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Throwing a 1960s party

So you want to throw a 60s soirée…

Maybe you lived through that era, and want to enjoy some of the styles and sounds you remember so well. Or maybe you're like me and just watched Mad Men for the fourth time and have since been lamenting the lack of a fully-stocked bar in your modern office, so you’re looking for something to fill that void, even temporarily.

Whatever the reason, consider this a guide to help ensure your party is the swingingest on the block. And with a little help from your local estate sales and the EstateSales.NET Marketplace, you can make sure your party is authentic.

How to dress

There are many different directions you can go. The 60s are associated with a variety of styles and movements, making it easy to choose a style you’ll be comfortable with. Early 60s styles are a bit more conservative, coming out of the modest 50s. But as the decade went on, hemlines went up. Classy A-line dresses were popular, as were roomy shift dresses and baby-doll styles. The “mod” look came and went as a more bohemian “hippie” look took over towards the end of the decade. Kitten heels, Mary Janes, flats were popular then and easy-to-find now. Your hair has endless possibilities as well: bobs, flips, beehives were all a part of this decade. Bust out the Bump-It you bought a few years ago and pair it with a ponytail. Bouffants, Chignons, and headbands—oh my!

Men, too, have a variety of styles to choose from, whether it be a well-tailored Don Draper-esque suit and vintage fedora, or something a more “mod,” like the early Beatles—anything before Rubber Soul.

Of course, you can follow the Fab Four’s style throughout the decade. As their mop tops got moppier, their clothes became more casual. Looser. Layered. A leather or corduroy jacket paired with some boots might suit your style. Get yourself a breton striped t-shirt or a black turtleneck, some Doc Martens and carry a copy of On the Road for a more Beatnik look. When it comes to hairstyles, if you’ve always wanted to rock a pompadour or a bushy mustache and chops (but probably not all three at the same time. . .probably), now’s the time!

Choosing your ambiance

Decorating your home for a party can be tricky. You can’t be expected to run out and buy all the best mid-century modern furniture you can find (though that stuff is cool, so I would highly recommend it anyway), so you’ll need to find other ways to see that your house embodies the era.

First and foremost, is the music. You can take your pick. Maybe you want to go for a vintage country sound. Or want to enjoy the music of Motown. Or maybe you want to choose from the clean-cut rock of the early 60s, or the more psychedelic stylings of the later years. And let’s not forget the folk music and protest songs of the era.

Estate sales are often filled to the brim with records to choose from. Taking this route means at your party, you’ve likely got to commit to one performer or group for at least half a record. But they didn’t have Spotify in the 60s, and neither should you.

Lighting is also key. Lava lamps may seem a bit cliche but they are historically accurate and easy to come by. But there is any number of options that would be immediately identifiable as “retro” and, even better, “kitsch.” Whether it be a bulbous crackle glass base with a fringed shade, or, my personal favorite, a rain lamp—a little lighting can go a long way.

Look to estate sales for affordable vintage wall hangings that reflect the look you’re aiming for. Pop art (à la Andy Warhol), chalkware, tie-dyed tapestries, or vintage concert posters would be great options.

Also, be on the lookout for inexpensive dishware reminiscent of the era. You might not want to shell out the cash for a set of Franciscan Starburst dishes, but you can often find affordable full and partial sets of Libbey glasses, for example. Keep your eyes peeled.

What to serve

This was the decade of the cocktail party. Hors d'oeuvres, canapés, crudités, and dips were all de rigueur at any swinging soirée.

Find yourself a nice chip n’ dip and serve french onion dip, which gained its popularity during this decade. Meatballs, cocktail weenies (both served with a sauce made of grape jelly and chili sauce), or anything you can put at the end of a toothpick would be a great addition to a simple spread.

This is also the perfect time to dust off the fondue pot you received as a wedding gift, or find one someone else received as a wedding gift at your neighborhood estate sale. Find a few, and offer a variety of cheeses and chocolates.

Now I’m hungry.

The 60s were also a great time for culinary exploration and innovation. Gelatin dishes were popular during this time—affordable to make, and often pretty to look at. The more savory dishes you’ll find in vintage cookbooks may prove a bit difficult—aspic and other savory flavors like celery have disappeared from the gelatin aisle of the grocery store. But there are plenty of appetizers, salads and desserts you can make that will embody the era.

Find some cookbooks from the era and get inspired!

But don’t make Winter Salad. Not if you want your friends to come back for your 70s party next month.

The key is in the execution. The display. You don’t have to spend a lot of money on fancy food. Just make sure you add some panache to the arrangement. An impressive gelatin mold will help, as will a punch bowl filled with something colorfully fruity (you can also use that gelatin mold to make an impressive ice ring). Have you ever considered making a vegetable topiary? (I mean, who hasn’t?) Use a styrofoam cone from your local craft store and fill it with cherry tomatoes, olives, cocktail weenies, shrimp, pickles—whatever you can jam a toothpick into that strikes your fancy. It will be a fabulous and edible conversation piece.

The decade was not without its social and political issues, but there is much to celebrate in the era’s culture and aesthetic. And estate sales can help you do that.

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