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 Products for a Better Night's Sleep

Amazon/Comfort Spaces
Amazon/Comfort Spaces

Getting a full eight hours of sleep can be tough these days. If you’re having trouble catching enough Zzzs, consider giving these highly rated and recommended products a try.

1. Everlasting Comfort Pure Memory Foam Knee Pillow; $25

Everlasting Comfort Knee Pillow
Everlasting Comfort/Amazon

For side sleepers, keeping the spine, hips, and legs aligned is key to a good night’s rest—and a pain-free morning after. Everlasting Comfort’s memory foam knee pillow is ergonomically designed to fit between the knees or thighs to ensure proper alignment. One simple but game-changing feature is the removable strap, which you can fasten around one leg; this keeps the pillow in place even as you roll at night, meaning you don’t have to wake up to adjust it (or pick it up from your floor). Reviewers call the pillow “life-changing” and “the best knee pillow I’ve found.” Plus, it comes with two pairs of ear plugs.

Buy it: Amazon

2. Letsfit White Noise Machine; $21

Letsfit White Noise Machine
Letsfit/Amazon

White noise machines: They’re not just for babies! This Letsfit model—which is rated 4.7 out of five with nearly 3500 reviews—has 14 potential sleep soundtracks, including three white noise tracks, to better block out everything from sirens to birds that chirp enthusiastically at dawn (although there’s also a birds track, if that’s your thing). It also has a timer function and a night light.

Buy it: Amazon

3. ECLIPSE Blackout Curtains; $16

Eclipse Black Out Curtains
Eclipse/Amazon

According to the National Sleep Foundation, too much light in a room when you’re trying to snooze is a recipe for sleep disaster. These understated polyester curtains from ECLIPSE block 99 percent of light and reduce noise—plus, they’ll help you save on energy costs. "Our neighbor leaves their backyard light on all night with what I can only guess is the same kind of bulb they use on a train headlight. It shines across their yard, through ours, straight at our bedroom window," one Amazon reviewer who purchased the curtains in black wrote. "These drapes block the light completely."

Buy it: Amazon

4. JALL Wake Up Light Sunrise Alarm Clock; $38

JALL Wake Up Light Sunrise Alarm Clock
JALL/Amazon

Being jarred awake by a blaring alarm clock can set the wrong mood for the rest of your day. Wake up in a more pleasant way with this clock, which gradually lights up between 10 percent and 100 percent in the 30 minutes before your alarm. You can choose between seven different colors and several natural sounds as well as a regular alarm beep, but why would you ever use that? “Since getting this clock my sleep has been much better,” one reviewer reported. “I wake up not feeling tired but refreshed.”

Buy it: Amazon

5. Philips SmartSleep Wake-Up Light; $200

Philips SmartSleep Wake-Up Light
Philips/Amazon

If you’re looking for an alarm clock with even more features, Philips’s SmartSleep Wake-Up Light is smartphone-enabled and equipped with an AmbiTrack sensor, which tracks things like bedroom temperature, humidity, and light levels, then gives recommendations for how you can get a better night’s rest.

Buy it: Amazon

6. Slumber Cloud Stratus Sheet Set; $159

Stratus sheets from Slumber Cloud.
Slumber Cloud

Being too hot or too cold can kill a good night’s sleep. The Good Housekeeping Institute rated these sheets—which are made with Outlast fibers engineered by NASA—as 2020’s best temperature-regulating sheets.

Buy it: SlumberCloud

7. Comfort Space Coolmax Sheet Set; $29-$40

Comfort Spaces Coolmax Sheets
Comfort Spaces/Amazon

If $159 sheets are out of your price range, the GHI recommends these sheets from Comfort Spaces, which are made with moisture-wicking Coolmax microfiber. Depending on the size you need, they range in price from $29 to $40.

Buy it: Amazon

8. Coop Home Goods Eden Memory Foam Pillow; $80

Coop Eden Pillow
Coop Home Goods/Amazon

This pillow—which has a 4.5-star rating on Amazon—is filled with memory foam scraps and microfiber, and comes with an extra half-pound of fill so you can add, or subtract, the amount in the pillow for ultimate comfort. As a bonus, the pillows are hypoallergenic, mite-resistant, and washable.

Buy it: Amazon

9. Baloo Weighted Blanket; $149-$169

Baloo Weighted Blanket
Baloo/Amazon

Though the science is still out on weighted blankets, some people swear by them. Wirecutter named this Baloo blanket the best, not in small part because, unlike many weighted blankets, it’s machine-washable and -dryable. It’s currently available in 12-pound ($149) twin size and 20-pound ($169) queen size. It’s rated 4.7 out of five stars on Amazon, with one reviewer reporting that “when it's spread out over you it just feels like a comfy, snuggly hug for your whole body … I've found it super relaxing for falling asleep the last few nights, and it looks nice on the end of the bed, too.” 

Buy it: Amazon 

10. Philips Smartsleep Snoring Relief Band; $200

Philips SmartSleep Snoring Relief Band
Philips/Amazon

Few things can disturb your slumber—and that of the ones you love—like loudly sawing logs. Philips’s Smartsleep Snoring Relief Band is designed for people who snore when they’re sleeping on their backs, and according to the company, 86 percent of people who used the band reported reduced snoring after a month. The device wraps around the torso and is equipped with a sensor that delivers vibrations if it detects you moving to sleep on your back; those vibrations stop when you roll onto your side. The next day, you can see how many hours you spent in bed, how many of those hours you spent on your back, and your response rate to the vibrations. The sensor has an algorithm that notes your response rate and tweaks the intensity of vibrations based on that. “This device works exactly as advertised,” one Amazon reviewer wrote. “I’d say it’s perfect.”

Buy it: Amazon

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5 Ingenious Tricks for Saving Burnt Cookies

"Please bake our brethren on the middle rack next time."
"Please bake our brethren on the middle rack next time."
cnicbc/iStock via Getty Images

It doesn’t take long for cookies to go from an irresistible golden brown to a dispiriting black (especially if you're baking at a high altitude). But before you toss them in the trash and start rummaging around in your pantry for a store-bought snack, we have a few suggestions for saving that imperfect batch.

1. Grate off the burnt bits of cookie with a zester or cheese grater.

As PureWow explains, all you have to do is slide the cookie along your cheese grater to get rid of the burnt layer on the bottom. The smaller the holes, the better, so a lemon zester works well for this, too.

2. Scrape the burned part of the cookie off with a knife.

If you don’t have a cheese grater, you can get the same results with a regular knife—it just might take you an extra minute or two. Instead of slicing off the entire bottom of the cookie, hold your knife blade perpendicular to the bottom of the cookie and carefully scrape away the burnt crumbs.

3. Store the burned cookies in a jar with a piece of bread.

Even after you’ve shaved off the blackened evidence of your culinary blunder, your cookies might still be crispier than you’d prefer. Store them in an airtight container with a slice of bread—they’ll soak up the moisture and soften right up.

4. Make ice cream sandwiches with your burned cookies.

Snobby snackers won’t scoff at your grated cookies if they can’t even see the bottoms. Slather one with a nice, thick layer of ice cream, slap another one on top, and roll the edges in your favorite topping for a treat that’s better than any cookie—burnt or not.

5. Transform your burned cookies into a cookie crust.

For charred, crunchy cookies that seem beyond salvation, you can completely cut off the burnt bottoms, crush the remains, and turn them into a cookie crust for a pie or cheesecake. Here’s a simple recipe from the Pioneer Woman that calls for three ingredients: cookie crumbs, butter, and sugar.