Nov 26, 2010

1950's Costume & Theme Party Ideas

Print your own vinyl 45's at

The 1950's have been immortalized in many movies and TV shows, so you probably have a good idea of how to set the scene for a 50's theme party.

Popular culture was reaching a new level of saturation with the colour TV projecting the Mickey Mouse Club, Elvis, and quiz shows to living rooms everywhere.

Cars were affordable to the masses for the first time since before WWII and life catered to their use: the hang-out was the drive-in diner, drive-in movie theatres were hopping, and the mall was born with its easy parking!

Leisure time was on the rise, and good, clean fun was a highlight of every day... people liked to party, 50's style!

Any good party begins with the invitation: 
  • Pick-up some 50's themed invitations from Vista Print.
  • Create an online invitation in Events on Facebook. You can control the invite list, message guests as the event gets closer, and post lots of pics to inspire your guests.
  • Get creative! Go to op shops or eBay to dig up old vinyl 45's, a staple of any 50's lounge room, and fix a stick-on label with the party details before sending them to your guests. Be sure to specify the costume theme, and give them some hints with an image.

There are a few routes you can take here. 1950's furniture and decor has an easily identifiable quality to it: plain, mass produced, and modern. Defining modern for the time meant geometric shapes, minimalist styling, and colours that ranged from pale pastels to deep, bright colours like pink, chartreuse, and turquoise. In the home, the simple life reigned, with images of rural life on canisters, paintings and aprons. At the diner, chrome, Formica counters, and big patterns like polka dots, checkers, and lots of black & white could be seen. Here are a few ideas for decorating your event:

Diner / Drive-In - The diner was the meeting place in the 50's, as anyone who's watched Grease, Happy Days, or American Graffiti will know. Creating a diner feel with furniture may be a problem if you don't have the resources, but there are heaps of ways to do it on the cheap:
  • Parties in Packages is one of the best online shops in Australia to get great, affordable decorations. Check out their Rock and Roll themed section which has wall motifs and signage to make your space over easily! The 50's street signs and hanging vinyl records are perfect!
  • Without spending money on furniture your best bet will be to cover tables in checker table clothes, cover sofas in red throws, and put down a black and white checkered floor - you can come by rolls of it cheap, or paint cardboard and fix it to your floors. Here are some diner furniture images if you need ideas. Check out Retro Antiques if you have a bigger budget.
  • The Diner Store on eBay has some great 50's diner memorabilia as well, some of which is fairly affordable.
  • Hire a 50's classic car to park out front of your event. You can park it facing a wall and project a classic 50's movie on it to give guests the chance to get the drive-in vibe. 
  • Your food service will help set the mood: parfait glasses, soda bottles, and plain white dishes.
  • The centre of every Diner was the jukebox. Hire a jukebox and your guests can choose their tunes all night, this outfit in W.A. loads them up with the playlist of your choice and delivers it to your event, very cool. On the East Coast, try Karaoke Party Hire.
  • Check the op shops for 50's magazines, leave them on tables and in the bathroom!
Sock Hop - Make your event space into a high school gymnasium or dance hall - it's an easy and affordable theme idea - don't forget to tell your guests to take off their shoes so they don't scratch the gym floor.
  • Lots of balloons to match your colour theme, especially balloon arches and balloon drops. Pink, blue and black were popular choices here in the 50's, but you can go with anything that matches your setting in the typical 50's colour range
  • Cover the walls with black, cut-out musical notes on the walls and vinyl records. Parties in Packages has these and a few other music themed items that would work well to create your Sock Hop!
  • Crepe paper flowers and streamers.
  • Hang a hand-made painted banner welcoming guests to your Sock Hop 
  • Have a "refreshments" table. 
You could easily get carried away here! Rock and roll came into its own during the 1950's, and vinyl records were ubiquitous. Most dances at the time used record players, set one up and let your guests play their favourites. A few other ideas:
  • Getting hold of a jukebox makes choosing music interactive and fun for your guests. If you can't get hold of one, the more modern karaoke style machines come with 50's music.
  • Here's a Top 100 chart for the 1950's to help you with your music search. Essential music from this time includes: Elvis Presley, Chuck Berry, Bo Diddley, Fats Domino, Eddie Fisher, Patti Page, and Little Richard.

