The 1950s hold a special sort of nostalgia in the minds of Americans, even for people born long after the iconic mid-century decade ran its course. It was a period that saw suburban America really come into its own as a lifestyle, marked by post-WWII feelings of general prosperity, security, and simplicity.
Of course, not to sugarcoat things, there was also a prevailing emphasis on conformity. In response, youth rebellion flourished, revolving around things like the exciting new rock and roll music, Beat Generation literature, film noir, and other aspects of the era’s subculture. It was fairly disturbing to older folks at the time, but today we certainly appreciate the cultural heritage left by the day’s youth.
All the nostalgia and the various elements of 1950s culture make for a great party theme today. The theme comes ready-made with emotional impact and an irrepressible sense of fun that offers a tantalizing blend of wholesomeness, but with a rebelliousness bubbling just beneath the surface.
Here are a few ways to bring a 1950s themed party to life:
1950s Party Invitations
This time around, don’t invite people to your party via text message or by creating a Facebook group; send retro party invitations instead. If you’re willing to shell out for hard copies, plenty of websites sell vintage-style invitations. Or, if you prefer to blend old-school and new-school, or you’re trying to work within budget constraints, send retro-looking free e-vites from an e-card website instead.
If you don’t have a record player and a healthy stack of 1950s records on vinyl, you’ll have to cheat and put together a 1950s playlist using a more modern piece of technology. The 1950s are when rock and roll emerged as the popular music of the day. Your playlist must include classics from early rockers like Chuck Berry, Elvis Presley, Fats Domino, Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens, Bill Haley and His Comets, Little Richard, and Jerry Lee Lewis. Don’t neglect the doo-wop, though; throw in tunes from The Platters, The Coasters, The Drifters, The Del-Vikings, and Little Anthony and the Imperials.
If your home is already furnished with Heywood-Wakefield classic mid-century modern furniture, you’re well ahead of the curve for creating a 1950s party atmosphere. If not, you should probably buy a few pieces now. Other than that, pick a decorative theme representative of the era. A few options that are easy to decorate and accessorize for include early rock and roll, a sock hop, or a soda fountain shop.
The party will feel so much more engaging if you and your guests dress the part. There are a variety of approaches to choose from, and you can either coordinate with everyone for cohesion, or let each person choose for themselves. For example, guests can dress up in 1950s-style suits and dresses, as greasers, in pony tails and poodle skirts, in khakis and a retro letterman shirt with penny loafers, and so on. Use Google for tons of information and inspiration regarding 1950s dress, shoes, hairstyles, makeup, jewelry, and accessories.
1950s Party Menu
It’s not a 1950s themed party without classic 1950s food and drink. Keep in mind that buffets and other setups wherein guests serve themselves food were largely frowned on back then; good hosts walked around with platters and served sit-down meals.
Deviled eggs, cheese and crackers, bacon wrap-arounds, shrimp puffs, celery topped with Cheez Whiz, skewered fruit, and melon balls were often seen as hors d’oeuvres and appetizers at the time. Hot dogs, hamburgers, and French fries were as much classics back then as they are now. Any type of casserole is so ’50s. Roasts, glazed ham, chicken a la king, meatloaf and other stuff in loaf form, anything made with Spam, and Swedish meatballs are quite appropriate as well. Vintage cookbooks and recipe websites are easy to find.
As for the sweets, these are a perfect place to tie some of the menu into your decorative theme. For example, if you did the place up like an old-time soda and ice cream shop, desserts like milkshakes, root beer floats, banana splits, and sundaes are must-haves. Customized cakes can be made to look like anything, from a vinyl record to Elvis to a 1950s TV set to an iconic ’57 Chevy. Also, Jell-O molds, baked Alaska, pineapple upside-down cake, pound cakes, angel food cakes, and chiffon cakes and pies were particularly popular desserts of the decade.
There are some cocktails strongly associated with the 1950s, and serving them to your guests helps them feel like they’ve slipped back into this bygone era. Definitely have spiked fruit punch in a big punch bowl. Cocktail recipes are readily available online, so we won’t bother with them here. Make sure you have the spirits, mixers, other ingredients, preparation tools, and glasses to make the requisite vodka martini, vodka highball, gimlet, sea breeze, Tom Collins, side car, Manhattan, and whiskey sour. If you can get a drink trolley/bar cart, it’s a very ’50s way to store your drinks, supplies, and glasses in the room where you’re entertaining. For a nonalcoholic option, choose glass soda bottles.
If you want to throw some party games into the mix, there are a few that were all the rage in the 1950s that still deliver goofy fun today. You could have a hula hoop contest, a limbo contest, or play a name-that-tune trivia game featuring ’50s music. And don’t forget to do the Twist. Other favorite games of the day that are still in production include Monopoly, Clue, The Game of Life, Battleship, Yahtzee, and Candy Land, though these aren’t exactly reliable hits at a party, at least for grownups. Perhaps if you need to keep the kids occupied.