I have a delightful habit/compulsion to throw themed parties. This probably has something to do with my mother throwing parties basically my entire life. Also, I am fortunate enough to have immediate access to most (some is off limits to everyone) of her enormous collection of dinnerware, platters, silver pieces, glasses and goblets, candelabras, and so many more things!
Being able to utilize any number of plate/glass combinations without spending a dime definitely enables me to produce a classy shindig on a budget. My (wonderful) father refuses to allow me to use unpolished silver pieces, so before most parties he spends an evening polishing silver, which quickly becomes polishing all the silver. Since food, booze and other décor sometimes cost more than expected, I am very fortunate to have such an accommodating parents.
So, what are you to do without the extensive collection of two such generous hoarders? Well, throwing slightly less formal parties is probably a good idea, or taking the time to build up a unique serving set of your own at thrift stores. You can always paint/personalize (link) your finds if they aren’t exactly perfect. If you aren’t planning a sit-down meal for 15+ then you can easily use mismatched plate combinations, or the disposable kind (preferably recyclable, of course) are usually much easier in terms of clean up.
I tend to latch onto a theme, be it Valentine’s Day, a Sherlock-themed brunch, a Jaws Pool Party, or any number of other good times to be celebrated, and really go for it. Once you have your general theme, the party planning process is fairly straightforward. Prioritize your budget, decide where the majority is going to go, and how the rest will trickle down depending on the type of party, setting and guests. For example, you don’t need to worry about spending a lot on food if you’re hosting a potluck, or booze if it’s BYOB (or you’re not into that, LOL). That leaves you with table settings and décor, mostly.
Since I usually host sit-down affairs, and I have access to a department store’s worth of table setting materials, my budgets are split mainly between food and any additional decorations I don’t already have. Arrange whatever you need to for the food, making sure to plan for extra (my mother always stresses the importance of feeding those “big guys”), just in case you have an unexpected additional guest, or just want to be truly Southern.
Only slightly more important than what you’ll wear, is décor, especially if you’re hosting a theme party. You want to make the occasion special and unique, even trans-formative, without killing yourself beforehand or afterward, and without spending hundreds of dollars. This tends to require outside help, finesse, lots of thought and careful thrifting. I tend to take serious stock in the already available (free) things I can use before I even go looking for additional decorations. Contemplate creative uses for things, search Pinterest for ideas, DIY, and upcycling. Make centerpieces out of collections of similarly-colored objects, use your fancy “once a year” shoes, new or vintage hats, old famed pictures, raw branches in a vase (that is the thing in magazines, y’all), whatever you can use to create the ambiance you’re going for!
Our house tends to need pre-party prepping, and by that I mean we have to make an Herculean effort to clean all the rooms a week prior to the party so that we can then decorate. If you live in a relative state of normalcy, this may take less time, but is necessary regardless. (Obvs clean the bathrooms you want people to use without horror and disgust.) I like to decorate as much as I can, including the more complicated stuff and table settings, at least one or two days before the party, so that most food prep can be done the day/night before. You want the day/evening of the party to be all about covering any last minute chores, errands or emergencies, as well as looking fabulous as the ultimate hostess.
Speaking of outfits, what are you going to wear?? Since I also enjoy sewing, I usually make time to create a specific “look” for my parties. I choose a pattern fairly quickly after deciding on the party’s theme, and make sure the dress is done a week to five days before the party to leave time for said hyper-cleaning/decorating fun. If you aren’t making your own outfit, I’m sure there’s more wiggle room, but because you are the hostess, you’ll have to be party-ready at least an hour or two before guests are supposed to arrive, so plan accordingly. I will admit, there has been more than one occasion that I was seriously rushing to get the last of my hair and makeup finished. Don’t let this happen to you!
I kid, but this is good times, people! Parties are a lot of fun, and I find hosting them to be truly rewarding, and sort of cathartic. It’s like giving guests the gift of a shared, delightful memory. And even if it’s an epic fail, you’ll at least have provided a good story and lots of laughter!* Combine your passion and effort with truly good friends, tasty food and a fun theme, though, and you’ve got a guaranteed success!
While I don’t claim to be an expert, I’m happy to answer any party planning, budget or theme questions! Do you have any additional tips or tricks?? Please share any positive (or learning) party planning experiences!
*I would not recommend arranging any kind of gathering in which unhappy, drama-seeking weepers can flaunt their insecurities, so if that sounds like any of your friends, I’m sorry, but y’all should just go to the movies.