10 of History’s Most Lavish Parties

Truman Capote at his Black and White Ball at the Plaza Hotel New York, with 'The Washington Post' publisher Katharine Graham. Photo by Harry Benson/Express/Getty Images
Truman Capote at his Black and White Ball at the Plaza Hotel New York, with 'The Washington Post' publisher Katharine Graham. Photo by Harry Benson/Express/Getty Images

You can’t have a good party without booze, tunes, and snacks. But you can’t have a legendary party without wine cork shooting and life-sized desserts. These 10 parties have gone down in history for their decadence in everything from venue to menu. Lead by their example for a truly elegant holiday party, or just a crazy ritzy birthday bash.

1. BLACK AND WHITE BALL

Truman Capote hosted this 1966 soiree and, as you can imagine, it attracted a ton of celebrities. Frank Sinatra, Mia Farrow, Lauren Bacall, Henry Fonda, and Candice Bergen attended alongside socialites like Gloria Vanderbilt and Lee Radziwill. In fact, the guest list was so glamorous that Andy Warhol quipped to his date, “We’re the only nobodies here.” The bash was ostensibly held in honor of newspaper publisher Katharine Graham, but it was mainly an excuse to gather 540 of Capote’s closest friends into The Plaza’s Grand Ballroom. Guests could only wear their fanciest black and/or white evening wear. Masks were also required, and ladies were expected to carry fans. It might sound like an unbearably strict dress code, but the aesthetic became so famous that Diddy and Princess Yasmin Aga Khan both later copied it.

2. LES NOCES PREMIERE PARTY

You’d expect a ballet party to be a bit stiff, but this Parisian premiere was a blast. Following the first performance of Igor Stravinsky’s ballet Les Noces, wealthy expats George and Sara Murphy decided to throw a party in the composer’s honor in 1923. It all took place on a large barge on the Seine River. Since the florists were closed on Sunday, Sara got creative with the centerpieces. She piled toy cars, clowns, and fire engines on each table. The guests were taken with the whimsical decorations—especially Pablo Picasso, who rearranged them into a mini-mountain capped with a cow atop a fireman’s ladder. Not to be outdone, filmmaker Jean Cocteau dressed as a captain and ran around with a lantern telling everyone the barge was sinking. But no one could steal the thunder of the man of the hour. Stravinsky ended the night by jumping through a huge laurel wreath, like it was a circus hoop.

3. THE VANDERBILT BALL

The way the Museum of the City of New York tells it, this was the ball that changed New York City society. Prior to this 1883 affair, Caroline Schermerhorn Astor called all the shots on the social scene. She had turned her nose down on the fabulously wealthy Vanderbilts, and refused to acknowledge them. But Alva Vanderbilt got her calling card at long last when she sent out the invitations for a housewarming party at her Fifth Avenue mansion—and strategically “forgot” to include Astor’s daughter Carrie. So the Astors formally acknowledged the Vanderbilts, and later attended the party, along with nearly 1200 other guests. This was a costume party and New York’s elite did not disappoint. While Kate Fearing Strong’s taxidermied cat head hat was certainly hard to forget, the most memorable outfit belonged to Alva’s sister-in-law. Alice Vanderbilt arrived in the now-famous “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 glamazon Statue of Liberty.

4. THE SURREALIST BALL

Swanky parties were kind of Marie-Hélène de Rothschild’s thing. The baroness was famous in French society for the over-the-top, star-studded galas she hosted in the Rothschild country home. While many consider the 1971 Proust Ball to be her best, the 1972 Surrealist Ball had by far the most flair. Invitations were printed backwards, requiring a mirror to decipher. Each place setting included a furry charger plate, and the centerpieces were downright bizarre. (One was a mess of limbless dolls.) For dessert, the crowd dined on a pudding shaped to resemble a life-size naked woman resting on a bed of roses. Guests included Audrey Hepburn, who wore a rattan bird cage on her head, and Salvador Dali, who fit in all too well.

5. THE BRADLEY MARTIN BALL

Public Domain, Wikimedia Commons

Manhattan millionaire Bradley Martin and his wife Cornelia sure knew how to drum up publicity. According to The New York Times, the couple’s 1897 decadent ball was “the universal and engrossing subject of interest and discussion wherever the members of the gay world, not only in New York, but in the other large Eastern cities, have assembled” for the three weeks leading up to it. During that time, guests prepped their historical costumes. One came as Pocahontas, another as Catherine the Great. The hostess herself riffed on Mary, Queen of Scots with a $60,000 gown. She also decked out the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel with canopies of orchids and roses, even festooning the candelabra with Louis XVI-era “reticules,” or silk pouches bursting with flowers. Although many condemned the ball as an exercise in tacky excess, the guests clearly enjoyed themselves. Some didn’t clear the dance floor until 5am.