Not everyone followed the typical 50's fashion protocol, but greasers and preppies were the dominant trends, with beatniks and teddy boys Pink was hot... and so were poodles!

For the most part, dress was conservative, with men wearing pleated pants, cuffed jeans, oxfords, and varsity jackets. Women were partial to neat skirts, often below the knee, sweaters with apliques, especially poodles!

Women's Costumes
Match up a poodle skirt with a cardigan, short-sleeved top, or polo. Be sure to accessorize with ribbons in the hair, bobby socks, and a pair of saddle shoes. If you are feeling a bit more rebelious, go for a greaser look: leather jacket, lots of black, and a choker. The "Pink Lady" look from Grease is great, especially for groups.
Poodle Skirt Satin Poodle Skirt Cherri Cola Rydell Cheerleader

Peggy Dance Queen GPink Lady Jacket Sandy Deluxe Red Poodle Dress

Women's Accessories
Eyeglasses in the 50's were distinct for the period, cat-eye's especially. Be sure to grab a pair to complete the look. Hairstyles at the time were amazing too:
Cat Eye Glasses Sandy Pony Tail Bobby Socks Beehive Wig

Men's Costumes
Tap into your inner-Arthur Fonzerelli, go greaser with a white t-shirt, black leather jacket, and slicked back hair. Or go the preppy route, and dig out the bowling shirt. 
Danny Leather Jacket Beatnik 50's Bowling Shirt

Men's Accessories
Horn Rimmed Glasses Saddle Shoes Wayfarer Sunglasses

1950's Celebrity Costumes
Lucille Ball Lucy Wig Marilyn Costume Marilyn Wig

This was the age of highly processed food. Canned foods, bright coloured dyes, and take-away were the typical fair for the 1950's.

If you are going for a Sock Hop theme, you can get off easy:
  • Put out some paper cups and a punch bowl.
  • Plastic bowls with chips and dip, pretzels, and nuts. 
  • Glass soda bottles with straws 
  • Cupcakes, with bright coloured icing.... pink of course!
If you are doing a Diner or Drive-In theme, burgers and fries were popular at the time, as were blue plate specials (home cooking like meatloaf, mashed potatoes, and fried chicken). This link has a list of popular 1950's food. A few choice selections:
  • Simple burgers and chips (you'll have to call them fries for the night) are easy for a group.
  • Pot roast, fried chicken, meatloaf... anything homely. Definitely with mashed and gravy on the side.
  • Root beer or Coke floats (soda spiders) were the rage.
  • Anything from a can or jar: Spam, gherkins, picked onions, baked beans, spaghetti, etc.
  • Ice cream sundaes and banana splits, don't forget the maraschino cherries!
If you really want to do your homework, check out this 6 part series by the BBC called "Supersizers". They go through the 50's decade in food, drink and lifestyle in detail (and with a good amount of humour) which will give you heaps of ideas for decorating, costumes, food and drink:

  • Grease theme: make sure to get a copy of the flick to play! And of course, the Soundtrack! Encourage your male guests to dress as the T-Birds and the women to dress as Pink Ladies. Rumble at the bike racks, 3:15pm!
  • Learn some moves for your Sock Hop or have someone give a tutorial at the party: Footloose Rockers can teach you the 50's dance moves.
  • Hula Hoop contest - see who can keep it going the longest.
  • 50's Celebrity Theme: Elvis, Marilyn, John Wayne, Elizabeth Taylor, Frank Sinatra...
  • Roller skating was big in the 50's, invite your guests to one of these Roller Rinks before or after. Go in costume and give the other patrons something to laugh about! 
  • Yo-Yo's!Put them out on tables for your guests to play with, or throw a contest to see who has the moves! 
  • Host a dance contest and a ballot box to vote for king and queen for the night... don't forget spike the punch bowl! Twisting competition?


Shop for 50's Costumes Online at Costume Box Now:


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  4. This is such a great time period. It is easily recognizable and has a lot of fun styles. I think probably the most recognizable 50's costumes has to be the poodle skirt. To me that really shows the style of the 50's. I also really think you nailed it right on with the dinner drive in. So many different things make this time period such a great one.

  5. Great article! This has a lot of great ideas for 50's costumes. I really like the videos too.