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Retro Party Ideas

Girls in retro style
We often hear the word “retro”, but what does it really mean and what time does it refer to? Retro is used to describe anything that’s culturally outdated. Generally speaking, anything that dates back as far as the industrial revolution can be considered retro. For example, you can’t call the trends in Jane Austen, “retro.”

Knowing is half the battle. So if you find yourself wanting to revisit or have a real retro experience, you know which decades to look back on! From the roaring 20s to the radical 80s, you have plenty of inspiration to pick from. Here are some things you can do for your very own retro party.

Pick Your Decade

For your retro party, you have the choice of picking out any industrial and post-industrial decade, or you can make it a general anything-goes retro party. However, it’s still better to have a more unified party theme that will reflect in the decorations, costumes and even your party food. Here are the following decades you can choose from.

  • Roaring 20’s. The 20’s was the time of sudden wealth for many people, and is famous for its unique fashion, music and the prohibition of alcohol. Speakeasies and well-suited mafia men are also identified with this era. The indulgence is certainly appropriate for an all-out party.
  • WWII-era 30’s. The 30’s was a somber year in contrast to the 20s. Here, the second World War began, and America grappled with the Great Depression. However, it was also the time of great political upheaval and radical political revolution, which would make for a political-themed party.
  • Jazzy 40’s. Between the radical changes of the 30’s, the conservative 50’s, and the bloody second World War, there was the return of high fashion, the rise of great sports icons and the literature of great writers like Orson Welles and Arthur Miller. This was also the time of Fred Astaire, so from him alone you can get a lot of ideas for a 40’s-themed party.
  • Rock-n-Roll 50’s. Nostalgic fashion and the continuance of war in other areas of the world defined the 50’s. Many countries were trying to define their identity after the war. The 50’s was also the time when television first became wildly popular, as well as comic books and toys.



  • Hippie 60’s. Flower power and the hippie movement for peace and love. Enough said.
  • Far Out 70’s. The 70’s was very much defined by the rise of radical fashion, politics, and a wide array of soft-rock music that continues to influence us today. Don’t forget the afro, the punk movement and the bell-bottoms, all of which became wildly popular during this time.
  • Brill 80’s. The 80’s have left an indelible cultural, political and social mark unlike any of the other decades preceding it. It saw the rise of New Wave, the beginning of revolutionary technology, hair metal bands and a return to a consumerism culture that was previously campaigned against in the 1960’s.
  • Slamming 90’s. It may seem like not so long ago, but the 90’s has been given clear definition by virtue of its technological advancements and grunge rock music. Fashion industries also made a strong return.

All these decades have distinct personalities and you’re sure to have fun deciding which one among them you’d like to revisit in your party. A retro party is all in the spirit of fun, so don’t be afraid to try out even the most unfamiliar decade for you.

Groovy Invitation and Decorations

retro invitation
Retro invitation

Your design for your invitations and the decorations for your party depends on what decade you’re taking on. For example, the decades that spanned from the 20’s to the 50’s were neutral, muted and even somber at times. The 60’s and 80’s were very colorful, and neon was the color revolution that took place in the 80’s. The 90’s was all about grungy, dirty colors and shocking tints.

If thinking up color combinations may be a bit of a headache for you, you can always rely on objects and people from specific decades to act as designs for your invitation. For example, you can use Elvis for your 50’s-themed party, a flower crown for your hippie 60’s party or a Rubik’s cube for your 80’s party. How to think of these things? Just sit down and list the first ten things that come to mind when you think of a certain decade. The items on your list are most likely what people associate with that decade, too. You can double-check it with a friend or a member of the family to see how universal your associations are.

The same goes for when you’re decorating for the party itself. Since the 20’s to the 50’s were a bit more conservative, your decorations may be described a bit more formal. You could have the usual affair of balloons, streamers, and more formal tableware. As for the latter decades, you can have a bit more fun and crazy color combinations. You can also use decade-appropriate props such as jukeboxes, lava lamps and neon lights to make the place a lot more interesting.

One thing that all retro parties have in common? Costumes. You can rent out costumes from your nearest party supply shop to provide more accessories for your guests when they start coming in. Be sure that you have a vanity table and a camera ready so you can have pictures of that memorable night.

Make sure that your party space has a dance floor. A retro party is not a retro party without some good old dancing and music. Don’t miss it.

Retroville Activities and Games

Play around with your retro theme by mixing in some classic party games. One fun way to encourage guests to really participate in the games is by giving out retro toys from childhood. Furbies, Glamor Head and Rubiks cubes are all for the winners (Tips on how to solve a Rubik’s Cube). You can also hand out albums from hit bands and singers like Michael Jackson, Flock of Seagulls and The Clash.

  • Retro Trip to Jerusalem. Revisit not only the tunes of yesterday, but party games of your childhood by playing a round of Trip to Jerusalem. Play the hit songs of the decade and have a laugh.
  • Pin the Tail on the Donkey
    Pin the Tail on the Donkey
    Pin the Smile on the Smiley Face. This is a retro twist on the game Pin the Tail on the Donkey. Inflate a giant balloon and make eye marks using a black sharpie. Cut out “smiles” from black paper, blindfold the participant and watch him go! You can also have other retro versions such as “Pin the Afro on the Disco Dancer” or “Pin the Alcohol on the Speakeasy”.
  • Name that Cultural Icon or Event. Cut or print pictures from your retro era and have a little quiz show right in your very own living room. Divide your guests into two or three teams and watch them battle it out.
  • Dance Trends. Boogie like it’s 1999 all over again by playing tunes to the popular dance moves back in the day. Do the Hustle, the Macarena, or the Robot! (For more information on dance trends, read Top Ten Dance Crazes)

Happening Food and Drinks

Strawberry Kool-Aid
Thankfully, food and drinks for your retro-themed party doesn’t have to be particular, but you can have a kick by preparing popular dishes from the past, in addition to your regular menu. How about some classic Kool-Aid and Orange Crush for your drinks, and Pop Tarts for your guests to nibble on? How about adding some Jell-O to your array of desserts?

Another way to round up your theme on the buffet table is to have a great theme cake. Flower-shaped cakes are great for the 60’s, while a Magic 8-ball can be totally appropriate for an 80’s party. Let your imagination run wild and don’t be afraid if your party is a little inaccurate—it’s a party, not a museum! Have fun.

Retro Party:

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