You’ve just sat down to get some reading done for your dreaded two-hour seminar tomorrow. Your phone dings, a text from your coursemate: the perfect distraction.
It reads, “Hey, we’re having a party Saturday night, should be fun! Bring your house.”
You reply, “sounds great! What’s the theme?”
Their response, those dreaded syllables, the most pathetic two words in the entire English language:
To me, the idea of “no theme” is unacceptable. Not just this, but the most popular party themes in rotation are even more insulting. Anything but a cup? Over it. Rhyme without reason? Take a hike. And don’t even get me started on monochrome colours. Therefore, I have taken the liberty of outlining a theme formula for your next excursion. If it all goes horribly wrong, you can blame me personally.
A party needs three main components for a cohesive theme: something for people to wear, a way to decorate the house, and something for people to talk about. I don’t know about you, but I physically cannot have one more conversation about what course I do, whereabouts I’m living these days, and oh you’re from London too?
To get you started, think of something broad. A TV show you like? Theme the party around the premise of the show, put the soundtrack on as the playlist and put up some decorations of iconic parts of the show. Real-life example: Breaking Bad-themed birthday party – dress up as characters of the show (extra points for the birthday girl being the only one allowed to dress as Walter White), stick up iconic quotes from both the show and the birthday girl, and have people guess which is which (harder than it sounds!).
Personally, I’m hoping to throw a Russian Doll party, inspired of course by the Groundhog Day-esque Netflix show. Decorate the house like the main character’s fateful party, and have people dress up either in an outfit they could die and come back as a ghost in, OR an outfit from a day they could relive over and over again. Ambitious: maybe. Pretentious: of course. But tell me you’re not at least intrigued.
If you want to get more extravagant, you can adapt the murder-mystery style night. Imagine a birthday-themed party (not to be confused with a birthday party). Happy birthday banners in the living room, primary school party food on the table, a party hat on every head, and balloons galore. Upon entry, someone is assigned the “birthday boy.” Throughout the evening, guests have to guess who said birthday boy is. The big reveal comes with the cutting of the birthday cake and singing Happy Birthday to [insert name here]. You can even assign people more roles; a stroppy younger sibling, a chagrined ex-boyfriend, a drunk aunt. The joy! The drama!
The beauty of a party theme is that it can be whatever you want, and the weirder it is, the more likely people will commit. For example, last year my housemates and I threw a soup-themed party. People had to choose a soup to bring and dress like the soup (this caused some confusion but seems self-explanatory to me). We decorated the house with used instant ramen packets and provided bowls and mugs for people to drink from. How many people do you know who have thrown a soup party?
People are hooked, they can’t get enough. Suddenly, there’s a debate about what even constitutes soup, which is how we ended up with porridge and jelly on the premises. Providing a unique framework to an evening means people’s opinions are brought to the surface. A theme can be an icebreaker into a conversation with someone you’ve never met before or can tell you something new about a friend you’ve known for years. It’s all in the interpretation.
Having a food-based theme can be a bonus in that the possibly awkward beginning part of the party is smoothed over: your friends come in, oh hey leek and potato nice choice, they go to the kitchen to heat up the soup, introduce people to each other, then move to the living room to eat. A theme can also be good if you want to take a bit of a break from uni drinking culture. Sometimes you want to have a good time without having to solely rely on alcohol as social lubrication. A theme can shift the focus towards each other rather than just finding a clean(ish) cup and scrounging some kind of mixer.
This isn’t to say that every get-together has to have some obscure concept and extravagant planning. Rather, a theme makes the party more versatile, it allows you to tailor the vibe to the day and time. Parties are an opportunity to get all your friends together in one place, enjoying good music and good company: why not treat them to a memory?
I’ll leave you with some off-the-cuff examples for you to draw inspiration from, of course keeping my best ideas to myself:
- Met Gala – have people come dressed as iconic Met Gala outfits, decorate the house with red carpet (or red paper), have paparazzi-esque photo ops and roped-off VIP sections
- New Year’s themed party, where you come dressed as something iconic from a particular year, e.g. 2014 moustache tattoos, Princess Diana’s 1994 revenge dress, the 2008 financial crash, the world is your oyster!
- Spring A-bake-ning (not necessarily affiliated with the Spring Awakening musical), flora and fauna on the walls, baked goods in hand, afternoon-picnic situation, bonus points if you have a garden to make use of
- Finance-themed party – live stock market on the telly, everyone dressed smart – BOOM.
- Rather than 1990-themed what about 1590-themed?! Switch it up!
- Gorpcore themed – Arc’teryx + Loyle Carner merch + parachute pants = the Fallowfield uniform