Once reserved for the most affluent personalities of New York society in the 19th century, theme parties are now the most convenient excuse we have to pretend we are someone (or something) else for a few debaucherous times per year. It makes sense, then, that Halloween is one of Playboy’s most anticipated times of the year.
Achieving an above-par get-together doesn’t have to be incredibly over-the-top or pre-planned months in advance, either. Having a clear-cut theme and making sure your boss isn’t invited are some initial tips from me. But because I wouldn’t personally put event-planning on my resume (do college house parties with slip-n-slides count?), I enlisted some experts.
Timothy Monkiewicz and Brett Herman, co-founders of NYC’s BangOn! and Elements Festival, started throwing 300-person underground parties almost a decade ago in non-traditional settings (think churches and theaters.) Now, their flagship Halloween costume party, Wearhouse of Horrors, is going on its seventh year complete with interactive art and performances. “We combined music, art and live performances into a crazy thing you don’t normally see,” says Herman. Even though they’re throwing 1,000-plus ragers, their advice on how to throw an adult costume party resonates in any space. A good place to start, as always, is with your crowd.
WHO YOU INVITE WILL MAKE OR BREAK THE PARTY
Invite your friends who you know will honor the theme, or who at least will bring some personality into the mix. That random you met on Hinge three months ago might not be as enthusiastic about dressing up—and may also drop in with three unexpected guests in regular grab, bringing down the mood. “I think the important thing about any party is a diverse crowd,” says Monkiewicz. “It’s really about the people. You can be at a party with 40 people or 40,000; it doesn’t matter if nothing else is there, as long as you care about the people who are there.”
Like I said earlier, invite people you know will share your excitement in the atmosphere you worked to create. “The party should be an extension of the host’s personality,” adds Herman.
PICK A THEME THAT’S CLEAR CUT
I’m not saying you shouldn’t throw a Westworld-inspired Halloween party, but understand you’re asking guests to imitate TV’s most fabulous costume design. Unless you’re friends with a bunch of actors who have access to the local playhouse theater or your friends have deep pockets, many will likely choose to not commit. “Pick a theme where people can go shopping two hours before the party, and it can still be tasteful,” says Herman. “It should be accessible, but a good a costume should also be something you should be afraid to get arrested in.”
Themes that will always be a hit? Try Harry Potter, superhero, masquerade, The Great Gatsby, 1970s through the 1990s or uniform parties (police officers, sailors, girl scouts, etc.). BangOn! has done these for years.
“I also like combining themes, like Game of Thrones meets vampires,” says Monkiewicz. “Our tracksuit party was a strange one because people interpreted that theme in a lot of different ways.”
LIGHTING IS KEY
“Bad lighting is a vibe killer,” says Herman. “If it’s equivalent to a 7/11, it’s not sexy. Pitch black lighting isn’t good, either. Have lighting where everyone looks a little better,” says Monkiewicz. This is where Amazon becomes your friend. Buy a few a few decent colored lights or bulbs that have a range of hues on Amazon, like these disco lights you control with a remote control.
Use your windows, kitchen island and any other smaller space to your advantage with a solid color of string lights as well.
DON’T SKIMP ON FAVORS
As a general party rule, remember that not all of your guests are there for the alcohol. “You don’t need alcohol to have a good time,” says Herman. “Some people just eat lots of chocolate and candy.” Always be a generous host regarding putting out decent snacks (assorted candy, pretzels, chips, crackers and dip will always work.)
Think about having non-cheesy games out that don’t have to be Halloween related. Jenga, Cards Against Humanity, a deck of cards and even N64 set up with Mario Kartsomewhere away from the music will get heavily utilized.
REALLY, PLEASE DON’T PLAY “MONSTER MASH”
“Fat Boy Slim was the first DJ we listened to, so it’s really amazing to that we listened to as a kid and who is now coming to our party this weekend,” says Herman. “For music, just google Fat Boy Slim and play his DJ sets,” Herman says laughing. “No, but really, make sure the music fits the mood of the party.”
You’re probably not going to be able to score a sweet DJ to come to your party, so Spotify is who is probably going to be spinning. Create a custom playlist the night before or rely on some of their artist-curated playlists for inspiration. In general, a decent breakdown of your playlist should be a generous mixture of top 40,1990s pop and hip hop and some old school rock, if your friends listen to all types of music. If you are planning ahead of time and doing a 1970s-themed party, consider getting a record player for authenticity. Curating a music video playlist on YouTube and playing it from yoru smart TV is also a spin on making sure the music becomes part of the experience.
As far as dancing, clear out space near the music for a makeshift dance floor so people can get weird. That’s the goal of any good party, right?