Retro Essentials: Vintage Halloween Party Themes

For Halloween month, I thought I’d do some posts on party planning and party inspiration with a vintage twist. We’re going to cover food, decorations, costumes, themes, and other similar things. I’m a massive fan of holiday parties but almost never get to host them due to living in a very small house, so this is a way for me to be able to indulge in my passion. We might do this with other holidays as well, but we’re starting with Halloween because of the timing and because there’s so much you can do with Halloween.

So, you’ve decided to host a party.
Step one is to consider how many people you’re able to entertain (and want to invite). This is going to be important in selecting pretty much everything else that you do when planning this party.

Step Two, select the theme.
This is what we’ll be going through today.

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Smaller gatherings means that it’s easier to involve people, play games, and cook actual meals for people. Quality over quantity as they say.

What are some good themes for smaller parties?
Murder Mystery – This is actually a fairly cheap option. You take Cluedo and turn it into a real life game. Each one of you dresses up as a character from the game, which naturally has to be assigned to each guest before. If this is done as a dinner party, it’s usually a good idea to let the person who will handle the food be the supposed murder victim just so that they are free to come and go as they need. You can have as many or as few characters as you’d like, you can let guests mingle before the ‘murder’ is announced, it simply adds a fun game and unusual theme to the party. Set it in a particular era if you want to truly bring out the vintage feel.

Dinner Party Ghosts/Zombies – The idea is simple, dress up the way people would dress to attend a dinner party in a different era, but have everyone turn that vintage style outfit into a ghost or zombie costume. If you want to make things dark and interactive, make it into a puzzle game where they have to figure out how they died through a series of riddles and puzzles. They’re essentially stuck re-living this dinner party until they solve the mystery, that’s the concept. Who knows, it might turn out they were poisoned by their host after complaining about the appetisers… Good for a small number of people.

Mad Hatter Tea Party – This can be done with a small to medium number of people. Essentially this is the Alice in Wonderland tea party but with a Halloween twist. Make the mad hatter a different kind of mad, a gothic version of the novel. The idea of insanity frightens a lot of people and is a common theme in Halloween, but it can be as light or as dark as you like. Also, this is a great idea if you don’t have enough matching dinnerware to serve a large number of people. Serve black velvet cake, tea with sugar in the shape of skulls, dress up in vintage style clothes with cooky accessories. Have people change seats between courses, play silly games. Going with the whole tea party idea, it’s great if people want to dress up as dolls (one of the creepiest costumes out there) or other things like that.

Fairy Tales – You’d be surprised how grim the Grimm stories actually were before Disney waved their magic wand over them. This is a great chance to do something a bit different and creepy. There’s plenty of witches and trolls and all sorts of fantastical creatures in these stories. You can always recycle that Snow White costume you bought once and never touched. Serve candied apples, mystical potions, gingerbread house parts… Don’t forget to add an eerie feeling to the decorations to prevent it from becoming too childish. This theme can work with almost any sized party, just encourage guests to think of diverse costumes. Perhaps assign them fairy tales?

Carnival – Ok, I just finished watching American Horror Story: Freakshow and I’m feeling inspired. It has great opportunities for costumes, switches black and orange for white, red, and gold. Just be a bit careful when choosing your costume since the word ‘freak’ tended to be referred to people who are now viewed very differently in society compared to then. This kind of party works great with a medium to large number of people. Warning for the scary clown costumes people will unavoidably come up with, they can be unbelievably creepy. The timeframe for when this kind of travelling show was popular means that you can use music that’s typical for those times and still have people dance. The nature of carnivals also means that you only need to provide snacks instead of full meals. Popcorn is an especially popular choice and its easy to make. Provide a punch bowl or similar large container of alcohol. This kind of party can rather easily be hosted outside, especially if you have access to some form of party tent.

Time Warp – Pick a decade. That’s your theme. People have to find costumes that somehow relate to that decade, the music will be from that decade. Play movies from that specific era. People are still in love with the Great Gatsby as a theme, so the 1920’s would be a good option. The 1950’s are a very popular decade among the pinup and rockabilly crowd and one that’s easy to find costumes for. Send out invitations via post, email, or just Facebook where you start by stating what year this all takes place in. This works for parties of any size, but the versatility of using an entire decade or time period means that it won’t be too difficult for people to come up with costumes without ending up with 20% of your guest being dressed as Elvis. It’s also fairly budget friendly since you can use things you already have, especially if you’re into the whole retro culture. It can be as lighthearted or as serious as you want it to be, ranging from silly costumes to historical reenactment.


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