What’s the difference between a themed party and a fancy dress party?

Alva Vanderbilt at Fancy Dress Ball

Today many party hosts are opting for a party theme, such as Pirates, Great Gatsby, Princess, the swinging 60’s etc. Some of these themed parties are really just fancy dress parties called themed parties. This blog lists the differences between hosting a themed versus a fancy dress party and addresses some of the issues with planning and presenting a genuine themed party.

What is a fancy dress party?

A fancy dress party is one in which the dress options are stated but the party activities do not follow the style of dress. For example lets say you want to host a traditional kids party, with vintage party games such as musical chairs, and have everyone dress as either a Pirate or a Princess. This is a simple fancy dress party, in that there is no connection between what the guests wear and the other components of the party.

What is a themed party?

A themed party is one in which all of the party components (including costumes, games, food and décor) follow a basic concept or idea. For example let’s t say you want to throw the popular Great Gatsby themed party. The guests would need to dress in period costumes, the party décor would include components of the 1920’s and the food, games, dances etc. would also be representative of those of the period.

The problems with hosting a ‘true to theme’ party

Some themes will have issues with food and games, for example Pirates probably played games that are most likely inappropriate for today’s party activities! Also the food Pirates ate (including hard tack biscuits) would not be considered party food today. This is not an issue as the elements of a themed party do not need to ‘replicate’ the original elements of the theme but they only need to convey the essence of the theme. In this way for a Pirates themed party (as opposed to Pirates fancy dress party) some treasure hunting games need to be included and the party food should include a ‘fish stew’ or something else ‘sea like’.

The essential differences between a themed and fancy dress party

When you take into account that the themed party only needs to include elements that capture the essence of the theme (rather than try to accurately reproduce the actual theme elements) it is the party activities (games and dancing) that really differentiate a themed from a fancy dress party. If you are going to have 1920’s style dancing, 1920’s casino party games, 1920’s popular food included in your Great Gatsby party then this is a themed event. If you are having traditional food, dancing and modern games with the Great Gatsby party then this is a fancy dress party.

In conclusion, what does it matter: The impact of planning a themed or fancy dress party

The only reason it matters is that if you are looking to host a themed party, as opposed to a fancy dress party, you will need to do more research and planning around the games, food and dances. Also, after researching themed games, food and dances, you might well decide that a fancy dress party is more appropriate and the plan accordingly.

The bottom line is that a themed party takes more planning and preparation and in the end might not be appropriate for your guests, in which case plan the fancy dress party from the outset and select the most appropriate food and activities for your target audience.

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