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Are you struggling with American-themed party ideas? Want to do something other than another backyard barbecue? Then take a look at changes in American style over the decades for some inspiration. America never sits still. We’re always looking for the next best thing and re-purposing the old into something new and fashionable.
If the world looks dull, we’ll find a way to glam it up. That’s the American way. Your American-themed party is sure to shine if you pull yourself up by the bootstraps and dig into the past for ideas.
American-Themed Party Ideas by Era
There’s so much US history we can mine for an American-themed party. Why not start with the era that’s full of glitz and glamour? What could be a better context for an American-themed party than a speakeasy?
The roaring 20s
Flappers, gangsters, and jazz: That’s what we think of when we picture the 1920s. All that razzle-dazzle begs to become a great American-themed party. On January 16, 1920, America “went dry,” effectively turning the whole country into criminals. We weren’t about to go dry just because alcohol was suddenly illegal. Many Americans refused to be held back by government-imposed sanctions.
And they weren’t about to abide by any laws that told them they couldn’t drink and have a good time. Hence the rise of the gangster-owned speakeasy. They were smokey little hideaways where you could listen to jazz, gamble, and get zozzled with the flappers.
All that jazz
The roaring ’20s got its name because of all the hoopla. Jazz was more than music; it was a lifestyle and considered sinful in the eyes of anyone who wasn’t actively taking part in the fun. While the Gibson Girl of the 1890s was sporty and fun, the flappers took the next step in equality. Women finally won the right to vote and were ready to do as they pleased. Flappers smoked cigarettes and wore short dresses and cut their hair into bobs. The ’20s changed America, and when we look back, it’s with a fondness for all those rebels.
Thankfully, when you throw your roaring 20s party and pull together entertainment for a speakeasy, you won’t be doing anything illegal. Of course, you must play jazz music at your roaring ’20s American-themed party. Dancing to the Charleston, Shimmy, or Tango will get your guests out of their seats and having a good time. These once scandalous dance styles don’t seem as risky as they used to be, but they will certainly get your heart pumping.
Food and drinks
Prohibition sure affected the way people drank in the ’20s. It may be the illegal consumption of alcohol that we have to thank for the variety of cocktails we have today. Speakeasy bartenders learned how to doctor up smuggled liquor, moonshine, and bathtub gin into creative mixed drinks; many of those concoctions are still popular.
But today, the booze is probably better. Still, all the alcoholic beverages from the speakeasy are strong and made for sipping, so keep that in mind. The cocktails usually don’t have a lot of ingredients, but you’ll find they used sugar, lime, and mint to mask the harsh taste of bathtub gin. Classic cocktails straight from the speakeasy include the sidecar, white lady, mint julep, and the gin rickey. And they did manage to get their hands on champagne in the high-end establishments.
It’s all in the cards
No speakeasy is complete without card games, so set up an area with a couple of folding tables for guests to get in on the deal. Canasta, rummy, and poker were all popular card games in the 1920s. Why not give them a try? People loved baseball, listening to the radio, playing board games, and dancing. They watched movies too; Charlie Chaplin was hugely popular. Go ahead and set up a movie room or run Chaplin movies in the background on a white wall.
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Props and decorations
Try adding a jazz trio silhouette to the wall in your “dance hall.” You could also set up a photo booth for the perfect opportunity for your guests to commemorate their 1920s garb. Who doesn’t like a good photo op? As for all of the other props, pick Art Deco, Chicago style, or a gangster theme; any one of them will work to make your roaring ’20s party one they’ll never forget.
Stay true to the feel of a speakeasy with invitations that include a password that your guests must whisper to get in the door. When they arrive, redirect them to a “secret entrance” through the garage or back door. Now you’ve set the mood.
1950s sock hop
Throw a bash straight out of the 1950s, when rock n’ roll was what all the cool kids listened to, and Elvis was king. Movies stars like James Dean and Marilyn Monroe lit up the silver screen. Sock hops were radioactive, and the local drive-in burger joint was where you went to hang out with your crew; they were the ginchiest!
Food and drinks
Make burgers, no need to use fancy buns; they weren’t mass marketed yet. Serve homemade fries as a side-dish, with sodas to wash it down. If you feel inspired, you can include a soda fountain and make milkshakes, ice cream sundaes, and Coke floats.
Sock-hops were a teenage party; there was no drinking allowed. But you know, for an adult party, somebody can always spike the punch. Add a bowl of spiked punch for guests who want something a little stronger — as long as they’re 21 and over, of course. That way, they don’t think they’re in nowheresville. Just add vodka to any of these punch recipes.
Cut a rug
Americans have a love affair with music, and it’s a lot of fun to see how it’s changed over the years. One thing every era of music has in common is dance moves that cause a ruckus. The 50s were no different.
Dances like the swing, the stroll, the bop, and the twist were all wildly popular at the sock-hop. Use this cool 1950s jukebox “standee” and hang 45s from Elvis, the Everly Brothers, and Fats Domino on the walls. Decorate your tables with black and white checkered tablecloths, and if you want to make it really easy, you can opt for one of these fab 50s theme kits. For your guests’ photo ops, this 50s diner backdrop is big enough for the whole gang.
