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Life Kit: How to throw a theme party

MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:

It is Halloween weekend, a time for tricks, treats and parties, of course. Maybe you're the one who always nabs first prize for your costume. I see you. Or do you love going all out on spooky decor? Well, the fun of a good theme party can be enjoyed year-round. Life Kit's Andee Tagle has tips for throwing a theme party that packs a punch, whatever the occasion.

ANDEE TAGLE, BYLINE: When Southern California-based food and lifestyle expert Brandi Milloy was pregnant with her daughter, she knew she didn't just want an ordinary baby shower - you know, a standard tame afternoon where everyone sat politely and watched her open presents. Instead, she centered her party around something a bit unexpected.

BRANDI MILLOY: So I had this cravings menu, and it was everything I had been craving my entire pregnancy, from Chick-Fil-A nuggets to sweet tea to Sour Belt candies to a cereal bar because I couldn't get enough of just cold milk and cereal.

TAGLE: Milloy says the personal touch, that surprise factor, really made her shower one for the books.

MILLOY: And there were, like, little touches everywhere in the party where people were like, oh, my gosh, that is so you. And this is like no other baby shower I've ever been to.

TAGLE: But what counts as a good theme? Milloy says it's one that makes hosting easier. Back to that cravings menu.

MILLOY: It really was like the third guest at the party, because people were so curious. Like, wait. Really? You've been craving this?

TAGLE: Think of your theme like that ultra-fun friend you can always rely on to help get a party going for you. It should be a conversation starter, something to get people excited and give your guests common ground in shared activities like costumes or potluck items to connect over. Theme parties are a chance for creativity, so don't be scared to think outside the box. How about a tea party or a letter T party? That's the one where everyone dresses up as something starting with the letter T. It's a blast. What about a Patrick Swayze movie marathon for your movie-loving brother named Patrick? Have fun with colors or playlists or sporting events. Riff off your favorite book or era in time.

Then, once you've picked a theme you're excited about, be thoughtful about how you spend your party funds. Tempting as it may be to buy out the entirety of your local party store, Milloy says you don't really need to bombard your guests with your theme in every corner to get your point across. What does overdoing it look like? Milloy says one telltale sign is letting a lot of cheesy stuff and fluff aggressively tell the story of the theme for you.

MILLOY: For example, I went to a party. And you could tell the person was really set on this Paris theme. They wanted the black and white, the straws, the napkins. Everything was Paris, Paris, Paris. And I kept thinking, man, you know, they spent so much money on all these theme-y things that they're probably going to toss when this party is over.

TAGLE: Instead, she says, keep it simple and focused with just a few touch points.

MILLOY: The biggest thing when it comes to themed parties is, if you have a neutral base, if you have white platters and white cake stands and neutral table linens, you can let the food be the star. And then show little elements of that theme.

TAGLE: Make a special playlist, whip up a signature cocktail, hire a magician, But not necessarily all three. Finally, when party day comes, be prepared. Inevitably, someone is going to show up out of theme. But don't give your guests a hard time about it or make them feel self-conscious. Instead, remember your reason for gathering to begin with.

MILLOY: I'd rather than show up and not dress up than not show up at all. It takes a lot of effort, but if a friend comes over and they're not feeling it, I am never going to force it on them. But I'll pass them a cute little cocktail with like a little floating eyeball in there and try to make them giggle.

TAGLE: For NPR's Life Kit, I'm Andee Tagle.

MARTIN: For more tips and tricks for party hosting, and a lot of other things, too, check out Life Kit at npr.org/lifekit. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Andee Tagle
Andee Tagle (she/her) is an associate producer and now-and-then host for NPR's Life Kit podcast.