6. MALCOLM FORBES’S 70TH BIRTHDAY PARTY

What does the multimillionaire behind Forbes magazine do when he turns 70? Fly a couple hundred friends to his palace in Tangier, of course. Malcolm Forbes opted for a destination birthday party in 1989 when he invited almost 1000 friends to join him in Morocco, all expenses paid. In addition to chartering their jets, Forbes treated his guests to a fireworks show, heaps of barbecued lamb, and constant entertainment from Moroccan musicians and belly dancers. The three-day bash attracted famous faces such as Walter Cronkite and Elizabeth Taylor, who was Forbes’s date and honorary hostess for the weekend.

7. THOUSAND AND SECOND NIGHT

In 1911, fashion designer Paul Poiret clearly had Ali Baba on the brain when he put together his “Thousand and Second Night” costume gala—and he took his theme very seriously. If guests showed up without a costume, they were instructed to leave or put on some “harem” trousers from Poiret’s spring collection. Once they were suitably attired, attendees walked past an enormous golden cage containing Poiret’s wife and a chorus singing Persian songs. They could then listen to actor Édouard de Max recite selections from One Thousand and One Nights or simply pal around with the monkeys and macaws roaming free in the garden, alongside several famous ballerinas.

8. LE BAL ORIENTAL

People knew that Carlos de Beistegui’s Venetian soiree would be something special even before it was dubbed the “ball of the century.” According to The Daily Beast, some were so anxious about getting an invitation that they sailed into town early and anchored, waiting for word from Beistegui, heir to a silver empire. The memory of World War II hadn’t quite faded by 1951—the UK, for instance, was still subject to rationing—so the upper crust was ready to party. The costume theme for Le Bal Oriental was loose, but best described as “retro aristocrats.” Louis XIV and Cleopatra were both costume choices, but the host himself went as the “procurer of the Republic of Venice” in a bright red wig and platform boots. Everyone arrived via gondola, so that each time a new character arrived, the crowd burst into cheers.

9. GOOGLYMPUS

At this point, Google is expected to throw a great party. But the company first made social waves with its Greek-inspired “Googlympus” holiday blowout in 2006. Planners reportedly spent five days setting up tents, each “hosted” by a different Greek god, along San Francisco’s Pier 48. When the big night finally arrived, guests had all sorts of activities at their disposal. They could snap Polaroids in outrageous wigs, shoot wine corks, or crash on couches as orchestras, burlesque dancers, and jazz singers performed. And if they got lost bopping between the Aphrodite and Poseidon tents, it was no sweat: the giant inflatable whale made for a natural meeting point.

10. BLOOMBERG CHRISTMAS PARTY

In the aughts, few parties loomed as large as this notorious Bloomberg holiday bash in 2000. The London office spent an estimated £1 million on the festivities, which were inspired by the seven deadly sins. The “gluttony” bar was stocked with troughs of truffles and candy, while the “lust room” included a 25-foot-wide bed covered in purple satin. But that’s not all—according to New York magazine, the party also featured nine other bars, manicure booths, neck massage stations, live bands, drag queens, cabaret, a casino, and a sushi bar. Legend has it that the entertainers even waved cash in the guests’ faces screaming, “Money, ain’t it gorgeous?”

10 Rad Gifts for Hikers

Greg Rosenke/Unsplash
Greg Rosenke/Unsplash

The popularity of bird-watching, camping, and hiking has skyrocketed this year. Whether your gift recipients are weekend warriors or seasoned dirtbags, they'll appreciate these tools and gear for getting most out of their hiking experience.

1. Stanley Nesting Two-Cup Cookset; $14

Amazon

Stanley’s compact and lightweight cookset includes a 20-ounce stainless steel pot with a locking handle, a vented lid, and two insulated 10-ounce tumblers. It’s the perfect size for brewing hot coffee, rehydrating soup, or boiling water while out on the trail with a buddy. And as some hardcore backpackers note in their Amazon reviews, your favorite hiker can take the tumblers out and stuff the pot with a camp stove, matches, and other necessities to make good use of space in their pack.

Buy it: Amazon

2. Osprey Sirrus and Stratos 24-Liter Hiking Packs; $140

Amazon

Osprey’s packs are designed with trail-tested details to maximize comfort and ease of use. The Sirrus pack (pictured) is sized for women, while the Stratos fits men’s proportions. Both include an internal sleeve for a hydration reservoir, exterior mesh and hipbelt pockets, an attachment for carrying trekking poles, and a built-in rain cover.

Buy them: Amazon, Amazon

3. Yeti Rambler 18-Ounce Bottle; $48

Amazon

Nothing beats ice-cold water after a summer hike or a sip of hot tea during a winter walk. The Yeti Rambler can serve up both: Beverages can stay hot or cold for hours thanks to its insulated construction, and its steel body (in a variety of colors) is basically indestructible. It will add weight to your hiker's pack, though—for a lighter-weight, non-insulated option, the tried-and-true Camelbak Chute water bottle is incredibly sturdy and leakproof.

Buy it: Amazon

4. Mappinners Greatest 100 Hikes of the National Parks Scratch-Off Poster; $30

Amazon

The perfect gift for park baggers in your life (or yourself), this 16-inch-by-20-inch poster features epic hikes like Angel’s Landing in Zion National Park and Half Dome in Yosemite National Park. Once the hike is complete, you can scratch off the gold foil to reveal an illustration of the park.

