Every year, my best friend hosts a cookies and cocktails party the weekend before Christmas. It’s an easy way to get everyone together during the hustle and bustle of the holidays, without demanding too much (besides a dozen cookies to share). This year, however, we wanted to try something different.
A 1920s murder mystery dinner party.
I’ve always wanted to host a murder mystery party, and she loves the glam vibes of the 1920s, so the themes collided perfectly. We pulled our resources together— hers, her excellent party planning and hosting skills, and mine, a curated mix of sponsorships and collaborations from some of my favorite brands— and pulled off a night that was to die for (pun intended).
We were a tad worried about people getting in to character, and really running with the theme, but everyone had a blast. After the initial cocktail hour, and by the time we sat down for dinner, our guests were totally in to it (which made the countless hours of planning and set-up worth it).
I’m not going to lie, putting together an effective murder mystery party is no walk in the park. It took research, a few dozen emails, scheming, pestering our guests and tons of collaborating to make it go off without a hitch. And, I’d do it all again in a heartbeat.
So, if you’re in to the whole whodunnit thing, here’s what you’ll need to execute (get it?) a glam 1920s murder mystery party.
1) Choose Your Game. After tons of research, we narrowed it down to two game kits. Both of which fit with the 1920s, Great Gatsby theme, but each had their own unique twist. We ended up using elements from both to put together our plot! I highly recommend getting your kit from either AlleyesonLou on Etsy, which is a super convenient instant-downloadable kit, or from Murder Mystery Party, which comes in a boxed set via Amazon. Both are great options, and provide easy-to-follow instructions to plan your party.
2) Invite Your Guests. This was honestly the most stressful part. You cannot (I repeat, cannot) invite friends who tend to be on the flakier side, because in the event that you get a no-show, the whole plot is thrown. We pestered our guests, and demanded serious, sign-your-name-in-blood, RSVPs only. Luckily, we’ve all been friends for 10+ years.
Once you have a finalized guest-list, you can assign each person a character with a quick summary of their role, and costume suggestions. This will be their persona throughout the entire night, so it’s important that they act and dress the part. Obviously, some guests will get more in to it than others, so I suggest assigning the important roles (victim and murderer) to your most outgoing, open-minded friends.
While they know their character, no one will know their actual part in the murder until they arrive and sit down for dinner.
3) Get Into Character. This was my favorite part. My girlfriends and I live for a good costume party, so we really went balls to the wall. We got our makeup done earlier in the day by the super-talented, Jocelyn McKay, a local makeup artist in our area.
You can do a 1920s look for super cheap. Using old bridesmaids dresses or scavenging a local thrift store for beaded gowns, faux fur, pearls and accessories, you can snag a glam outfit for nearly nothing. I chose this silky, golden wrap dress from Luna B and paired it with a fun headpiece and lots of gold, layered jewels. Simple, yet extra— that’s just how I roll.
4) Set The Scene. I have to give credit where credit is due. This is where my best friend came in and stole the show. We hosted the event at her home, a murder at the Spence Speakeasy, and she thought of every single detail from the bar carts and cigars, to the center pieces on the long, family style dining table.
We used chair and glassware rentals from a local company to achieve a vintage, 1920s speakeasy atmosphere, but everything else we had on hand from previous parties and weddings. For the table settings and decor, we perused Pinterest to find some of our favorite set-ups— all of which were very glam and eccentric. How people planned parties before Pinterest is beyond me.
5) Offer Libations & Lite Fare. We had some real MVPs in this department. A special thanks to Miraval Provence for providing a case of everyone’s favorite rosé, One Hope Wine for providing a case of champagne and wine to pour, VIVA32 for sending us a Gatsby-inspired bottle of tequila, and Austin Cocktails for healthy, pre-mixed libations. We also had a ton of whiskey and vodka, because, duh.
We started with a cocktail hour and appetizers, while we waited for all of the guests to arrive, mingle and get in to character, and then sat down for a pot-luck style dinner. We kept it simple with salad, meat, pasta, and veggies, with different table wine selections.
6) Let The Games Begin. Upon arrival, there is an envelope for each character reiterating their background and their mission for the first half of the night. During the cocktail hour, the guests drank and mingled, acting out their part.
When we sat down for dinner, there was a second envelope at each place setting. Up until this point, no one knew who the murderer and victim was, not even the murderer and victim themselves. The second envelope has each characters’ mission for the second half of the evening. In this envelope, the murderer and victim are told that they are the killer and dead-man-walking.
The lights unexpectedly go out, someone is murdered (shocker), the crime scene is set and clues are scattered.
The event ends with the guests voting who they think the murderer is. And voila, you just executed your very first murder mystery party.
Pro tip: I suggest putting a timeline to the game. As people become more intoxicated, they will become less interested in the murder and more interested in the bar cart. We kept the whodunnit to the timeframe of the dinner, where we knew everyone was seated in one place and paying attention.
Afterwards, we let loose and played drinking games, because our friends like to party. But hey, a little party never killed nobody (or, did it?).