How to Throw a 1940s Big Band Party
1940s Party Ideas
Every good party starts with invitations. You can easily customize your own by printing out a picture from the internet.
Since Big Band music is a focal point of the party, consider using a picture of a famous band of the era such as Glenn Miller or Benny Goodwin. Otherwise, an invitation with a musical instrument or music note would work.
Another idea is to use a picture of a couple dancing the Jitterbug, which was a very popular dance craze in the 1940s. This kind of picture would also show guests the type of clothing people wore back then. This can come in handy if you're having guests come in costumes.
Betty Grable Pin Up Girl
World War II was in full swing for the first part of the decade. You might want to go with a war theme. Decorations can be patriotic using red, white and blue colors.
Pin up girls brought hope to soldiers. Consider getting posters of some of them. Some of the most popular gals included Betty Grable, Jane Russell, Lena Horne and Bette Davis.
In 1941, the famous bombing of Pearl Harbor took place. An idea is to go with a Hawaiian theme based on Pearl Harbor.
Since this is a Big Band party, another thought is to go with a music theme. Be sure to stick with instruments that were actually used by musicians at the time.
The 1940s were part of the Golden Age of Hollywood. You could run with this as a theme. Roll out a red carpet by the front door and have guests come as their favorite actor or actress of the time. Put up glitzy decorations and hang colorful streamers.
Greet guests like a member of the paparazzi by taking a flash picture of them when they arrive. Later, you can post them online or send them a copy of the picture with them all dressed up. It would be a nice keepsake from your big event.
Sing, Sing, Sing
Big Band Songs
Big Band music was the rage of the 1940s. Favorites included Glenn Miller, Tommy Dorsey, Benny Goodwin and Harry James. I suggest having some slower music for background music, then crank if up with some lively tunes for dancing. Song suggestions include:
- In the Mood
- Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy
- Chattanooga Choo Choo
- Swinging on a Star
- Don't Sit Under the Apple Tree
- Take the A Train
- Sentimental Journey
- Besame Mucho
- I'll Be Seeing You
- Tuxedo Junction
- Pennsylvania 6-5000
Check out the video above for one of my songs of that era, Sing, Sing, Sing.
Due to the war, food was rather scare back then and food rationing was in place. Meat prices were high, so a lot more vegetables were consumed. Keeping this in mind, here are some food suggestions.
If you want to stick to appetizers, try nachos, canapes, stuffed celery, deviled eggs, cocktail sausages and slices of Chicago style pizza.
Should you prefer a sit down meal, here's a sample menu:
- Beef consume
- Glazed ham
- Mashed potatoes and gravy
- Cake from a Betty Crocker cake mix
Cocktails were quite popular when out dancing. The Hurricane was invented in the 1940s, which is a sweet rum drink. Another popular drink was the Bijou Cocktail, a gin based drink in which bijou means jewel in French.
Additional popular cocktails of that time include the Manhattan, Moscow Mule, Daiquiri, and Mint Julip.
Have you ever thrown a theme party before?
Since you're celebrating the music of the era, you should celebrate the dancing as well. Swing was the dance of the era. Learn how to dance before the party, then teach your guests how to dance. I have a instructional video for you below.
If you like party games, how about Charades? You can write the names of movies and songs on individual pieces of paper and have guests drawn them out of a bag and whatever title each person pulls, that's the movie or song that needs to be acted out.
How about a trivia game? Here are some trivia questions and answers you could use:
- What year did Casablanca win the Oscar for best picture? (1943)
- What famous cartoon animal was created in 1940? (Bugs Bunny)
- Who won the World Series in 1943? (New York Yankees)
- What cooking device was introduced to the public in 1947? (Microwave oven)
- Who had the hit song That Old Black Magic? (Glenn Miller)
- What company introduced M&Ms? (Mars)
- What game was invented that includes Gum Drop Mountain? (Candy Land)
- What food storage container was invented in the 1940s? (Tupperware)
- Who was President in 1942? (Franklin D. Roosevelt)
- On what date was Pearl Harbor bombed? (December 7, 1941)
Learn How to Swing Dance
For women, skirts that went below the knee with a blouse and fitted jacket with square shoulders was a popular fashion trend. So were tea dresses. For men, it was the Zoot Suit.
If you prefer the Hawaiian Pearl Harbor theme, men can dress in sailor suits from the era, while women can dress in nurse's attire.
Should you like the Hollywood idea, men can don tuxedos and women can wear glamorous full length gowns with glittery jewelry.
If you really want to impress your guests, brush up on some of the slang terms of the decade. Here are some to get you started, along with their meanings.
- Dish-a pretty gal
- Gas-fun time
- Hot dog-being surprised
- Geezer-older person
- Spiffy-all dressed up and looking good
- Take a gander-take a look at
Want to get even more in the mood for the party? Why not watch one of the big hit movies from the time? A true classic is "Casablanca" starring Humphrey Bogart and Ingrid Bergman. This is the film where the famous quote, "Here's looking at you kid," originated.
If you like musicals, you might want to check out "Anchors Aweigh" with Gene Kelly, Frank Sinatra and Kathryn Grayson.
Another classic would be "Citizen Cane" which stars Orson Welles, Joseph Cotten and Dorothy Comingore, if you enjoy a good mystery.
A movie can also be a great way to wind down a party. Put the alcohol away, pour some cups of coffee, pop some popcorn and you're all set.
1940s Theme Party
For the most successful party, do as much research as you can on the era. This will help you make everything more authentic.
Speaking of authentic, if you plan to dress up like people did in the 1940s, you might also check out the make up and the hairstyles of that decade.
Don't forget to take lots of pictures. This will probably be a party people will talk about for years. If you need additional information, a quick Google search should bring up anything you need.
This was a time of war, but also a time when Big Band music was at its height. The fashions were fun and the dancing was a highlight. It's a great theme to pick as there is so much to work with.
Please enjoy one more song while you're here. It's another one of my favorites from the era and it's great for dancing. It's called In The Mood.
In The Mood by Glen Miller
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