Buy it: Amazon

5. National Geographic Adventure Edition Road Atlas; $19

Amazon

Hikers can use this brand-new, updated road atlas to plan their next adventure. In addition to comprehensive maps of all 50 states, Puerto Rico, Canada, and Mexico, they'll get National Geographic’s top 100 outdoor destinations, useful details about the most popular national parks, and points on the maps noting off-the-beaten-path places to explore.  

Buy it: Amazon

6. Adventure Medical Kits Hiker First-Aid Kit; $25

Amazon

This handy 67-piece kit is stuffed with all the things you hope your hiker will never need in the wilderness. Not only does it contain supplies for pain, cuts and scrapes, burns, and blisters (every hiker’s nemesis!), the items are organized clearly in the bag to make it easy to find tweezers or an alcohol wipe in an emergency.

Buy it: Amazon

7. Hiker Hunger Ultralight Trekking Poles; $70

Amazon

Trekking poles will help increase your hiker's balance and stability and reduce strain on their lower body by distributing it to their arms and shoulders. This pair is made of carbon fiber, a super-strong and lightweight material. From the sweat-absorbing cork handles to the selection of pole tips for different terrain, these poles answer every need on the trail. 

Buy it: Amazon

8. Leatherman Signal Camping Multitool; $120

Amazon

What can’t this multitool do? This gadget contains 19 hiking-friendly tools in a 4.5-inch package, including pliers, screwdrivers, bottle opener, saw, knife, hammer, wire cutter, and even an emergency whistle.

Buy it: Amazon

9. RAVPower Power Bank; $24

Amazon

Don’t let your hiker get caught off the grid with a dead phone. They can charge RAVPower’s compact power bank before they head out on the trail, and then use it to quickly juice up a phone or tablet when the batteries get low. Its 3-inch-by-5-inch profile won’t take up much room in a pack or purse.

Buy it: Amazon

10. Pack of Four Indestructible Field Books; $14

Amazon

Neither rain, nor snow, nor hail will be a match for these waterproof, tearproof 3.5-inch-by-5.5-inch notebooks. Your hiker can stick one in their pocket along with a regular pen or pencil to record details of their hike or brainstorm their next viral Tweet.

Buy it: Amazon

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America's Top 25 Colleges and Universities for 2021

Harvard University's Memorial Hall.
Harvard University's Memorial Hall.

Deciding what makes a certain college more desirable than another is highly subjective. Some prospective students might think a championship-winning football team and a massive student body are major selling points, while others prize a small, tightly knit community above all else.

To try to come as close as possible to identifying objectively great colleges and universities around the country, WalletHub analyzed a whopping 30 factors in seven categories, from student selectivity and cost to campus experience and career outcomes. These encompass basic metrics—admissions rate and average class size, for example—as well as more specific considerations, like study abroad programs, on-campus employment opportunities, and the median salaries of recent graduates.

Of all 1008 schools included in the study, the Ivy League ones continue to reign supreme. Harvard University ranked first, with a score of 78.6 across all 30 metrics, edging out Yale by just .03 points. Princeton, the University of Pennsylvania, Columbia, Dartmouth, and Brown also made the top 25. With low acceptance rates and high graduation rates—not to mention huge endowments—these stately old institutions are rather difficult to compete with, but they’re definitely not the only esteemed places to get a four-year education.

As a testament to the continuing success of the tech industry, three technology institutes made WalletHub’s list: Massachusetts in third place, California in fifth, and Georgia in 11th. Those three schools ranked in the top five for return on educational investment, meaning that graduates make high starting salaries compared to how much their education actually cost.

Geographically, New England (and the East coast in general) is home to a majority of the top schools, though five from California alone did chart, too: Stanford University; University of California, Berkeley; Pomona College; and Claremont McKenna College, in addition to the aforementioned California Institute of Technology.

Check out the top 25 below, and see where your alma mater ranks on WalletHub’s full list here.

  1. Harvard University // 78.6
  1. Yale University // 78.57
  1. Massachusetts Institute of Technology // 78.44
  1. Princeton University // 78.41
  1. California Institute of Technology // 77.65
  1. Stanford University // 77.12
  1. Rice University // 76.96
  1. Northwestern University // 75.4
  1. Duke University // 75.18
  1. University of Pennsylvania // 74.95
  1. Georgia Institute of Technology // 74.92
  1. Vanderbilt University // 74.66
  1. University of California, Berkeley // 74.54
  1. Columbia University // 74.51
  1. Johns Hopkins University // 74.37
  1. University of Chicago // 73.59
  1. Dartmouth College // 73.43
  1. Williams College // 73.19
  1. Brown University // 73.17
  1. Carnegie Mellon University // 73.11
  1. Washington and Lee University // 73.08
  1. Swarthmore College // 73.08
  1. Pomona College // 72.92
  1. Claremont McKenna College // 72.84
  1. Amherst College // 72.83