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How to Throw a 1940s Big Band Party

Updated on May 19, 2018
1940s Dancing
1940s Dancing | Source

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

Betty Grable Pin Up Girl
Betty Grable Pin Up Girl | Source

1940s Decorations

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
  • Tangerine
  • 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.

Glazed Ham
Glazed Ham | Source

1940s Food

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
  • Salad
  • Glazed ham
  • Mashed potatoes and gravy
  • Peas
  • Rolls
  • Cake from a Betty Crocker cake mix

Bijou Cocktail

Bijou Cocktail
Bijou Cocktail | Source

1940s Drinks

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.

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Harry James
Harry James | Source

1940s Activities

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)

pearl harbor:
Pearl Harbor, HI 96706, USA

get directions

Learn How to Swing Dance

1940s Costumes

1940s Costumes
1940s Costumes | Source

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.

1940s Picture

1940s Picture
1940s Picture | Source

1940s Slang

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.

  • Dope-information
  • Dish-a pretty gal
  • Hi-de-ho-hello
  • Gas-fun time
  • Hot dog-being surprised
  • Lettuce-money
  • Geezer-older person
  • Spiffy-all dressed up and looking good
  • Take a gander-take a look at

Casablanca Poster
Casablanca Poster | Source

1940s Movies

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.


Jitterbug | Source

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

What is your favorite thing about the 1940s?

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    • profile image


      2 years ago

      Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer. and the Music!

    • Elsie Hagley profile image

      Elsie Hagley 

      5 years ago from New Zealand

      Interesting hub. I was a 1940s child and all I remember was a broadcasting radio that everyone would listen to to see what was going on in World War 2.

      I remember we used to have lots of card evenings, most probably the best thing I liked was there was no TV. It's a killer of much outdoor fun.

      I have many more ideas in my head of the 1940s maybe I should write an article about it.

      All the best for 2015.

    • ladyguitarpicker profile image

      stella vadakin 

      5 years ago from 3460NW 50 St Bell, Fl32619

      Hi WriterJanis, I love your Hub it is my favorite period of time because I love the music I lived 20 years to late. I love big band the best Harry James was my man, I love his music . Caribbean, Flight of the Bumble Bee, Two O'clock Jump, great time to have live. Interesting hub. Stella

    • WriterJanis profile imageAUTHOR


      5 years ago from California

      Dr. Bill,

      That sounds like such a fond memory.

    • DrBill-WmL-Smith profile image

      William Leverne Smith 

      5 years ago from Hollister, MO

      What fun! I was a kid... listened to the Hit Parade every week and kept a notebook of the top songs... ;-)

    • WriterJanis profile imageAUTHOR


      6 years ago from California

      jozo matic, The music is much different today than it was then.

    • WriterJanis profile imageAUTHOR


      6 years ago from California

      Au fait, Glen Miller had some great songs.

    • WriterJanis profile imageAUTHOR


      6 years ago from California

      Vikk Rana , that's so nice to know.

    • WriterJanis profile imageAUTHOR


      6 years ago from California

      April, you can learn!

    • WriterJanis profile imageAUTHOR


      6 years ago from California

      Raymond, I love your comment. :-)

    • WriterJanis profile imageAUTHOR


      6 years ago from California

      Deborah-Diane, That's so nice to hear.

    • WriterJanis profile imageAUTHOR


      6 years ago from California

      Tolovaj, I didn't think you would mind the pin up girls. :-)

    • WriterJanis profile imageAUTHOR


      6 years ago from California

      DDE Glad you liked the photos.

    • jozo matic profile image

      Jozo Matić 

      6 years ago from Split

      R.I.P for the music from 1940, 1960,1970. There is no such music today.

    • Au fait profile image

      C E Clark 

      6 years ago from North Texas

      I love the big bands, especially Glen Miller's. Think I would enjoy this party!

    • Vikk Rana profile image

      Vikk Rana 

      6 years ago from Mohali

      My father will love this picture..!!!

    • AprilGallagher profile image


      6 years ago from Athens, Greece

      Your hub makes me want to throw a 40s party right now! I only wish I could swing xD

    • raymondphilippe profile image

      Raymond Philippe 

      6 years ago from The Netherlands

      Reading your hub and watching the photos/videos gets me "in the mood"

    • Deborah-Diane profile image


      6 years ago from Orange County, California

      What a fun idea. I'm sure my parents would love to come to a party like this!

    • Tolovaj profile image


      6 years ago

      Themed parties are becoming more and more popular and there are many reasons for that. Nostalgia is certainly one of them. Well, a big band and few pin up girls couldn't hurt either;)

    • DDE profile image

      Devika Primić 

      6 years ago from Dubrovnik, Croatia

      How to Throw a 1940s Big Band Party sounds a well planned party ad the photos are awesome.

    • WriterJanis profile imageAUTHOR


      6 years ago from California

      Writer Fox, thank you for the book recommendation. History can be quite interesting.

    • WriterJanis profile imageAUTHOR


      6 years ago from California

      Thank you very much AliciaC!

    • Writer Fox profile image

      Writer Fox 

      6 years ago from the wadi near the little river

      This was such an interesting time in American history. The Greatest Generation by Tom Brokaw is a great book about this generation. Enjoyed your Hub and voted up!

    • AliciaC profile image

      Linda Crampton 

      6 years ago from British Columbia, Canada

      This is a useful and interesting hub, WriterJanis. You have some creative ideas for party activities!

    • WriterJanis profile imageAUTHOR


      6 years ago from California

      Oh that's interesting what women did with the jewelry.

    • Suzanne Day profile image

      Suzanne Day 

      6 years ago from Melbourne, Victoria, Australia

      A very interesting read. I was wondering if anyone'd come dressed up as soldiers but I'm not sure that would be in good taste. In the war times, people often wore a lot of costume jewellery, because precious metals were even more precious, so they used to gild and paint items instead of making them solid. In a party like this, it would be fairly easy to get hold of a costume with some study on the clothing of the time. I like the party game suggestions too! Voted interesting.


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