfort zone and try something new. Though the theme of the night is old fashioned, you’ll get to experience your university in a whole new way.