The 1940s was an era of class and distinction. From the dress to the music, to the events around the world, a lot happened in this decade to make it an iconic era. It is no surprise then that the theme of the 1940s is a common one with many parties. So, the next time you're throwing a get together, pull out the old 78s and cut a rug in your best zoot suit.
Play the right music to set the mood. The easiest way to remind someone of the 1940s is with the music of the era. This was the height of the big band era, and great staples of that sound like Count Basie and His Orchestra and Benny Goodman are easy to find on CD. Put together a play list of popular songs from the era, and mix in some lesser-known tunes from that decade, as well. This will keep the conversation going about the music, but still provide people with recognisable songs that they can dance to. Include some slow songs, too. Perry Como made his living crooning ballads like "Till the End of Time," and they make a great break in the swing dance action, or a great chance to grab someone and slow dance.
Encourage guests to dress the part. In the invitation, let people know that you will be dressing as though it were the mid-1940s, and that everyone else should join in as well. Feel free to include simple suggestions to get people's imaginations going. If you are a man, a great place to start is with a suit. Dress was much more formal in the '40s, and it wasn't uncommon to wear a suit both to the office and to a cocktail party after work. Double-breasted suits were the most popular. Pull out the hair product and slick that hair back, as well, parting it on the side. For women, a pencil cut skirt and long sleeve blouse with heels is perfect, accented by stockings with a seam up the back. Put your hair in an updo and use bright, slightly exaggerated make up.
Throw a swing dance contest. Let your guests know that they need to practice their swing dance moves, and plan a swing dance contest for the evening. Even if you aren't inviting a group of professional dancers, putting on a contest where your guests have the chance to express themselves in this way is fun for everyone. Even the shy wallflowers can't help but get into the spirit of the decade once they hear the opening bars to "In the Mood." Give every couple a number, and have the contest go through several stages, having the last two couples perform a dance off for the rest of the party guests. The winners can receive a modest prize.
Decorate as though it were 1945. This can be as elaborate or as subtle as you like. The real fun is in perfecting the details. Go to a copy shop with a local paper and doctor up a copy to look like a headline from the end of World War II. The headlines can vary, as well. Find pictures of stars from the era and doctor up a couple magazines to look like vintage copies of "Life" or "Time" from the 1940s. Go to a thrift store and peruse the house wares section. Bring photos of living rooms and kitchens from the 1940s with you to find items that may fit. If you find a lamp shade that looks authentic, get it and put it on a lamp you already own, just for the night. If you find an appliance that looks authentic, pick it up and use it, just for decoration. Remember that it doesn't have to work. It's just for set dressing.
Serve the cocktails that made the decade famous. The cocktails that best defined the '40s were the Martini and the Manhattan. They were made slightly different than they are now, so make them in the authentic way. For the martini, make it with 2 parts gin and 1 part vermouth with 3 olives, chilled and strained into a martini glass. For the Manhattan, use 2 parts bourbon, 1 part vermouth and a splash of bitters. Chill and strain into a martini glass and serve with a cherry.