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What’s your tale, nightingale? Your invitations let your guests know what to expect, so make sure to let them know that they need to wear a poodle skirt or pomade a pompadour. Use your invitation to show off your style and inspire them to come ready for a sock hop.
Get groovy with a ’70s disco dance party. Can you dig it? A true American-themed party always includes dancing. Use a disco ball to light up the dance floor for party goers. Like seriously, you need a dance floor with a disco ball. Guests can learn to do the hustle, the bump, the funky chicken, or the bus stop. The Bee Gees, Marvin Gaye, Stevie Wonder, Elton John, and Donna Summer will be there with 70s tunes to get your guests off their chairs and turn them into dancing queens.
Food and drinks
Try a few finger foods and perhaps a fondue for your ’70s disco party. Nachos and Twinkies were big hits back then too. You could also throw in a lime green gelatin salad because lime green is so ’70s. There’s a lot of choices food-wise for your ’70s American-themed party. It’s a matter of style. Do you want fancy cocktail hors-d’oeuvres or fast food?
As for drinks, make sure you have plenty of water for thirsty guests who will undoubtedly be dancing the night away. Coke and iced tea are great non-alcoholic choices for your disco too. Try a White Russian, Singapore Sling, or a sloe gin fizz for 70 inspired cocktails.
You’ve already thought about the most important prop — the disco ball. Now it’s time for black lights and neon to round out your decorations. Use a combination of metallic streamers and disco vinyl records to decorate the space. Dress the tables with metallic confetti and lava lamps. You can leave fuzzy dice and disco ball keychains as party favors.
Campy ’70s attire is a great idea. Go with flared polyester pants, Qiana shirts, and disco dresses, with big jewelry. Don’t sweat the costume, though, just put on your platforms and “boogie oogie oogie, till you just can’t boogie no more.”
For a fun twist on the invitation, send out personalized disco tickets. They’ll look like a club pass, and your guests will arrive ready for a dance party.
Party Through the Seasons
No matter what the season, there’s a point in American history to draw from for a truly memorable American-themed party.
Spring into the festivities
How about a lovely vintage garden party to celebrate spring? Set the table with colored glassware, dainty dinnerware, and teacups with floral designs. Decorate with roses, baby’s breath, and white lacy tablecloths. You can pick up paper butterflies and a variety of vintage garden decorations at any dollar store.
For the menu, try a variety of hot teas, iced tea, sweetened or not, and lemonade. Champagne will work if you want a little kick to your beverage lineup. Little cakes, finger sandwiches, scones, cookies, and a fruit and cheese plate are all light fare — perfect for a spring garden party.
Fourth of July
A carnival-themed party is just the ticket for a Fourth of July celebration. Place red, white, and blue carnival tents around the yard. Games like horseshoes, bobbing for apples, or a bean bag toss hearkens back to a simpler time. Instead of a backyard barbecue, construct little food stands to offer guests soda, beer, burgers, and hot dogs.
You can even set up popcorn and cotton candy machines. There probably won’t be any dancing at this party, but you can pipe circus-inspired music through the speakers into the backyard. It might also be fun for the host to dress up as a ringmaster, and have a few others dressed as clowns. Or, you could put a clown collar on the family dog.
If you’re going to throw an old-fashioned Halloween party, the primary requirement is that everything is homemade. Make sure to let your guests know they’re asked to make their own costume and sweeten the pot with a costume contest. Play spooky music while you have a costume fashion show.
Vintage decorations include cornstalks, autumn leaves, and pine cones. You can also make paper cutouts of bats, hissing cats, ghosts, and skeletons. Try out making nostalgic Halloween treats including popcorn balls, fudge, and peanut brittle. You could buy some saltwater taffy too. What Halloween party would be complete without jack-o’-lanterns. Of course, you need to have a pumpkin carving contest.
Ring in the new year
Dressing in costume doesn’t have to stop just because Halloween is over. Why not throw a masquerade ball to celebrate the coming of the new year? At the stroke of midnight, everyone can toss their masks in the air, sing Auld Lang Syne, and sip champagne, of course. You can go all out on this one, with a variety of recipes for appetizers, dinner, and dessert.
Black and gold is an excellent color theme for your masquerade ball. Go ahead and set up a photo booth for guests. For entertainment, you can treat your guests to a suspenseful evening that will keep them guessing what will happen next with a murder mystery game. That should be a fun way to kill time while you’re waiting for the stroke of midnight. Happy New Year!
Time to Party, American Style
It might be hard to imagine what to do for an American-themed party, other than an outdoor barbecue or a dinner party. Americans love to gather on hot summer days to grill burgers, hot dogs, and knock back a couple of beers. If you want to throw a party your guests will find a little different, you can come up with all kinds of ideas just by taking a look at how American culture has changed throughout the years. Spice up your parties with some inspiration from America’s colorful history and your American-themed party will be the talk of the town.